Learning How to Crochet

I like to think of myself as a proficient knitter:

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but crochet seemed like a strange form of witchcraft in comparison. I tried to learn with a friend last year and it felt like I was just waving a stick around in the air, occasionally catching some wool and expecting it to magically form something that resembled crochet. It was fun though!

I recently started knitting small animals for charity and writing stories about them (check out this blog) but was getting incredibly frustrated with the amazing and cute crochet patterns available and the distinct lack of knitting equivalents. So I decided last week to learn how to crochet properly.

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Lou the Lion on his animal adventure

Another friend told me about some really easy crochet videos by a guy called Mikey on the Crochet Crowd YouTube channel. I’d looked at videos before but got nowhere but this was a whole series of videos with slow and clear instructions. He even tells you when to pause the video! So I started practising the basic stitches: single crochet, double crochet and triple crochet.

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The one thing I will say is the way he tells you to do a slip knot is unecessarily difficult, in my opinion. But I knew that from knitting anyway.

I spent a few days learning and practising these. My venture into crochet last year helped a lot because I already knew how to hold the hook and how to yarn over. But I got to the point where I was bored of doing stitches and wanted to do something that was recognisable as crochet and not just a series of random knots. So Mikey helpfully taught me how to make a Granny Square.

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I was pretty proud of my achievement, but a friend said they’re supposed to be different colours. Well, Mikey didn’t tell me how to change colours, so I didn’t. And Mikey is the Crochet Master! So I went on YouTube and found a different channel by a British lady.

This is where I got confused. She was saying the word single crochet but she was not single crocheting. Had Mikey been lying to me the whole time?! Then I remembered that American and British crocheting are different, although Mikey is Canadian I think, judging by the way he says ‘about’. I switched video and found a different British lady who does ‘the American way’ and managed a colour changing granny square:

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I felt like I was cheating on Mikey a bit though, he’d got me further than anyone else so far through his idiot proof lessons, so I went back to his channel and picked up the next lesson which was circles:

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I’m absolutely appalling at maths so I was grateful for Mikey and his helpful rhymes telling me how to do it. However, this is where my knitting knowledge came in handy- I might not have been able to immediately do what Mikey was telling me but I was able to work out what I should be doing, which is half the battle.

The next thing I wanted to learn was how to make a flower. Mikey’s channel taught me a simple flower and the British lady taught me how to make a rose.

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I felt like I was getting the hang of it by now, so realised that I should probably stop relying on Mikey and work out how to read a pattern. Thankfully Mikey also had a video for that too! I also decided to buy some crochet hooks, because I only owned 1 before.

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I needed an animal for someone to take to Italy for me and gecko was one of the suggestions. So I found a pattern online pretty quickly, so much easier than trawling through the knitting ones! I had issues working out what a magic ring was. Correction, I knew what I was supposed to do – you wrap the yarn in such a way that you don’t have a hole in the centre of your work – but Mikey’s video was overly complicated, so I found a different one. Working this out took the longest but once I’d got that, the rest of the pattern was pretty easy to decipher by using what I already knew or by using YouTube videos. Again, knitting knowledge came in handy.

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I’m pretty impressed with myself because my first attempts at crochet last year were terrible. Getting the right YouTube videos was definitely the main reason for my success- I’m quite good at copying someone but not very good at verbal instructions. The Crochet Crowd videos with Mikey were good because he repeated the exact same phrase over and over and didn’t talk unnecessarily while he was doing it, which helped when trying to repeat the stitches in a different context. Truth be told, I still don’t have a clue what the differences between all of the stitches are, but it doesn’t take long to go back to the videos and work out which ‘rhyme’ I’m supposed to be using. I’m looking forward to the different patterns I can now explore! Thanks Mikey 🙂

Things I Miss About Having a Job

I was sat outside yesterday in the sunshine with a cup of tea, listening to my neighbours coming home from work. It got me thinking about the things I miss about having a job. Everyone moans about the daily grind, but actually there was so much I loved about having a job which I’ve learnt about in hindsight. You don’t, and can’t, really appreciate it until you don’t have a job anymore.

Work identity

You take on a different persona at work. I had my own office and classroom that I controlled and managed, and I got to put my own stamp on it. Granted, the last time I put my own ‘stamp’ on my classroom, I stapled lots of clouds backing paper upside down and couldn’t be bothered to change it- definitely a unique look! I miss the random chat with colleagues. And most of all, I miss the hecticness that is teaching.

Commuting

I used to love driving to work with either the radio or my iPod on. If a song I liked came on (Taylor Swift!), it was a really good feeling. I enjoyed watching the changes in seasons, how some days I would need to scrape my car and the sun would just be coming up, compared with summer days where I needed sunglasses and could put my roof down (don’t get too excited, my convertible was a fiat 500! 😉 )

Free time

I have a lot of ‘free’ time now, but I don’t necessarily get to feel the benefit of it because I feel poorly during it. Free time when you’re working is actually free time, and you might be tired or not have as much of it as you like, but you get to choose what you do with it. So it feels more significant somehow, or at least it should. That feeling of ‘thank god it’s the weekend’ used to be a great feeling- I’d worked hard so I deserved to have a good weekend.

Earning a wage

Obvious really. Money means you can do stuff or buy stuff. I particularly miss the opportunity for travelling. Saving up or buying something with money you’ve earned is a great feeling. Now I’m basically a ‘kept’ woman from the 1950s- my husband is in charge of finances now!

Status

Status is still everything. People judge you by your job, your house and if you have kids. I like to tell people ‘I don’t work’ when I meet them for the first time and then correct them when they assume I’m raising kids. It sounds harsh, but it helps me work out who I want to spend my energy on and who I don’t. So many people assume that I’m ‘nothing’ because I don’t work and don’t have kids. Eventually I drop into conversation I used to be a teacher and their opinions and judgements of me change- suddenly my point of view is respected and people care about what I have to say, whereas they didn’t necessarily before. I miss the status of having a job. For one thing, it means you have something to talk about if you’re really struggling to make conversation with someone. Maybe I’ll change it up a bit and allude to the fact that I’m a spy on a covert mission or something and see what reaction that gets me…

Routine

I liked the routine of work, of getting up at a certain time, making breakfast and packing my bag and going to bed at a specific time etc. I have a routine now, pretty much like babies do- nap times and meal times- but it’s not quite the same as having a routine with a purpose. I do, however, like being able to eat and wee when I want to rather than it being dictated by school bells!

Clothes

I used to have work clothes and normal clothes. Now I have pyjamas and a ‘can I really justify buying new clothes since I don’t go anywhere/see anyone’ mentality. I have a new found empathy for parents who used to bring their older kids to school in their pjs!

Being busy

Now that I physically can’t be busy, I miss that feeling of not quite having enough time to do everything. Yes it was stressful, but you get a big adrenaline rush when everything happens at once and then this great big feeling of accomplishment/relief/pride once you manage to get everything sorted. I definitely don’t miss being a sweaty mess asking kids to share their chocolate with me on really bad days though! (Ok maybe I do a bit!)

Purpose

Working means you have a sense of purpose. Someone needs you to show up that day, so you have to get out of bed. The problem with being ill is you lose this sense of purpose, but you’re also expected to fit in around other people’s busy lives, which makes you feel like a burden as well as lacking purpose. It makes sense- I’m at home all day, so, reasonably, I should be the one to slot in around other people. But that doesn’t mean I want to spend my entire life waiting around for other people to make time in their busy lives for me, because it compounds this feeling further. You also learn quite quickly the people who make you a priority and those who make excuses and cancel. Real friends don’t make the effort to see you only when they have time, they make time to come and see you.

Time flies

Time flies when you’re working. It might feel like the week is dragging while you’re at work, but until you’re on your fourth year of daytime television repeats (thank god for
Netflix), you don’t really know what a good thing it is to be at work! When you spend hours a day by yourself it’s pretty isolating, and you really notice how long the working day is while you’re waiting for people to come home. It’s quite difficult ‘watching’ other people and their busy lives on social media, because that’s what I desperately want to be doing but can’t. Although I definitely don’t begrudge anyone for their busy lives, I don’t resent people for being happy- not my style. Plus I’m too nosey and want to see what people are up to! But it can be hard to watch sometimes. Having said that, I like to think that I’m a qualified lawyer, doctor, cowgirl, estate agent and politician thanks to all of my daytime TV watching! Either that or I’m an over-anxious high school student who wants to be on the cheerleading team and date a footballer (there are a lot of dramas set in high school!)

A career

I always wanted to be a teacher. From as soon as I knew what jobs were I wanted to be a teacher. I worked towards it for all of my education, so what’s that, 19 years? I can’t really put into words how much I feel I’ve lost by not being able to teach (or work in general) anymore. But most people don’t really acknowledge that- I think they’d find it easier to empathise if I’d been fired or made redundant. It’s a massive cliché, but I lost more than a career and a profession, as bad as losing those feel. I cared a lot about the kids I worked with and I feel I let them down. It’s hard to explain, but you do a lot more than teach as a teacher.

I miss the job, but I also miss a lot of the things that came with having a job. I wish I’d had more of a chance to appreciate how amazing it was to have a job that I loved, to acknowledge that actually I was quite good at my job, but also to feel grateful for all the things I took and everyone else takes for granted which come about as a result of having a job. But, as I’ve said before, being chronically ill teaches you a lot about life and the way you have to think about it. So while I was sitting outside listening to my neighbours come home from work, I really appreciated the Spring sun, my cup of tea keeping me warm because the sun wasn’t actually warm enough and the daffodils growing in the garden. I wouldn’t have appreciated those fully had I been coming home from work and desperate to get in the house quickly like my neighbours were.

 

30 Before 30: Spring Update

I’ve got about 2 months left to complete the things on my 30 before 30 list, which I started in the Summer last year. Here’s how I’m doing so far in my Spring update:

  1. Ride a Horse. This is now pretty much a ‘bad idea’ for me to do health wise. So I might have to get creative as to how I achieve this! I have, however, watched 7 seasons of Heartland, which is a programme about cowboys/cowgirls on a ranch in Canada. Which means I know a lot of equine terms!
  2. Go on a Spa Day. Again, potentially a bad idea health wise…
  3. Make a wearable piece of clothing. I’m going to say I’ve done this one. I doubt I will ever finish the skirt I started, but I have worn the headbands I made a few times and they haven’t fallen apart!

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4. Volunteer for a charity. I have done this a lot! I volunteered for Reindeer Post at Christmas, and then I started my Out with Animals Blog to post animals to sick children through Post Pals. Then I made a link with another charity, Help for Dominica, and have posted some animals there. And I also volunteered at the Endocrine Clinical Update for Addison’s UK. Most definitely achieved!

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5. Go to a Christmas Market that’s not just the one in Birmingham. I didn’t go very far afield, but I did go to markets in Solihull, Coventry and Blenheim Palace as well as Birmingham.

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6. Sell at a craft fair. This is tricky for many reasons I won’t get into on here. But I did a lot of Christmas knitting for people, have had a few specific requests for items, and have knitted an army of animals which are being sent to people I’ve never met before, so I’m ticking this one off my list- the idea was I do knitting for people who weren’t family and friends.

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7. Go see a musical and stay the night in London.

8. Be a tourist in London. I’m working on these two. We have plans!

9. Go for a picnic in a park or a forest. Complete! Although I still want to go on a picnic in the forest.

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10. Go punting.

11. Do yoga outside. I found some seated yoga exercises and did them outside. It was lovely! I only managed a few minutes, but it still counts!

12. Make brioche.

13. Sleep in a yurt. This falls into the ‘bad idea’ category health wise, sadly.

14. Learn to play Mvt II Sonata Pathetique (Beethoven) all the way through. I can play it all the way through now, I just can’t play it fluently. So not sure if I can tick it off yet or not!

15. Make my own fruit juice for breakfast. Complete! I made peach and mango and apricot juice for breakfast.

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16. Practise Spanish in an actual situation. I’ve talked a bit to a Spanish waiter. And I took part in a photo challenge in November where you had to write a sentence to go with a photo every day in a language you’re learning. I quite enjoyed doing that! I’ve also listened to a couple of very easy Spanish beginners podcasts. I’m ticking this off my list, although I will still try and find a Spanish person to practise with!

17. Go/watch ice skating. Ice skating won’t happen. But hopefully watching it could.

18. Read all of the Harry Potter books in order. Complete! And I even read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as well.

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19. Make mojito ice lollies. We tried doing this over Christmas, but we couldn’t find any rum at the time! We’ve since found it, so will try this soon.

20. Learn how to crochet properly (even if it is bad). My husband refused to teach me, so I asked a friend for some very easy to follow videos on youtube. I’m quite proud of myself- I can now crochet a Granny Square! (providing the video is on, and I can pause it!)

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21. Re-read a book in French. I’ve started re-reading ‘Twilight’ in French. I’m on page 190 out of 500, so progress is slow, but I’m getting there!

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22. Host a raclette party. Complete! Done this a lot now 🙂

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23. Listen to BBC Proms concerts. I kind of tailed off listening to them as the Summer went on, but I still listened to lots of different performances. Podcasts are now my new favourite thing.

24. Record a song on GarageBand. Or Logic. I can probably do this right now, I’m just lazy!

25. Play Pokemon Go. I’m still playing, but I can tick it off the list.

26. Eat tapas. We had some very good tapas, on 2 occasions, Still open for trying more though!

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27. Visit a castle. We visited a lot when we went on holiday to Wales. This one is my favourite:

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28. Go to the seaside/beach and paddle. We haven’t been anywhere near the seaside since I started this list!

29. Play in a band rehearsal. I *kind of* did this when I went to my old concert band’s reunion event. As in, I played the triangle and the tambourine for a couple of pieces! But this now also falls into the ‘bad idea’ category.

30. Go to a Carol Service. I went to 2! I went to see the Westminster Abbey Choristers perform at Symphony Hall and also a local church’s one. Both were great fun, but I particularly loved the choristers.

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In my Winter Update, I had 11 complete, 7 part way complete and 12 not started. Now I have 16 complete, 3 part way complete and 11 not started. That’s still a lot not started, but I’ve managed to finish off some of the ones I started from last time. However, I’m going to add a new category: purple. Basically, when I was assessing for GCSE/A-level, I’d have the red, orange and green colours I have here, but I’d also have purple, which meant ‘has done everything humanly possible but other circumstances mean they’re not achieving their grade.’ I now have a few ‘bad idea for my health’ ones, which means I probably won’t achieve them, including:

 1. Ride a horse
2. Go on a spa day
13. Sleep in a yurt

Taking my new category into account, that would mean 16 complete, 3 part way complete, 8 not started and 3 unlikely to complete. I think that’s reasonable progress 🙂

Volunteering for Addison’s UK

Before I got ill, I used to do a lot of volunteering. I’m not the type of person who volunteers for ‘look at me, aren’t I wonderful’ reasons, I like to volunteer because I like to think that if and when I need help, someone will volunteer their time for me, so why wouldn’t I do it for others? It’s a human thing to do. So when Addison’s UK were looking for volunteers to go to the Endocrine Clinical Update, I jumped at the chance.

You might be thinking ‘hang on, she’s said lots of times on this blog that she doesn’t have Addison’s.’ Correct, I don’t have Addison’s. However, when I first got diagnosed with Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency, I was directed to the Addison’s Disease Support Group to find answers to some of my questions. And I read every article on there and watched every video they had. Because everything in my life rapidly changed, I needed information on lots of things: red flags, sick day rules, info for my GP, info for my employer, prescribing guidelines for my pharmacist, idiot proof guidelines so me and my husband could do the emergency injection…. There was something for everything. And lots of their resources are free, which is amazing. The charity helped me when I needed it, so now it’s time for me to offer my help in return.

It definitely wasn’t just a ‘I guess I should do my bit’ thing though. I really wanted to be there, I feel quite passionate about awareness of AI, and I got a lot out of it too. For the first time, I got to meet someone with the same illness as me. Not just one person, 4 other people. Amazing! Here were 4 people who understood everything about what it feels like to have adrenal insufficiency. Don’t get me wrong, I have people in my life who are kind and supportive and who try really hard to understand and take the time to try to work it out with me. But this isn’t an illness which is easy to understand and it’s also one where you really haven’t got a clue what it feels like until it happens to you.

There’s growing awareness of the illness and protocols required, that’s part of what we were doing – we went to an endocrine clinical update for doctors and nurses and handed out information and answered questions about addison’s/adrenal insufficiency. However, it’s still quite an unfamiliar illness, even in the medical world. As a patient, this means that you have to get clued up quite quickly and can’t always rely on your doctor/GP to know more than you do. You have to learn to advocate for what you need. For me, speaking to different patients and nurses gave me the chance to learn more about my illness, things which I couldn’t necessarily find online: patient experiences of what works and what doesn’t and different ways of thinking to the ones I’d come across previously.

I went along for the afternoon session because I wouldn’t have managed the whole day (I was feeling really rough by the time I got home), but it was such a good experience and hopefully my very small contribution will help another patient somewhere down the line. I definitely want to be more involved with the charity in the future!

Beauty and the Beast

My blog is a year old today, so I thought I’d write a review to celebrate, as that was the first post I ever wrote! 

I loved Beauty and the Beast, and I wasn’t the least bit bothered that we were a bit out of place in the cinema filled with small girls dressed as Belle (although my husband might have been a bit put out!). If you’ve seen the original cartoon, much of the storyline is the same with a few added extra details. I liked in particualr how Emma Watson playing Belle says ‘I only wanted to teach a child to read’ and other, like-minded feminist statements. She most definitely can look after herself and didn’t need to rely on men to ‘save’ her, more she allowed them to fight alongside her.

It made me happy that all of the French was accurate. I can’t tell you how much it annoys me when it gets translated wrong! It also made me realise that all the random character names I thought were just silly words as a child watching the cartoon are actual words in French- it makes a lot more sense now! 

There’s been a bit of controversy with some countries not wanting to show a gay scene in the film. In the original cartoon, Le Fou was so admiring of Gaston that he may as well have had romantic designs on him, and this idea was carried on in the reboot. I got the impression that le Fou was gay because there were a lot more hidden messages conveyed in throwaway phrases and glances or body language (I thought le Fou was great and well played), but it’s not until the very end when you see him dancing with a man at the final ball that it’s confirmed for sure. Although he did also dance with a woman, so I guess it still could be open to interpretation. Somehow, the countries making a fuss have forgotten the original cartoon’s portrayal and have missed a couple of points. Maybe they’re not bothered because the original is a cartoon and ‘not real’ but the film is still about singing and dancing furniture, fantasy and magic. Le Fou being gay is definitely not a shocking thing in the film! Plus a lot of his comments are jokes aimed at adults, which lots of Disney/Pixar films do to make sure their films appeal to the adults in the audience who are experiencing/enduring the film with their children. I thought le Fou was a great character and the interactions between him and Gaston were brilliant. 

I wasn’t a big fan of the female lead vocals in this. Emma Watson was alright singing but some of her phrases weren’t as easy-sounding as they should have been. And I don’t think anyone can compare to the original version of ‘tale as old as time’. The male vocals impressed me though. 

My favourite character was probably Lumière. I didn’t guess he was played by Ewan McGregor until the very end. I loved everything about his accent and intonation. I also really liked le Fou, Belle and Beast and how they interacted. 

I really enjoyed this film and would quite happily see it again- I’ve been singing the songs on repeat in my head ever since!

Photo: Disney 

Looking After Mental Health

Maintaining mental health is a lot like looking after your physical health. In the same way that you can’t go to the gym once and come out looking like a Greek God/Goddess in terms of physique, you can’t do one lot of meditation and suddenly be cured of depression or anxiety. It seems quite obvious when you compare it to physicality, but the problem with mental health is that you don’t always realise it’s becoming a bigger problem until you’re stuck in a cycle. At least with physical health, you can see changes or you can measure it somehow.

Lots of people decide that they want to lose weight for their wedding or a special event and complete a burst of gym training or crash dieting to get there. Sometimes it works and they get the results they want for their event, sometimes it doesn’t and they get halfway and other times they can’t maintain it at all. A lot of the time, people who crash diet or focus purely on the event in mind don’t maintain their physical health afterwards. It’s great to have a goal or a target to work towards, but it’s healthier to incorporate it into your daily life than to do it in fits and bursts when there’s an event on the horizon. Why? Because if you work so hard to get the weight off or to be able to run a marathon, when you try to start up again after a break it feels doubly as hard. And you’re thinking ‘I could do this a year ago, why can’t I now?’. Rather than improving on what you had before, you have to start again and it’s demoralising, which means you’re more likely to give up than you were the first time around.

Mental health is the same. If you only practise self care or meditation or compassionate thoughts when you’re mentally struggling, it doesn’t work very well. It needs to be embedded into your routine so that you’re not fighting with your low mood and trying to adopt a new way of thinking at the same time, because it’s overwhelming. And you’ll probably end up thinking ‘this is stupid, it’s not working, I don’t feel better, so I’m not doing it anymore’. However, the problem with mental health is that it’s difficult to do a lot of the practices like CBT or reframing when you’re feeling ‘alright’, because you don’t feel the need to do them. You also feel a bit like you’re wasting your time dedicating it to some ‘stupid’ therapy which you don’t need at that second.

For me, I knew that I needed to set things up for when I was having bad days because of the amount of time I spent working with pupils who had mental health problems. Hence my star jar and happy photos in my phone. My problem was that when I got really stuck in a cycle is that I would forget that I had these things set up and not do them. Or I found CBT made me more anxious partly because my brain fog meant I couldn’t remember the process and I beat myself up about it, but also because I don’t necessarily have the physiological chemical response to it that makes you feel better for having done it- rationally I could tell you if I was looking for catastrophes that didn’t exist or fortune telling or projecting negative emotions, but I wouldn’t feel any better. Plus I’d promptly forget everything I’d rationalised out.

Someone who read this post recommended an app called Pacifica which has been really useful. It suggests activities to do depending on your mood, it takes you through it step by step, you can go back and look at things you’ve already gone over and it reminds you to check-in with yourself. This is exactly what I needed because my problem was never not being able to see my cycles, it was not having a clue how to get out of them and feeling overwhelmed by all the inner noise. I’ve not been using it long, but it means that hopefully I won’t be expecting myself to lose 10 stone of mental weight in a matter of minutes because I’ll have already established some kind of routine.

Brain Fog

Brain fog is a really hard symptom to describe unless you’ve experienced it. It’s literally like seeing things through fog, where you concentrate really hard but everything still looks fuzzy. I guess it’s a bit like ‘baby brain’, particularly in my case since it’s the same bunch of hormones causing the problem. Except it’s a bit more than that – brain fog is also to do with fatigue, not just forgetfulness, where you’re so tired you can barely remember your own name. It means you do some really stupid things, which can be quite funny!

The first time I noticed I had brain fog was when I would suddenly have periods of time I couldn’t remember while at work. Teaching teenagers, the cynical part of my brain was telling me the kids were trying to pull one over on me but my pupils were the type to be honest, almost brutally so. So when they were stood there saying (shouting) ‘are you kidding me?! I actually did your homework and you’ve gone and lost it!’ (with a few more expletives of choice), you know they’re telling the truth. It’s hard to give the illusion of being all knowing and ‘on it’ if you can’t remember half of what’s going on!

Yesterday I tried to make myself porridge for breakfast. I’ve made porridge every day for years, that’s the only reason I can do it. I know I have to weigh it out and I know where all the components are because they’re strategically left in the same place, otherwise I couldn’t do it. Except the scales were switched to ounces and I needed grams. I’d already started pouring by this point so I switched it to grams and got another bowl but couldn’t work out how I could get the porridge oats from the bowl that started in ounces into my new bowl which was now grams. So I left the old bowl of oats on the side and started again. When my husband came home, he said ‘why didn’t you just tip the old ones into the new bowl’, which would have been the logical thing to do. Because I couldn’t work it out at the time, which sounds ridiculous, I know! Quite a lot, I then forget that the bowl will be hot when I get it out of the microwave, so I burn myself. It’s weird, because I know it’ll be hot, but it doesn’t quite transfer to what I’m trying to do- like reading a sign that says ‘electric fence’ and touching it anyway. Sometimes I ‘forget’ I’ve already put Nutella in and more accidentally ends up in my bowl. I really hate it when that happens 😉

Sometimes I go to the toilet when I’m out and have a bit of a rest first. It means I can go back to putting on an act for people who don’t know me so they can’t see if I’m struggling. It pretty much means I shut the cubicle door, close my eyes and lean my head against the wall and sometimes have a quick nap. However, what happens a lot is I’ve woken up and left and not actually used the toilet and had to go back again straight away to use it, looking like a right wally.

It does have an annoying habit of sneaking up on you and wiping your memory when you’re in the middle of doing something. It feels a bit like the obliviate charm in Harry Potter, you know, the one that wipes memories instantly. One minute you can do or know something, the next you can’t. Like I could be stood in the middle of town and someone could say ‘hey let’s go to primark’ and I think ‘I have no idea where primark is, how do we get there? Do we have a primark here?’ and not have a clue even though I can see it. It just doesn’t register. Other times I’ll be listening to someone speak and suddenly it’ll sound like they’re talking Japanese and I have no idea what they just said. Or I’ll get half way through a sentence and forget how to speak English.

Other examples include trying to open my house door with my car key remote, putting conditioner on my body instead of shower gel and then forgetting to condition my hair, looking for my glasses when they’re already on my face, I fall over a lot because my coordination gets bad… the irony of brain fog is there’s probably a lot more funny things I do, but I can’t actually remember what they are…!

A lot of this is ‘silly’ stuff which lots of people do when they’re tired. I think the difference between being tired and fogginess is the fact that when you’re tired, you might realise quite quickly that you’re being silly and be able to laugh it off and resolve it. But when you’re foggy, you don’t necessarily realise there’s a problem and then if/when you do, you don’t have the cognitive function to be able to work it out and fix it. Even if someone shows you or says a (what should be) straight forward instruction, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it. I still laugh it off a lot of the time, but it can also be really frustrating- I’ve always wanted to do things for myself and it can be upsetting if I can’t.

How can you help someone with brain fog? Patience. You might have to explain things a lot or wait a lot, but if you would wait patiently for a toddler or a person with Alzheimer’s to complete a task, then waiting for me to complete a task is kind of the same- it feels like I’m seeing or doing things for the first time a lot so I have to ‘relearn’ it. The more stressed I get about the fact I can’t do something or that people are waiting, the less chance there is of me doing it. Reassurance also helps, in a not patronising way. Because brain fog is usually accompanied by sensory issues processing sound and light, getting irritated, shouting at me or gesturing wildly won’t help, it just makes it worse. Sounds at normal volume feel like they’re weighing down on me, pushing me into the ground, and even normal light and movements feel like I’m in some kind of disco with strobe lighting, so adding irritation on top is unbearable. And if I want to laugh about it afterwards, joining in definitely helps!

30 Foods Before 30: Spring Update

My birthday in May seems a lot closer now Spring has sprung. I’ve started a new diet, low carb high fat, which slowed me down a bit with finding some of the foods on my list. But now I’ve got to grips with it, I’ve been able to take a few breaks from it to make sure I complete my list!

1. Biscuits and gravy

2. Musakhan jajj

3. Freak shake We went to the shopping centre where I got the Freak Shake last time and it took a lot of will power not to go in and get another one!

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4. Wood ants I’m not looking forward to this one… The friend who suggested it was talking about this place the other day. The restaurant sounds like an interesting place so I’m up for trying it, even if I don’t feel excited by the prospect!

5. Lobster I had steak and lobster in a steak house.

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6. Khachapuri

7. Ceviche Texture was weird, but the taste was good!

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8. Kleftico

9. Nutella Krispy Kreme Many, many times…! So good! Sadly, Krispy Kreme definitely isn’t low carb, and one doughnut would be approximately 2/3 of a day of carbs for me. So I shouldn’t really sample anymore of these 😦

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10. Raclette I’ve had lots of Racelette now. Especially as it’s a very low carb meal, which is an added bonus! Here’s our most recent one a few weeks ago:

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11. Afternoon tea While on holiday in Wales we had a lovely afternoon tea out.

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12. Tapas I’ve had Spanish and Italian Tapas since starting this list. My brother now owns a Tapas bar, so hopefully I’ll be able to sample his soon too!

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13. Alcoholic ice lollies We tried making these over Christmas, but lacked the alcohol to put in them…

14. ‘Proper’ loose leaf tea I’ve had this a couple of times, once at a friend’s house and also with afternoon tea

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15. Tartiflette I can’t believe I’ve not had this yet! We even have the cheese in the freezer ready to go! It’s become slightly more difficult with my latest diet, which rules out potatoes. I’ll make an exception for this though 😉

16. Dosas

17. Tagine My husband made this for tea one night. It was alright- something I’d eat, but not something I’d really look forward to having again.

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18. Real steak Steak is now a regular feature in my diet. Here’s my favourite one- philly cheese steak

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19. Gelato I’m happy to continue sampling flavours with this, despite it being ‘done’😉

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20. Pecan pie In an american smoke house- very, very good pie.

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21. Mississippi mud pie I didn’t eat it in pie form, but I did have it in a sundae the other day. It was pretty good- quite bitter but I like some desserts like that.

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22. Ice cream float Also in the smoke house, had this a couple of times now.

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22. Hot dog This was ‘alright’. I wouldn’t pick it again, but I can say I ate it!

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23. Octopus We had this as part of the tapas meal I had ages ago and it was ‘alright’. But then my friend (the one who’s the really good cook) made it for us as part of a meal we had before Christmas and it was really, really good.

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24. Thai food I’ve had a Thai Green Curry at a pub and at home and Thai Red Curry Mussels but haven’t eaten in a Thai restaurant or eaten authentic Thai food. So this is kind of done, but not quite

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25. Chowder My good chef friend made us chowder a few weeks ago. It was amazing! Definitely something I’ll have again

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26. Mussels We had these this week on our anniversary meal out for our second wedding anniversary. They were also unlimited so we could eat lots of flavours. Korma and red thai curry were the best.

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27. Wood fired pizza Pizza is the opposite of low carb so takes a bit of planning. But that won’t stop me! 😉

28. Churros I’ve had these a few times now, still really good, especially these ones with nutella and dulce de leche

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29. Jerk chicken This was an amazing meal out for my husband’s birthday.

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30. Sweet potato fries I’m still pretty obsessed with these- every meal that comes with the option of chips, I switch them for sweet potato fries if I can!

If you’re observant, I repeated the number 22 by mistake when I wrote my list so I’ve actually got 31 things, not 30. But I’m happy to eat one thing extra! So in my Winter update I had 19 done, 1 nearly done and 11 not tried yet. Now I’ve got 21 done, 1 nearly done and 9 not tried yet. I’m getting there slowly! It’s the more obscure things on my list I have left now. So if you want to cook for me (please) or accompany me in my quest for finding the things on my list, let me know! 🙂

Banner photo: google image

Juggling Balls & Depression

I’m spending a lot of time by myself at the moment, which gives me way too much time for my brain to go into overdrive. Partly because my worse physical symptoms mean I’m not able to do very much but also because my husband has had to work later. Usually I’d distract myself with activities in the house, but because I’ve lowered my baseline, I’ve been feeling pretty awful so haven’t managed to do as much. Except be stuck in my own head.

I recently got a diagnosis of depression. Mood and cortisol are directly linked so lowering my baseline has made that a million times worse. Taking steroids also makes you depressed so it’s kind of a lose lose situation. I can’t juggle all of the balls at once: physically I feel worse, new symptoms have appeared which I haven’t had before, older ones that had gone away have come back, I struggle to sleep, and mentally I feel a lot worse off as well. It’s too much to deal with at once and, like other depressed people find, it feels overwhelming to manage it all and I feel like I’m starting to drop some of the juggling balls.

The easiest way for me to get out of my head is to ‘do something’. This seems pretty straight forward because I like knitting, colouring, reading etc. But perfectionism is actually a trait of adrenal insufficiency which means that if I don’t do something ‘right’ or I can’t manage it, I beat myself up about it. And then the negative voices of depression kick in and tell me it’s because I’m useless, I fail at everything, what’s the point in even trying… This also seems to happen for normal every day activities at the moment e.g. Getting dressed. So I get myself into a mess and don’t know where to start with finding something to do. Decisions are stressful.

Another thing I could do when I get wound up is talk to a friend, either about the problem or something random. However, when I hit that point where I need a friend, my mind tells me how much of a burden to them I am and I decide I don’t want to burden someone else or bother them. So I distance myself and go quiet or avoid people so that I don’t ‘annoy’ them.

It’s also partly because I get anxious and stressed if I don’t hear back from people. So if I don’t contact anyone, I don’t have that stress. Rationally I know that when people don’t text back it’s because they’re busy, they forgot, they’ll ring me later, something came up… etc. But on bad days I nearly always decide that the reason they didn’t text me back is because they hate me, even if there’s no evidence at all to suggest that. The same goes if plans get cancelled or changed last minute. It’s absolutely ridiculous, I know, but it feels like trying to keep all my juggling balls in the air while someone’s trying to throw plates into the mix- I know I should focus on what’s literally at hand, but my brain goes off on a tangent. And because I’m constantly juggling, it’s pretty exhausting.

Plus I read too much into everything. 9 times out of 10 it’s purely coincidence or I’ve imagined it. But when I’m by myself I run things over and over-analyse everything. I have a tendency to forget all the positive things and focus on the one thing I might have done to annoy someone and try to work out how to ‘better myself’. I try to take the blame for things which aren’t my fault or things I only had a part to play in. Rationally I know that I don’t tell doctors what decisions to make, for example, but I always blame myself when things go wrong.

I’m pretty sure that my low mood lowers my cortisol and then my lack of cortisol makes my mood worse. But it’s hard to unravel. I know that lots of people with depression have similar thoughts to mine and are also trying to keep their juggling balls in the air! I do a few things to help: I have a folder of ‘happy’ photos on my phone, a star jar where I write things I’ve enjoyed down and add to look at, playing word games on my phone sometimes helps, and I regularly use my calm app and journal. Currently they’re not really working for me as well as they were, but I’ll keep trying! If anyone has any other strategies, let me know 🙂

Sleep

It’s sleep awareness week. I’m not a good sleeper. I’ve never been a good sleeper, but I’m definitely bad at sleeping now. 
I don’t sleep very much or have good quality sleep at night. I never wake up feeling rested. I have naps in the day and generally get better quality sleep during the day, but obviously I can’t sleep all day and not at night. In a ‘good’ 24 hours period of nighttime/naps, I sleep for about 7 hours. On a ‘bad’ night/naps I get between 3-4 hours. Sometimes, the opposite happens and I sleep for 21 hours out of 24 and only wake up to eat if shaken awake and to go to the toilet. But that’s not healthy either! It’s either I’m too tired to sleep, which sounds weird, or I’m essentially comatose. There doesn’t seem to be an in between. It’s quite common for people with adrenal insufficiency to have disrupted sleep, but there’s little in the way of studies to work out why. One of my theories is I sleep better during the day because my body has the cortisol it needs when I take my tablets, and I don’t sleep at night because my levels drop when I’m not taking my tablets so my body tries to keep itself awake to survive. But there might be other things going on too.

I can go to sleep fine, that’s not the problem. I wake up like I’ve been electrocuted at roughly the same time every night having sweated through my pyjamas, shaking, feeling sick. Sometimes it happens more than once and I need to get up to eat something. It quite often takes a while to settle down again and go back to sleep, if I manage to go back to sleep. 

So I’m being referred to a sleep doctor. I have to say I’m relieved, I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in about 3 years and that’s enough to drive anyone crazy! I’ve tried many, many different things myself and not got anywhere. It could be a number of things, but at the moment the working theories are:

– sleep apnea. This is where you temporarily stop breathing and start again. It sounds worse than it actually is. Apparently I have a wonky soft palette and chin or something which makes me more likely to have it. 

– there are many hormones that can cause disrupted sleep if they’re missing, cortisol being one. You might be asleep at night but there’s still a lot going on in the background. So if there’s a hormone missing, that might be waking me up.

– nightmares causing a drop in cortisol. My body doesn’t go ‘oh it’s ok it was a nightmare’ when I wake up, it goes into panic mode because it’s not made any cortisol to counteract what’s going on. So it perceives the ‘threat’ of the nightmare as real long after I’ve woken up, floods my body with adrenaline which I can’t get rid of easily, which keeps me awake. 

Nightmares is a tricky one because it’s hard to control what you dream about! I have a good sleep routine (like babies do!) and I do a lot of meditation. I started seeing a hypnotherapist to help with sleep which helps a lot- I tend to get more rested sleep after having been to a session. The aim is to try to reduce the nightmares and keep me asleep unless there’s a medical reason to wake up. 

Hypnotherapy also helps rule out if there’s anything psychological waking me up. Most patients with AI who die out of hospital die in their sleep because cortisol replacements aren’t taken overnight and they’ve unknowingly not replaced enough during the day e.g. Stress dosing when sick so their cortisol level drops dangerously low. When I need to go to hospital, it tends to be in the evening/night after my last dose. I’ve woken up a couple of times in the middle of the night needing more hydrocortisone because I’ve been unwell and it’s a bit of a freaky feeling. Understandably, my subconscious might be worried that I might not wake up when I need to, even if logically I know I’ve always managed to wake up/my husband has woken me up to keep me safe in the past. That’s where hypnotherapy comes in- it’s hard to rationalise when you’re asleep! That wouldn’t explain why I can’t go back to sleep once I’ve woken up though. 

Sleep is a complex thing. Our bodies are pretty amazing really- a lot goes on while we’re asleep. Cells repair, illnesses are attacked by our immune system, food gets digested, we know how to keep breathing and keep our hearts beating. It’s actually incredible if you think about it. Yet so many people have issues falling or staying asleep. 

Photo: stock google image