In line with my current fascination with being well, which includes being happy, I’ve read Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life. She has studied happiness extensively and had a blog and another book dedicated to it. Her bibliography reads like my new to-read list. Rubin combines personal anecdotes and thorough research as she outlines her monthly experiments. Being somewhat nerdy, nothing excites me more (in a non-fiction book) than a sentence that begins -“research suggests…” “Research suggests that mindful people tend to be happier, are more likely to feel self-confident and grateful and less likely to feel anxious or depressed, and have heightened self-knowledge.” P41 She’s not selling a universal prescription for happiness. She’s offering her experience and research so that we can find our own keys to happiness. Rubin writes in a genuine, easily accessible manner. I find her writing a joy to read. All non-fiction writers ought to be able to weave a story in the same way a fiction author does -and Rubin does this beautifully.
There hasn’t been much time or brain power to read recently. So I’ve been choosing what I read (of course I’m still reading something!) wisely.
I’ve just managed to finish reading The Busy Woman’s Guide to High Energy Happiness by Louise Thompson.
Recommended for: Anyone who has a fatigue-based illness or who is interested in learning the basics to living well.
This book has really resonated with me because the birth of my son has renewed my passion for getting well. I have so much I want to do with him, with my husband, for my work and in my life.
It is written conversationally and is easily accessible, but it is still backed by research and experience.
There’s a multitude of suggestions that I intend to follow. Including fighting for my right to rest, my right to follow guidelines that enable me to live well (including being in bed by 9.30pm, when I’m usually over the day) and my commitment to healthy living.
I awoke with a shock at midnight on Good Friday with severe back pain and contractions. To cut a 19 hour story short, the extreme back pain lasted the entire labour, the epidural failed, he was the wrong way round and had his head in an awkward position. He was born weighing a healthy 7 pd 7oz.
Unfortunately he had a problem with wind from the beginning, which degenerated into severe vomiting by his 18th day. On his third week anniversary he was admitted into hospital for tests that eventually revealed he had pyloric stenosis. An operation to trim the muscle in his stomach that had gotten too thick enabled food to pass from the stomach to the intestines again.
At last, just before his fourth week began, we took him home and effectively met him and learnt all about him again. He was like a new baby.
I am so in love with this little being!
My pain and fatigue levels were doing rather well up until our second hospital stay. With the stress of my precious baby being sick and sleepless nights ensuring he didn’t choke on his vomit, a flare up has ensued. But, thank God for my husband! He did most of the night shifts at the hospital so I could sleep and express breast milk for baby. I never could have survived if not for him. He has been AMAZING!
The combination of my husband’s help, choosing to express and then feed via the bottle and my mother-in-law cooking our meals enabled me to survive and enjoy my baby. I am so thankful, so blessed, so happy.
There is more than a little vulnerability involved when you have a reliance upon a certain treatment in order to maintain wellness.
I have experienced this many times over in the near decade in which I have been trying to live well with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. I have had to gather information, learn about my condition, and learn to advocate for myself.
I have tried many of the physical therapies available. My heart has been broken a few times by enthusiastic practitioners who believe they can cure me.
In the last two years, I have found an amazing physiotherapist who combines acupuncture with deep tissue work, specifically for patients with fibromyalgia. She armed me with things I could do to help myself, supported me to adapt a Pilates routine to help strengthen my back and neck and we managed to reduce my visits to two-weekly (from weekly). At the same time, I had been making changes to my lifestyle and taking my battle for wellness in hand.
Little did I know that last year, there was something around the corner to throw me off balance.
I became pregnant.
Pregnancy has had huge physical implications for me. In the first trimester I was beset by worse fatigue than several years of chronic fatigue syndrome could prepare me for. In the second trimester I pulled a muscle in my hip and lower back. As the third trimester has dragged on, my physical limits are being severely tested.
Luckily, I have many coping mechanisms in place. But nothing could prepare me for the emotional impact of several weeks of deteriorating sleep, increasing fatigue and increasing pain. Unfortunately, this has been coupled with needing a new physiotherapist, due to mine also becoming pregnant.
I began my search by Googling those that say they do acupuncture and calling them to confirm. I turned up to an appointment with a physiotherapist, whose receptionist told me she does acupuncture, only to find she does dry needling instead. In desperate need of treatment, I continued with the appointment. But, in comparison to the whole-body, gentle effect of acupuncture, dry needling a couple of muscles did little for me.
The day before an appointment with a different physiotherapist, with whose receptionist I explained my situation and stressed that I needed acupuncture, I received a call from that physio telling me that she didn’t actually do acupuncture, it was dry needling. I cancelled the appointment.
Trying a different tact, I Googled physical treatments specifically aimed at pregnant women. And the prices alone were enough to deter me. Being on maternity leave with my family on reduced income, I cannot justify these prices – especially as I need treatments at least once a fortnight.
One of the organisations I spoke to said, “we do do acupuncture, but we call it by a different name, dry needling.” This made me angry. If I didn’t know exactly what I need, if I hadn’t already been through the dry needling phase, I might have been sucked in.
And that is one important finding of having fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome – I have to continually be my own advocate. Which is somewhat tiring when you are so sore and so tired that you want to give up!
Mary Poppins is my favourite childhood character. For a few years I wanted to be her when I grew up, after that I just wanted to play her if I ever had to play a lead role in a movie! So when I saw there was a movie about the author and how the Mary Poppins movie came to be made, despite the author being reluctant, I had to see it.
Mrs Travers as portrayed in Saving Mr Banks is a most adorable character. She is British, proper and respectable. The story behind her stiff character is revealed alongside the story of the development of the script of the Mary Poppins movie.
As a young girl she slowly watches her fantastical father (played admirably by Colin Farrell – previously not on my radar) disintegrate into drink & illness. It becomes clear that when P L Travers says the the characters in her books are family, she means these characters are based upon her family, this is why she held so tightly to her story.
It is a beautifully told, amazingly acted movie. Emma Thompson is superb – she displays the heart within the tough old bird. In refusing to let Mr Banks be a horrid man and Mary Poppins to become a singing joke, she is protecting the legacy of two precious adults from her childhood.
To name only two others from the excellent cast – Tom Hanks played an awesome Walt Disney and the young Pamela, “Ginty”, was astounding – Annie Rose Buckley has a tremendous career ahead of her.
I’ve had to put the biography, Mary Poppins She Wrote, which inspired this movie, on my to-read list!
I’d definitely recommend this movie, especially if you also grew up watching or reading Mary Poppins, or if you just have an interest in biography.
I have just read the blog post, Seeing Yourself as Healthy, by Danea Horn of Chronic Resilience. In it, she talks about self-perception – about choosing to see herself as healthy and remembering all the things that bring us joy. And it got me thinking.
For years, I have waited for someone to truly understand what it is I deal with on a daily basis. I have also spent more years than not ignoring it and carrying on (because I had no label and no idea it was reasonable – or preferable – to go a little easier on myself).
For the last three years, I have acknowledged my illness and my limitations and worked to both learn about them and conquer them.
But there is a tricky balance here. You don’t want to dwell on your pain and fatigue (or whatever symptoms you deal with), you don’t want to stop doing things you want to do and you don’t want to be seen as the “sick” person. You do, however, want to know your boundaries.
I acknowledge and respect my boundaries as best as I can, because I have found that I can often overexert myself – and I then pay for it. As my only advocate, I have to do it. Because it can be hard for other people to grasp what it is to struggle through a day or, worse, to be stuck in bed in extreme pain, fatigue and panic.
Everything I do, I do to stay away from being unwell. I guess, because I look healthy and because I achieve so much, it is hard for someone (even someone who witnesses my everyday life) to grasp the fact that I could be one bad call from a flare up. So when I compromise and stay out late, I am compromising my energy and my experience of wellness. Even if I am not in bed the next day, my pain could be worse, my fatigue will probably be exponentially increased – that day becomes a day that I am not living but merely coping.
On the flip side of that however, I do tend to protect myself a little too much. I appreciate it when my husband can remind me to do something I think may be a little too out on the cost/benefit scale – because, I can get it wrong. I can overestimate the cost and underestimate the benefit. But there needs to be recognition that I can’t stockpile energy and it takes more than one night to make up depleted energy levels.
So it comes back to a tricky balance. You need to acknowledge your illness/boundaries but you also need to try to learn where you can push back. This can be difficult with an unpredictable illness like Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue, but when your pushing back includes achieving something you’re passionate about, it is so worth it. Then, maybe you’re not the “sick” person, but the “wise” person.
As I mentioned in my 2014 post, I have been reading widely about the changes taking place in my life. I have avoided writing a massive post about pregnancy and baby books and will instead provide a select round up of what I have been burying my nose in so far this year.
Bellagrand, by Paullina Simons
I was so lucky to catch this book almost as soon as it was available at the library by early reservation. It was perfectly what I craved to read. This was a beautifully written, but heart-breaking story, about the slow disintegration of a woman who fell in love with a radical socialist. Her life is plotted with so many downs and just a few magical ups – her love; for her husband, mother, brother and son.
I really enjoyed this story and the protagonist’s strength in the face of so much tragedy. But, by covering so much time, it felt like Gina’s life was mostly summarised, honing in on a few key moments or periods.
City of Fallen Angels, by Cassandra Clare
This is the fourth instalment of The Mortal Instruments series by stunning Young Adult author, Cassandra Clare. Like the previous three, it was an addictive, plot-driven read with a cast of characters I’ve come to love. These books seem so hard to sum up into a sentence, or even a paragraph, but this one follows Clary (now training to be a Shadowhunter), Simon (Clary’s best friend, a newly turned vampire) and Jace (Clary’s Shadowhunter boyfriend) as they follow three different paths that intertwine at the climax. It was a great read!
Chronic Resilience, by Danea Horn
Author, Danea Horn, suffers from a few serious chronic illnesses, including kidney disease, but has not let this rule her life. She is a certified life coach and speaker with a great blog, www.chronicresilience.com. In this book she teaches 10 strategies for coping with chronic illness, featuring women dealing with a variety of chronic illnesses.
I found it to be a great book, well written and ultimately useful – particularly the activities she prescribes for helping you to articulate your own values so you can use your precious energy on the things that matter to you.
The Signature of all Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
This was a big read. It followed the life of a remarkable woman born in the early 1800s. She is a special protagonist and it was a great journey to see the world through her eyes, the eyes of a naturalist. It was sad a great deal, but Alma managed to carve out a good life for herself doing what she loved. This book was exquisitely written, rather different from my usual reads and I enjoyed it.
The Magician’s Nephew, by C. S. Lewis
The story of the beginning of Narnia seemed appropriate for the first book that I read aloud to my bump. It is a gorgeous story and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series to my baby.
On Becoming Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo
This has been my favourite book around early parenting routines. It advocates a flexible routine, based on the feeding and sleeping needs of infants and babies. It is written in a very accessible manner.
The Thrift Book, by India Knight
This was a very cute read with lots of great ideas for tightening your belt, from home to fashion to entertainment. Written in a funny, off-hand, but passionate manner.
Babyproofing Your Marriage, by Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O’Neill, Julia Stone, Rosario Camacho-koppel
An amusing read by four mums who tell both sides of the story in the mum vs. dad warfare that takes place in many homes. From sex to housework, to a(n amusing) table of parents’ time charted by the number of children they have, they approach the subject with honesty, humour and courage.
The Fall of Five, by Pittacus Lore
The fourth book in the I Am Number Four series was just as addictive and well written as the others. This one takes a spin and finds one of the garde (sent to protect earth as children from the invading Mogadorian aliens) on the wrong side.
At the moment I am concurrently reading four great books, including an Audrey Hepburn biography that I am zooming through for my book club next week. I am trying to squish in as many books pre-baby as I can as I am not sure my brain will be up for reading when I lose more sleep than I already have been!
Do you remember my post about the top 10 classics I wanted to read? If you don’t, then you can read it here. Classics like Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and The Great Gatsby were on that top 10 post. I’ve read two of the four classics mentioned. Also, I read one other classic, one that wasn’t on the list. Here’s the list…
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
It chronicles the story of an orphaned boy named Pip as he becomes a gentleman with “great expectations.” Coming of age stories are one of my favourites; it’s the growth, the change, in the main character, due to their experiences that I find myself able to relate with. Charles Dickens wrote such a haunting, intriguing novel with a cast of likable characters that seem real.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
It centres on the doomed love affair between the sensuous, rebellious Anna Karenina and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. I thought it to be both sad and amazing. It saddens me that Anna couldn’t be with Vronsky without being ridiculed by society. I must say that the final part was disappointing; when I was expecting the reactions of Anna’s close ones, it was instead something else; one of the only times she’s mentioned is through disrespect by Vronsky’s mother. Despite that, I will read the book again and see the film starring Keira Knightley.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Surviving her harsh and lonely childhood, orphaned Jane Eyre takes up a post as governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with the dark and sardonic Mr. Rochester, who hides a terrible secret; one that forces Jane to follow her moral convictions—even though it robs her of her happiness. I admire and respect Jane for being strong throughout her childhood, as well as for her independence. Novels with strong women appeal to me immensely. One line I loved was: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” I loved Jane Eyre!
We all know the recommended steps for being well- eat healthily, exercise moderately and get plenty of sleep. But what happens if no matter what you do, you are exhausted and sore? There’s no escaping it, you have to do the work. Here’s the five ways I use to cope with my Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue:
1. Healthy eating
Food is fuel, right? Everyone should eat healthily with a diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables and rich in whole grains and protein. If you’re looking for more pointers try this Health Eating Plan for the Rest of your Life. When you are battling extreme fatigue and travelling muscle aches, what you eat can be of great help.
In my worst flair up last year, my food diary became a love song to carbohydrates. I subconsciously craved fuel that my body could turn into energy; unfortunately, all those carbohydrates created the opposite effect. My already exhausted system was battling its way through the simple and complex carbohydrates I was throwing at it every few hours – it had no time to create energy. It took a few days of concentrated effort, but once I replaced a few of these servings with other foods, I began to feel the effects.
Unless your doctor forbids it due to a medical condition, you should be exercising. A person with Fibromyalgia will work at a lower intensity and for a shorter period, but they should still exercise.
The amount of energy I have fluctuates, depending on many things, but I always go for my walk with my dog. Sometimes it is only around a 15-minute block, other times I will go for a course with a decent hill or will walk for a little longer. I have found 25-30 minutes to be ideal for me. I am always treading the fine line between proper muscle exhaustion and pain. This can be hard to monitor with constantly changing goalposts like fatigue and pain levels, but after two years, I have worked up to my current level.
Pilates is my favourite form of resistance exercise. I have done it faithfully for about ten years. Sometimes I operate at a beginner level and other times I can advance the exercises. When I was starting again after a bout of extreme pain, my physiotherapist created a 20-minute programme for me to follow. With my experience, I was able to advance the exercises as my energy levels allowed.
As my pregnancy has advanced, I have had to drop most of my Pilates routine and have begun to favour yoga. I have found it more important than ever to keep the strength in my muscles with gentle activation. There is a strong correlation between less exercise and more pain.
3. A compassionate, knowledgeable physical practitioner
My physiotherapist is a valuable component of my healthy life. Someone you trust, who knows about Fibromyalgia and can bring about lasting changes with their treatments is vital to coping with long-term pain and fatigue. Someone who can come alongside you and take the burden of your body, even if only for half an hour is great for physical and emotional health.
My physiotherapist is the only person I can speak candidly to about what I have been coping with for the last 7-14 days (depending on how long I can stretch out the periods between treatment). After trying many of the different types of therapies, I have found acupuncture to be (one of) the least invasive and longest-lasting treatment.
4. Sleep and rest
Sleep is my hardest battle. A full night’s sleep is the best way to cope with life. I try to go to bed around the same time every night and have a set routine that involves getting ready and reading before I switch off the light. I also try to get up around the same time every day. This helps, but I will not always sleep through the night, I will not always fall asleep straight away and I will often wake up at 4am (or every hour or two) with an incredibly stiff and sore neck.
To counteract these things I adjust my daily schedule as necessary and, when I am being good, I will lie down at some stage during the day to read. Yoga stretches and meditation are things I do regularly and these help with sore muscles and fatigue.
5. A plan for the “hard” days
These are inevitable. Everybody gets sick from time to time. A person with Fibromyalgia will have some harder days. I have found a written list with suggestions for what to do on one of these days to be useful for pulling me out of the downward spiral of panic that accompanies intense pain.
- Specific stretches for my neck (tightness in my neck often causes headaches, nausea, dizziness and extreme fatigue)
- Things I can do in descending order of ability (a gentle walk, gentle stretches, watch a DVD, read, lie down with an audio book on, lie down and do nothing else)
- A reminder of the pain relief options I have at my disposal (wheat pack, icepack, heat cream, Ibuprofen, prescribed pain killers) – you would be surprised at how often I forget these things exist in the grips of serious pain.
All of these ways for coping should be underpinned by hope. Hope that your “hard” days will occur less often. And hope that you will be able to compile a life that is heading towards wellness, rather than just away from sickness.
My initial idea for Confessions of a Fancy Nerd, was actually a bit broader. For some reason, I read some books and some blogs about blogging and conformed to some regular standards, like finding a niche. I lost sight of the fact that the point of writing this blog, was, simply, because I enjoy writing. I had just completed a magazine journalism course and had so enjoyed the online writing component of the course and wanted to put what I had learnt into practice.
The original title, reflecting the very real inconsistencies in people in general, and in myself, was to be something more like: Confessions of a Fancy Nerd: Adventures of a reader, writer, thinker-doer, introvert-extrovert, semi-vegetarian, with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, interested in health, wellbeing, simplicity and finding my own path to happiness.
In the last year, my life has changed dramatically. I have started my own business, contracting in projects. I met the love of my life, and we are now having a baby and getting married. I am also converting to Catholicism (from Anglicanism, so not a giant leap). In true Fancy Nerd form, I have been reading widely about these things, but it is has still been a big adjustment. I am learning a lot about myself in this process and have been evaluating my goals, dreams, hopes, desires and even my everyday habits.
When confronted with a new life, and a new way of living, it seems natural to question how you have done things previously. And for me, what my bottom lines are. During my first trimester of pregnancy, when I was desperately exhausted and unwell, I had thought writing was something that needed to go. That my precious energy needed to be saved for my baby and my relationship (and work and my health etc.).
Now that I am emerging from my cloud of pain, fatigue and panic, I see that I was just overwhelmed. I went into survival mode. Planning a wedding, gestating, working, continuing to get to know my love, taking religious classes and trying to stay well in amongst it all is rather hard.
But in the stillness that the December/January slowdown has provided I have found a few incontrovertible truths:
- I need to read, write, walk the dog and generally spend time alone – I recharge in the way of the introverted
- I struggle to socialise in big groups, they drain me, especially if I haven’t had enough down time (and I am particularly tired)
- I will compromise too far in order to make my loved ones happy
- I have found the “bottom line” – my new go-to decision-making process, when I am feeling anxious, overwhelmed and on the verge of tears (surprisingly regular with pregnancy!) – I ask, is baby healthy? Am I well? Is my love happy? Would I be unhappy or just not particularly happy by this decision?
So, I got a bit lost. And I got a bit stuck.
I’m looking forward to learning, growing, reading, writing and sharing this journey this year. Look out for new content and (eventually) a new look.