Getting my s*it together, as I believe is the expression, and publishing a post!

WordPress loves to remind me how many posts I’ve drafted but not published. I know this, dear WordPress, it’s not for the want of trying. Today, I decided that I would prioritise writing a complete post AND publishing it, over just about everything else.

My current situation is so complex and there are so many things happening that it’s impossible to explain it in a few lines, even though writing about it and sharing that writing is very helpful to me. Doing so takes a lot of time and even more energy, and ‘spoons’, that’s chronic illness shorthand for energy and ability to function, click the link for an easy explanation), are currently in very short supply.

Yesterday, I managed to shower and dress in order to be ready to answer the door to receive a delivery from a parcel courier. I have had to force myself to allow ‘Pharmacy Bob’ (who I’m certain is the antithesis of his more famous namesake) to see me in smelly dishevelment but fear negative judgement too much to ever make a habit of it with others. Afterwards I had to get back into bed because I was so physically depleted by chronic fatigue and pain. I longed to be productive, there were things to do, so much I wanted to do; it was a struggle to limit the impact of my lack of capacity on my mood. I managed to get a bowl of cereal and kept hunger at bay for the rest of the day with dry crackers, risking a flare up of a painful stomach issue that occurs if I get too hungry. That seems to have been triggered when struggling so much last year I went, at worst, eight days surviving on only sips of water. (I ended up in A&E some weeks later with urinary retention, a complication thereof, which is, I discovered, a medical emergency.) I didn’t sleep after my return to bed, despite having only managed a little over three hours the previous night, but I rested and by evening, had at least the capacity to watch the BBC Question Time election special and engage in some lively political ‘repartee’ on Twitter, as it aired!

I’m aware that to some people that much of this post could sound like I’m moaning, feeling sorry for myself, demonstrating narcissism, or focusing on the negative. Actually, anyone really getting to know me understands that I am relentlessly positive and also hugely enthusiastic about grabbing life by the horns and making the most of it. Call me a snowflake, but sometimes it hurts to be thought of as otherwise.

We so often shy away from hearing difficult stuff, we hyper-focus on the positive, often because we realise the difficulty or horror of something, and perhaps that a positive outcome may not be possible, and sometimes we don’t know what to do or we can’t deal with that so we shut it down, don’t really listen and we fire out the positive platitudes.

I love blog comments, tweets and interactions in general. I really do. I love hearing from you. Please just don’t tell me to be positive, if you’re tempted, even though I know that you mean well. If you want to be supportive, hear me. Tell me that you understand that I’m facing grim circumstances. Tell me that you appreciate my determination to try to keep going. Offer help if you’re able, and I appreciate capacity for this can be limited in all sorts of ways, anything from a friendly word on a postcard, a poem or a film you think I might love, or a chat to a ‘care package’ or a visit. I’m fighting the urge to delete that last line – and I’m going to leave it there however uncomfortable it makes me feel, the reasons for that are for another post.

I’d woken, yesterday, with a very red, swollen and itchy face. It’s the second time that’s happened in the space of a month, but it hadn’t ever happened prior to that. I’ve had eczema, relatively mildly, since I was child, although as a child my family didn’t recognise it as such. I was screamed at when I scratched, punished if I dared to get blood on my nightclothes or bedding, and asked if I had fleas. It’s only really been in the last few years, since I entered my forties, that I’ve begun to experience severe episodes of eczema, at first on my hands, later on other parts of my body, and then on my face, particularly around my eyes. At first I assumed that this month’s sudden flare up was eczema, only the worst to date. The skin was red, itchy, and a little scaly. The area around my eyes was also puffy and swollen. I used the usual emollient treatment for eczema but it burned and felt sore. It took several days for my skin to begin to settle and clear up. The episode that began yesterday got me thinking. Severe redness and swelling/puffiness were the main issues, the majority of the area was not itchy and it isn’t scaly. I suspect I’ve developed an allergy to a skin product that I’ve happily used for some time, and is in fact the only thing I found that actively helps to reduce the impact of my Acne Rosacea. (Yep, I’ve got that too. Apparently, chronic conditions like to party together.) I’ve only used the product twice recently, the night before the two reactions. Phooey! I would get it checked out by a doctor or a pharmacist – but getting to see either is an issue just now, one that I’m working hard to surmount – more on that, again, in another post.

My fingers are also being attacked by pompholyx, and feel as though they’re getting more raw and painful to use by the second. I also have the more usual eczema on the rest of my hands, although that flare up does, mercifully, seem to be easing. Added to that I’ve had a infected thumb for a few days, and I’ve had an extensive flare up of something – again, I think this is eczema – on my neck and chest for several days. My skin is a rebellious teenager – raging out of control.

My ‘spoon count’ is generally very low just now because a series of challenges including bereavements, divorce, low income, the emergence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – involving flashbacks, dissociation, nightmares, depression and suicidal feelings, and the absence of sources of support. These have left me unable to maintain the rigorous regime of self management that keep me ticking over as best as I possibly can while still living with chronic illness – that’s ongoing illness for which there is no cure – it’s not my fault I got it, it’s just something that can happen to people. I’d barely been near a doctor bar the odd routine visit until it happened to me, then suddenly my medical notes looked like War and Peace in triplicate.  Chronic illness can become acute and be life-threatening, often it’s debilitating and life-altering. It may not kill you but it can decimate your life.  My self management regime includes physiotherapy exercises (very many ‘reps’ per day), graded exercise, diet management, medication, meditation, and a lot more. Without that rigorous regime, and with added stress, difficulty, lack of available support etc, the conditions flare up and begin to rage. It’s fair to say that I’m far from at my best just now … she said in the best tradition of understatement :-D!

Today, I’ve managed to shower and dress in order to receive a further package. Beyond that I’m prioritising this blog and keeping in touch with friends online because isolation is a major issue just now that’s jeopardising my safety. More on that too in another post!

Taking a break just now to nip the loo stole another a ‘spoon’ because, as is often the case, I needed to clean it due to the, shall we say, explosive emissions associated with the condition Bile Acid Malabsorption. Sometimes I leave it a while, when just getting to the loo was challenge enough, sitting on the fear that someone somehow will want to use it in the meantime!

I have no compunction about discussing toilet ‘doings,’ pain, ‘oozings’, ‘leakages’, ‘blisterings’ and boils, despair, compulsive binges and skin picking, and urges for self destruction; I make no apology for doing so. That’s not to say that it’s easy to do. It can be really difficult because you’re often met with negative judgement and a lack of empathy. It’s not the most fun when you’re positive, enthusiastic and determined in the face of adversity, hearing that you’re lazy, boring, narcissistic, not trying hard enough or ‘milking’ the system …

I believe that education, communication and understanding of experiences outside of our own are vital to society, and speak and share accordingly.

I need to have something to eat today. I can make a bowl of porridge, but if I want to eat more than that then I will have to cook more extensively. I have the ingredients to make a veggie chilli ‘non carne’, but it will require a lot of ‘spoons’. I hope to have a phone chat with a friend later. I also hope to manage to do a load of laundry and ‘reboot’ (empty and reload) the dishwasher. I’ve yet to have a drink (Edit: I’m drinking a cup of tea as I do a final read through) and, much to my discomfort, I left my bed unmade to save a ‘spoon’, but finally I have something to publish, and another step on the road to telling my story has been made.

This has taken longer to write and waaay more ‘spoons’ than I hoped. Even telling you where I am just now, with little mention of how I got here takes an age. Arrrrgh! Admittedly, fear of people not ‘getting it’ probably does lead me to say more than I need.

Thank you for reading, I really appreciate it. I hope to continue with more frequent, shorter posts. Things are happening. I have a lot to say! x

 

Successes, Safety and a Salient Staircase 

Sleep was brief, around four hours, but surprisingly restorative. I didn’t have the ‘spoons’ for this morning’s planned soak in the bath but was able to shower thanks to my bath board. It’s a disability aid that I was reluctant to take possession of last year but which is actually worth its weight in gold.

I spent some time menu planning – breakfasts, lunches and dinners – yesterday evening. Having a plan is beneficial on many levels not least in beginning to tackle my eating disorder, promoting self care and maximising my tight budget. Variety, satisfaction and healthy options are key to the former. As I said here, when ‘spoons’ run low cooking so often falls off my to do list. I’m making it a priority as one of my first steps out of this current crisis. Some old favourites will feature on the plan together with some new recipes. Here’s a selection:

  • Baked eggs with mushrooms and spinach 
  • Courgette and potato soup
  • Courgette muffins
  • Chocolate orange porridge 
  • Three bean pate
  • Porridge Berry Bakes
  • Sweet potato wedges with homemade houmous 
  • Mushroom and herb pearl barley risotto 
  • Quesadillas – most likely cheese and bean 
  • Lemon and dill courgette with broccoli rice, houmous & salad

Yes, I did buy a large box of ‘Basics’ mushrooms and large bag of ‘Basics’ courgettes and have been hunting ‘spoonie’ friendly courgette recipes!

Today’s breakfast was an old favourite from the Hairy Dieters – crumpets with warmed berries, fat free Greek yoghurt and a drizzle of honey. 

Lunch was herby mushrooms and tomatoes on toast, followed by a banana.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I don’t eat meat. Dinner was a bowl of the Chilli Non Carne that I made this evening. My recipe varies according to budget and what I’ve got in. This version used the following:

  • 1 large red onion 
  • 1 small red bell pepper
  • 1 small green bell pepper 
  • A handful of mushrooms 
  • A carton of ‘Basics’ chopped tomatoes 
  • A tin of ‘Basics ‘ baked beans 
  • A tin of ‘Basics’ red kidney beans 
  • Tomato puree
  • A cheat’s sachet of chilli seasoning together with my own ‘everyday’ seasoning 
  • A packet of Granose dried soya mince.

I bought several packs of the soya mince while it was on offer and much cheaper than Quorn  or generic chilled varieties. You reconstitute it with boiling water then treat as normal. It does not look appetitising when first made up but tastes good in the finished product! 

I’m really shattered and virtually out of ‘spoons’. Emptying the dishwasher of last night’s load and putting in today’s dishes has to wait until tomorrow. The chilli prep and cooking takes a fair amount of ‘spoons’, and by the time I finish I’m very sore, luckily it will make a few meals. My Fibromyalgia had already rendered me very stiff today, so when I stand up I can’t straighten up at first and have to painfully unfurl pace by slow pace. In these moments I laugh at my predicament to help me to deal with it. 

I’ve just enjoyed watching MasterChef. I do admire the cooking adventures of the participants. I smiled tonight at the appearance of ‘whey-glazed carrots’ … they’re waaaay beyond my culinary ambition! But seriously, if posting photos of your daily meals and basic cooking efforts seems dull or even narcissistic, I can say only that it’s integral to my thrust for recovery. I can’t remember the last time I ate three good meals in a day, let alone made three virtually from scratch. Posting in this way, in celebration of my efforts, is motivating and a useful record of my progress. Perhaps, somewhere along the line, my posts might help someone else too. 

9:50pm I’ve been pyjama’d and under the covers since a little after 8 but I’m determined to complete and publish this post tonight. I’ve had to rewrite half of it after WordPress gobbled it and refused to give it back. I suspect I’ll sleep tonight, but it might be an idea to take painkillers to try to limit the risk of #painsomnia. 

I was able to meet with my advocate this afternoon for the first time in over two months. This is a huge deal. I’ve made many attempts to meet with her since mid February but overwhelming trauma symptoms forced me to cancel each time. She visited me at home together with one of her colleagues, both were so lovely. I had written notes ahead of their arrival. We had a productive meeting  It felt safe, and to feel any sense of safety at all, after the devastating events of last year, is progress. I’ve yet to regain real hope for the future – something I thought couldn’t be shattered, after all I’ve survived so much, but last year’s events broke me – however, I’m focusing on an idea that was once very helpful to me … You don’t have to see the top of the staircase to take the first step. 

My advocate and I have made a plan of initial steps. We’ll speak on Monday and arrange a further meeting. 

 

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.

.

Thursday into Friday 

Good morning 🙂 

I’m feeling positively breezy this morning but I think I may finally have learned not to get swept along by my need to be positive, and to understand that my current ‘breezy’ is a long way from the ‘breezy norm’. 

Any improvement, however slight, on being locked into the fog of dissociation with only terror and desolation for company is wondrous. That ‘wondrousness’ is  a bit of blighter actually because it can leave me feeling guilty, that things are not so bad after all and that I certainly ought not to be requiring, or even less, seeking any help. 

I grew up believing that I wasn’t suffering at all, despite experiencing appalling trauma and abuse. I notice that as I wrote those words I felt a twinge of guilt that made me cringe. Was it really so appalling? Am I exaggerating? I say that as someone who aged nine witnessed one parent actually trying to murder the other and, while still a child, lost a parent to suicide on my birthday. Those are but two of many more examples that I could give. 

I grew up with that belief partly because these events were given no more significance than a broken fingernail in terms of their impact on me, by those around me. It was also drummed into me that I had it so good and that there were so many people in the world worse off than me. Consequently, I can struggle with the distorted perception that if someone, anyone, is worse off than me then I am not struggling/suffering/in need and should just ‘get on with it’. 

Yesterday, I made and ate a plain omelette,  ran two dishwasher loads – making a sizeable dent in the accumulated kitchen ‘crisis detritus’ – ate some kidney beans with tomato, black pepper and cumin, and, when late yesterday evening hunger was still a problem but food was scarce, a bashed together a banana loaf which, despite being missing a couple of ingredients, turned out to be my tastiest yet. 

I also took the huge step of introducing my oldest friend to this blog, *waves hello to her*, and thoroughly enjoyed watching the final of the Great Pottery Throwdown. Although, I’ll be experiencing withdrawal symptoms now it and the Great Big Painting Challenge have both concluded this week! 

Today I will be focused on cleaning myself up (a far greater task than it may sound) and receiving a supermarket delivery of some groceries this evening. I hope to work on a significant blog post. It may prove challenging to compose but I believe the benefits of doing so will outweigh the challenges. 

It’s been a heavy week.

The words don’t want to flow today.

I hate the way that depression can suck up my creative juices, leaving me dehydrated. A husk: dry, brittle, barren.

Without low mood, the words come thick and fast, their passage from mind to fingertips fluid and free. It is THE best feeling in the world. I feel alive and, at one with myself.

I’m feeling weary and raw, after a week of events that have weighed heavily on my shoulders. There was an extended appointment with my GP and a four hour appointment to begin the process of dealing with my financial circumstances, and trying to avoid becoming homeless. The bad news I had expected was confirmed, because of issues with my husband, from whom I have separated, great obstacles loom large on the path going forwards. My newly-appointed housing support officer, and the adviser at the homelessness prevention charity with whom we both met, were kind. I felt supported, an unfamiliar feeling after years of having to go it alone. They didn’t sugar coat the pill, but encouraged me to delay taking it! In other words, I must continue to take things no more than one day at a time, and despite knowing what difficulties lie ahead and what awful outcome I may face, I must try as far as possible to put that out of my mind for now.

Meditation helps. I discovered the, in my opinion, brilliant Headspace a few years ago. I’ve used it first to learn about meditation and how to do it, (Clue: it’s not much to do with sitting cross-legged on the floor and muttering ommh … ) then to practise it … albeit in fits and starts. I’ve found it difficult to commit to consistent practise, having had so very much going on in my life – which is, of course, why regular meditation would be particularly beneficial! Since I’m making more efforts to prioritise my own needs, from this week forward I’m setting about making that vital commitment.

****

It’s now just before 9pm. I started writing the above at around 2:30 today. I spent a little while on it and some words did eventually appear, then I was interrupted when my friend popped in for a coffee and we chatted while I made a banana loaf. She left me with a packet of fancy biscuits, a hug and instructions not to do too much. I had a wee break and then cracked on in the kitchen, replacing the banana loaf in the oven with an aubergine to roast. After some other kitchen chores, I set about skinning a batch of very ripe tomatoes to make a version of @JackMonroe’s Use-Me-With-Everything Tomato Sauce from the book A Girl Called Jack. You can read about my new found connection with cooking here, something I thought couldn’t happen after abuse disconnected me from it. It turns out skinning tomatoes isn’t great for my #spoonie pain. The whole thing took longer than I anticipated but it was worth it, and tasted great. I’ve eaten some, put a serving into the fridge and another into the freezer. I’ve just skinned the aubergine and mashed the roasted flesh with a drizzle of olive oil and plenty of pepper. I usually spread the resulting tasty gloop onto thin oatcakes. I can’t afford those right now, so instead I’m going to have it on some back of the cupboard, just past the Best Before date, organic sesame seed wholegrain rice cakes. We’ll see how that goes.

All this endeavour has helped my mood, but my body is complaining some. I feel sore and very tired. So, I shall post this, then clamber into my pyjamas and curl up with a cuppa.

TTFN x

Operation Self Care

Regular readers may remember Operation Fight Back  – my action plan of early 2014 to help me to cope following the breakdown of my marriage and subsequent illness – here’s a sample. I needed to be as well as I could be in order to cope with the impending search for, and move to, a new home, in addition to my continuing efforts to rebuild my life – studying, plans for self employment etc. As it turned out, there was much more with which I was going to have to cope.

My health, which is already an issue, has suffered greatly because of all of that and particularly the ‘straw and camel event’ of Spring 2015. You can read more about that here and here.

I’ve written about self care on several occasions – you can find those posts, should you wish, by clicking on ‘self care’ in the tag cloud on my homepage. Self care was once anathema to me. My experiences of abuse led me to believe that self care was self-indulgent and that to indulge oneself was very wrong – certainly, at least, it was very wrong to indulge MYself in any way. I learned that I should … must, flog myself, metaphorically speaking, until I bled.

I’ve undergone several periods of counselling in the years since my abuse was disclosed and I cut myself off from what remained of my family. In the early days of counselling I learned to do away with the word should, replacing it instead with could. I also learned to have compassion for myself and that self care is an essential part of life. I learned that I am worthy of care. I also learned, after years of giving from an ’empty place’, that you cannot take care of others if you do not take care of yourself. I do have a tendency to forget the latter, and need to be reminded of it!

I know that self care is key to my being able to keep going … and ultimately to fulfil that dream of truly living. (I also know that I can’t do this alone and will need the help of others, but that is for another post.) There is much to say about self care and I know I will return to it. For now here are the basic tenets of Operation Self Care:

  • I will take care of myself physically – that includes showering regularly and brushing my teeth (depression can make you smelly!)
  • I will not withdraw but will connect with others as far as possible – using Twitter and my blog to supplement RL contact
  • I will write, write and WRITE some more – you can read here why writing is so important to me. I realise now that I have been continuing to let it fall off the bottom of my to do lists and how unhappy that has made me. I can still struggle to prioritise my needs, but I am determined from now on to always prioritise my writing. For starters, that means blogging daily, as far as is humanly possible.
  • I will do all I can to nourish myself with home-cooked food, despite my lack of money. You can read more about my new found connection with food and cooking – after abuse disconnected me from it – here.
  • I will always PACE MYSELF, I will acknowledge that I am a #spoonie, and that I am facing really challenging circumstances that would challenge anyone.
  • I will try not to fear judgement and will remember to tell myself that if someone thinks they could do better, that I’d like to see them try 😉
  • In addition to writing, I will consider other ways to incorporate things that make me happy into my life.
  • Exercise will form part of Operation Self Care, as it did Operation Fight Back, more about that in a future post.

As I have been writing. a veggie chilli has been simmering nicely in the kitchen and a second load of laundry is doing its thing. I have twenty more minutes on the clock* before I know I must stop, take time to eat and make every effort to unwind (it doesn’t come easy), before an early night. My housing support officer, newly appointed in light of the ‘straw and camel event’ and my subsequent decline, is visiting me tomorrow morning and I need to be in reasonable shape to best cope with that. She will be bringing me my first food parcel, after referring me to a local food bank; I’m still trying to process that.

*I can feel my #spoonie symptoms starting to make more of a nuisance of themselves. I hope to publish this post, send a tweet or two and rustle up a quick email reply to a pal, before the sands run out…

TTFN x

Jack Monroe has given me, as a survivor of abuse, a freedom from fear and I really want to thank her.

I have never wanted to devour a recipe book. I don’t suppose they taste too good, do they? I have owned and perused many a cook book from slim guides to hefty tomes, by the lesser known and the ‘celebrity’ chef, offering everything from simple suppers, one pot dinners, veggie delights, vegan cooking made easy, low fat, low stress … low fun. No matter the brilliance within those pages, those books couldn’t excite me.

I’ve never found cooking in any way thrilling despite being far from devoid of enthusiasm generally (I’m something of a jump up and down, beam broadly and talk the hind legs off a donkey with great passion on many topics, type. Enthusiastic hardly covers it.). I do enjoy food. I’m mindful of the importance of healthy eating. I don’t want to rely on processed foods and have often wished I had a love of cooking from scratch.

My lack of excitement for cooking, stems from a lack of confidence rooted in an old fear. I recall the swipes, slaps, pokes, verbal batterings and other punishments that accompanied the cooking of my upbringing. Nothing I did, in learning to cook or otherwise, was ever deemed acceptable. I’ve worked hard to build self esteem and confidence, but my relationship with cooking remained affected. Perhaps because it’s such a fundamental skill, and I was for so long deemed incapable of even that. I instilled my ex-husband with the confidence to learn to cook, and mentored his efforts – planning menus, gathering ingredients and lovingly encouraging. Still I cooked without enjoyment, with a lot of fear and to no more than a basic level.

The blog, devotedly largely to cooking on an impossibly tight budget, I found at agirlcalledJack.com caused something of a stir. I refer not to the stir in the media or in a bowl filled with a magical mix of low cost kidney beans, a square of dark chocolate, tomato puree and a pinch of cumin. This was the makings of a stirring deep inside of me (ooer – I have heard tell that food can do that to some folks).  Instead of wishing that I could tackle these recipes, that I found I was avidly reading, or feeling that I ought to tackle them; I started to find that I wanted to tackle them. Soon I found that not only did I want to tackle one or two basic budget recipes, I wanted to tackle quite a few. Then came my first encounter with A Girl Called Jackthe book* …

I devoured it in one huge gulp, reading from cover to cover with mounting EXCITEMENT. I wanted to make these things, because they excited me and because, finally, I felt I could. Then, after cooking one day, I found myself thinking I enjoyed that, then it happened again … and again. Now I look forward to cooking and it seems I enjoy it every time and best of all the fear has gone and in its place is a growing confidence.

Jack, I can’t thank you enough for that.

I’m never going to be contestant on the Great British Bake Off. I haven’t baked consistently since the cookery lessons of my school days of the 70s and 80s. I have baked since then but with fear, little success and more than a dollop of self-judgement. Last week * wait for it * I made a banana loaf. No, really, I really did … and bloody good it was too! I searched the terms ‘easy low fat banana loaf’ and came to this recipe from the BBC Good Food website – a site I believe also inspired you, Jack. I have to say that if I can successfully complete this recipe, anyone could, but boy did I enjoy making it. I positively revelled in it. By the end I might as well have conquered Everest, such was my sense of accomplishment and new found baking confidence. I’ve made it twice more since and, thanks to a gift of some apples, next week plan to bake Jack’s Apple and Cinnamon loaf.

A slice of MY banana loaf to sustain me as I write

As someone who lives with a number of diagnoses of chronic illness and is a ‘spoonie’, the amount of energy required to make a meal is of real importance. Before Jack, for two years (trying not to eat rubbish) I relied largely on expensive ready meals and ultimately, so burnt out was I, ended up living by snacking, not healthy, not good for the waistline and not at all satisfying or sustaining. My dysfunctional marriage had ended, I was continuing my extensive efforts to rebuild my life post-abuse disclosure and subsequent serious illness. I was dealing with the sudden terminal illness then death of the last person I had left who could be termed a ‘loved one’. I was studying, volunteering, making plans for self employment to revive the hard won and much beloved career stolen by the effects of abuse … and a whole lot more. Then after a final piece of devastating news it all stopped.The words straw and camel come to mind. I saw no light this summer. I stopped going out and my world closed down. Suicidal thoughts raged aplenty.

Now in dire straits financially, as a result of my marriage ending, and illness, I need Jack’s recipes all the more. My grocery shopping of late has almost entirely comprised products from the supermarket’s ‘basic range’, thanks to Jack encouraging me to try more than one or two. I’ve found I didn’t have enough money to buy tampons and put back food items to pay for them. Now I no longer have money to shop. Last week I was referred to a local food bank – a surreal moment and one that I’m still finding difficult to process. My first food parcel will arrive on Thursday.

My new found cooking confidence is helping to sustain me in more ways than one at this terribly difficult time. I’m sure I’ve cooked more in recent weeks than in the rest of my adult life and I’m using cooking implements that have long languished in boredom. I have a history of mental illness because of the trauma and abuse I have experienced. Reactive depression has returned with a vengeance, that alone makes me feel like I’m wading through treacle. It feels good to know that I am sustaining myself with good home cooked food. A bit of weighing, chopping and stirring goes some way to distracting my troubled mind.

I fear turning on lights and as colder days approach, I know that I can no longer afford to heat my home, despite the fact that the cold exacerbates my chronic pain. At risk of homelessness, I know that without a roof over my head, cooking will be the least of my worries. I hope there is a way I can be supported to stay in the one-bed rented flat I found last year and have grown to love so much, and keep on cooking and growing.

Thank you Jack for your brilliant recipes delivered in a gentle easy manner that means even the most ‘culinarily-challenged’ like me can be engaged.

I thought there could be no greater surprise than when I took up running last year (I am far from an athlete) but now … now I find I’ve added the category Food and Cooking to my blog :))) !

I still can’t make an omelette, despite Jack’s gentle instruction I still end up with scrambled egg. One day  …

With love and many grateful thanks to you Jack xx

*Thanks also to Jack for the introduction to the Hive, buy books online and support vital independent booksellers at the same time. Click here to buy any of Jack’s books – no, I’m not on commission 😉 !