Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity

Content Warning: Talk of triggers, trauma and abuse.

This week I was triggered, badly. It happened at work, which was kind of embarrassing. I’m always a little embarrassed when it happens, but at least if I’m just with my husband, he knows my history and understands what’s happening and can wait it out with me. At work, I try to put forward my confident, professional self, and the illusion is kind of shattered when you end up curled up on the floor shaking and crying (not an over-exaggeration).

This episode was a particularly bad one too. I have talked about my triggers and trauma responses before.  I had a tactile flashback in March that I shared here. This time it was more emotional than sensational. Even though I knew I wasn’t in any actual danger, I was completely overcome with the absolute terror that I used to live with daily. I don’t know how to properly explain this kind of fear to someone who’s never felt it. Physically, my body shook, I began to sweat, my heartbeat went through the roof, I couldn’t stop crying. Emotionally, I didn’t feel safe. No, it’s more extreme than that. I felt as though someone could burst through the door and end my life in a fit of rage and there was nothing I can do to stop it. This is the reality I lived with for a year; afraid to sleep because he might smother me, afraid to shower because he might drown me, afraid to blink or look away because he was a constant threat on my life, while simultaneously feeling as though I couldn’t live without him.

That was the emotion that I experienced with this trigger, I was petrified. But, because I wasn’t reliving a particular event, I was still mentally present. I was aware that I was at work and that I had been triggered and that I need to find a way to make myself feel safe. I removed myself from the situation and locked myself in the bathroom for while to get over the initial shock. When I felt a little better, I left the bathroom to return to work. My manager met me in the corridor and asked if I was okay, evidentally, I was not. Every time I thought I was okay, another wave crashed down on top of me. I ended up in the staff room, sitting on the floor between a sofa and coffee table, shaking and crying down the phone to my husband. I like small, compact spaces, close to the ground, where I can see the door. I’m sure I looked crazed, but I know what I need to do to look after myself, and I did it. I called my husband because he is grounding for me, he makes me feel safe. Ideally, I’d have him hold me tight until I calmed down, but in this situation talking to him on the phone was the best I could get. It helped a lot though and I returned to work not long after that.

My colleagues were all very kind and supportive, and respectful of my process, asking what I needed from them and then doing as I asked. I was very appreciative of that. Although I am embarrassed that they’ve seen me like that, I am sure they’re not judging me for it, they are good people.

So anyway, the episode took its toll physically and mentally. It is exhausting to feel that kind of intense emotion, even if it’s only briefly (I do have theories that my trauma contributed to my M.E, but more on that another time). As per usual, I began thinking of ways that I could improve myself. In terms of counselling, talking therapies, CBT etc., I think I have done as much as I can. The trauma occurred 6/7 years ago and I feel as though I have processed it as much as I am able. I am conscious and aware when I am triggered, my response is purely physical. It’s kind of like playing a horror game in VR, you know it can’t actually hurt you, you know it’s just a game, but it’s still scary as hell. The trauma lasted for 2 years and I was barely human by the time it was over, so I think it’s fair to assume that my brain was injured by it (MRI testing has proved that PTSD physically changes the structure of the brain). If this is the case, then I need a different kind of treatment that focuses not on my emotional responses, but on helping my brain to process the traumatic memories that it’s holding onto.

EMDR. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. The process of reliving your trauma (with a trained professional) while being bilaterally stimulated. This can be done by watching a moving finger, metronome, lights, or anything else. No one is exactly sure why it works, but they’ve been using it in PTSD patients since 1988 and many find it very helpful. The theory goes that during a traumatic event, you brain is incapable of storing memories properly. So when you are triggered by something relating to the trauma memory, your brain gets confused about when it happened and reacts as if it’s happening in the present. By stimulating both sides of the brain while recalling the trauma, you are able to keep one foot in the present moment and one foot in the past, allowing the brain to reorganise itself and file the memories away correctly. A study done in 2020 has shown that this kind of therapy increases connections in parts of the brain involved in multisensory integration, executive control, emotional processing, salience and memory.

I’ve been aware of EMDR for a while but am naturally skeptical of treatments that don’t have scientifically demonstrated, repeatable results. All of the evidence that this works, is anecdotal. But at this point, what do I have to lose? I texted an old counsellor of mine (who said to text any time if I needed help after our formal sessions ended) and asked if she knew someone or somewhere she could refer me to. As it turns out, the faction that she works for (who I have used several times in the past) do use this kind therapy. She said I may have to do some trauma counselling first, I guess to prove that I have PTSD and that I’ve exhausted other treatment options, but I’m okay with that. From my experience they’ve always been quite receptive when I’ve told them “this is what’s wrong with me, this is what I’ve tried, these treatments work, these ones don’t, this is what I’d like from you”. I’m sure it’s easier than trying to figure out how to help those who don’t know what’s wrong with them or what to do about it.

I’m going to call on Friday and see what they can do. I booked the day off work so I could have a ‘health’ day and I reckon this falls into that category. I’m excited, I like to work on my mental health and the idea of being free from flashbacks and nightmares is exilerating. He’s taken enough from me already, time to let it go.

Stupid Trauma Brain

Stupid Trauma Brain

Trigger warning: I will be talking about flashbacks and other trauma responses and referring to (but not detailing) sexual assault.

Last weekend, I had a flashback. The trigger was being out of breath and getting light-headed. Needless to say, I have experienced these feeling many times before and they have never triggered a flashback, so I was taken by surprise (to say the least) when it happened.

The last time I had a flashback was just before Christmas. I saw a duvet cover in a shop and I felt my brain going to ‘the dark place’. I tried to ignore it, then realised I was being triggered quite badly and was likely to have a flashback, so I found the fiancé (who was elsewhere in the same shop), left the shop and clung to him while I rode it out. And this is generally how this kind of thing goes. I have been working on my PTSD for 5/6 years now, I have dealt with my known triggers and I’m self-aware enough that if something does start coming up I’m able to make myself feel safe, ride it out, then self soothe after it has passed. The flashback before Christmas lasted only a few minutes, then I was able to pull myself together and we finished our Christmas shopping.

Last weekend was different. I didn’t know I was being triggered, I thought I just couldn’t catch my breath (something that frequently happens to me with my M.E). Then I started crying and wasn’t sure why, then I began having a tactile (aka somatic) flashback. In the early days of my PTSD I would have full, visual, auditory and tactile flashbacks, completely reliving the trauma. Now I tend to only get one kind, depending on the trigger. The duvet cover forced a visual flashback, shouting can cause an auditory flashback, struggling to breathe and feeling lightheaded apparently triggers a tactile flashback with a few scattered images and my own inner-monologue repeating some unsettling phrases that I have associated with the event. I struggled to calm myself down and get a grip on reality again. I am used to focusing on my breath to bring myself out of panic attacks and it’s become an automatic muscle-memory kind of response when I feel emotionally or physically distressed. But every time I started to slow my breathing and start coming round, I was triggered again. Maybe because my breath was the original trigger, I got locked in a cycle, I don’t know for sure, just speculating. I don’t know how long it went on, but it felt like the longest one I have had in many years. Eventually distraction became the way out, forcing my mind to focus on something in the real world so I would keep getting sucked into the past. Afterward I felt embarrassed and guilty, because the fiancé was with me through it all, and angry that I’m still traumatised after all the work I’ve done on myself.

Please indulge me while I unpack these emotions.
Embarrassment: I take pride in presenting myself to the world as a strong, stable, well put together human being. No doubt I have my issues and mental health problems, but I am emotionally mature enough to acknowledge them and talk about them openly and honestly in a safe environment on my own terms. However, when something like this happens, I completely unravel and fall apart becoming an hysterical mess. Emotionally, it’s as if I’ve just soiled myself. And yes, maybe I’m unwell and it’s not my fault, it was out of my control etc etc etc, but it’s still embarrassing for another person to see you s*** yourself.
Guilt: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anybody in severe emotional distress, but it’s really unpleasant. Especially when it’s somebody you care about, especially when there’s nothing you can do, and especially when your personality requires you to fix problems. Knowing that I put my fiancé through that makes me feel guilty. And again, I am aware of the logical arguments here; he loves me so he doesn’t mind going through that with me, he knows me and my history so isn’t shocked by my trauma response, he has been present for flashbacks before so is aware of what is going on etc etc etc, but I still wish he didn’t have to deal with it all.
Anger: This is the one I think most people will be able to relate to. As I already mentioned, I have working on my PTSD for years. For the most part, I consider myself over it. I mean, nothing will ever be the same again, but my trauma responses are manageable, when I have intrusive thoughts I’m able to push them aside, when I talk about the trauma I’m able to do so in a calm, logical way. I’m not angry that it happened because it changed me into a better a human being, and I’m not angry at him for doing it to me, because I know that he is a broken person too. I am angry at my stupid trauma brain and it’s stupid misfiring synapses. I’m angry because the trauma has left scars on me that I can do nothing about. After all the hard work I’ve put in to allow myself to live a good life, these scars will stay with me forever and, like a creepy Jack-in-the-box, will jump out and surprise me with my trauma and random times in my life. I am angry that I will never recover the control that he took from me.

Side note: I have heard that you can use binaural beats to increase neuroplasticity in the brain that can help breach the gap that trauma has caused. I don’t know if there’s any science to back that up, but it sounds legit to me, so I might try it.

Segway into a seemingly unrelated, but actually really relevant situation that happened a coupe of days later. Those of you who are friends with my on Facebook, may have seen this:

Now, when this first happened, I was very focused on the anxiety and the auditory processing issues that I have, but reflecting on it the next day I realised the link between this emotional response and my trauma. You see, I misunderstood a situation and thought that I was happy with what was occurring, then I realised my mistake and knew that I didn’t actually want it. Even so, I was about to go through with it anyway because it was my fault for misunderstanding in the first place. However, in this situation, I was able to say “no” (amongst many apologies) to the thing that I did not want. She did continue to try and convince me to change my mind and this was when the panic started setting in and I just kept saying “no” and “sorry” over and over before I eventually stopped talking all together. Then for hours afterwards I was overwhelmed by guilt and self-blame (“I’m so stupid, what’s wrong with me, I should have known better, I brought this on myself” etc). I guess this is proof that I’m not as “over it” as I thought, or maybe I have other issues that need to be addressed that may have allowed the trauma to occur in the first place, or maybe the recent flashback made me more vulnerable than usual and I reverted to behaviours that I wouldn’t normally display? Humans are complex beings.

So in conclusion, my stupid trauma brain is traumatised and causes stupid trauma responses that I’m not able to control. Just thought I’d share that with you.

Clevermind Part 1.5

Clevermind Part 1.5

Apologies for taking so long to get this up, the last couple of weeks have been a little hectic for me and my routine has been well and truly challenged. Now onto the topic at hand…

I don’t want to go too deeply into the science of the mind – body connection, partly because digging up all of the references would be tedious and time consuming, partly because it’s already been explained for me in many books, blogs, podcasts, papers, etc., and partly because I don’t want to bore you with all the technicalities.

The essence of it is this: the brain cannot tell the difference between doing, watching, and imagining. Of course if you do a thing then your brain will receive messages from your muscles to say that they are moving, and if you watch a thing your brain will receive light signals to interpret, but the neuropathways that are created inside of the brain itself are the same.

And since your brain is the all-powerful computer that is in charge of all the chemicals and electric signals that cause changes in your body, messages in the brain cause physical effects elsewhere. This doesn’t only count for hormones and the immune system, but also the motoneurons of your muscles.

In fact, there a many studies that show muscle rehabilitation, after surgery or injury for example, can be accomplished far quicker when physiotherapy is combined with visualising physiotherapy techniques, and watching the others perform the movements. This can be measured by increased muscle mass and flexibility etc. It’s even been shown that sports ability can improve in the same way using the same techniques. Interestingly, these studies showed that you get better at replicating the thing that you are watching, so if you watch someone who is bad at golf, you will get better at golfing badly.

My questions are; if you have never played the sport before, and don’t know how it feels to swing a club (for example), will you still improve your game by watching and imagining, or does the brain need a baseline to build on. Similarly, if you are born without the use of your legs, can you still build muscle mass in your legs by watching someone do squats, or does your brain not know how to interpret that information.

Sometimes I wish I had the resources to carry out all the experiments I can think up.

Clevermind Part 2

Clevermind Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

The first book that I’ve listened to is “How your mind can heal your body” by David R Hamilton PhD. He uses referenced studies in his book, which I love, and then includes at the end of the book letters from people who have used the visualisation techniques that he recommends, successfully. Unfortunately, although there were many stories of people shrinking tumours, improving lung function, reducing arthritic inflammation etc., there was only one M.E patient story. She saw a massive improvement in her symptoms in the months running up to Christmas, by making up her own Christmas Carols with lyrics that described her own good health. She claimed that she was so well that she went for a boxing day swim in the sea and had no repercussions. I would argue that her symptoms lessened because she was happy and excited about Christmas so noticed her pain and fatigue less because she was focused on other things. I would also argue that her dip in the sea may have actually helped to treat her condition. There is a certain amount of inflammation that occurs in the M.E body and cold water treatment has been known to relieve symptoms. I would be curious to know if she had gone into the sea another time and had a flare up, or if she’d just never attempted it before.

I wish there had been more stories on my own condition, since that is the one I will be most skeptical about, but I decided (like the true scientist I am) to try out the techniques to see if I saw any differences myself. So, I used a combination of suggested methods. First, I saved 3 Youtube videos that I would listen to before bed. They explained the structure of mitochondria, the proteins that reside within it, and how those proteins work to create energy. Being a Human Biology student, I already know and understand how this works so, theoretically, that will increase the effect that it has on my body. I also created an imagined routine where I have a battery slot in my back and, before I go to sleep, I remove the batteries and plug them into my battery recharger to charge overnight. In the morning I’d put the fully charged batteries back into my back so I’d be ready for the day. The final technique I used was just to periodically tell myself that I was well and I felt fine. I also tried to stay as present and mindful as possible throughout the day, focusing on whatever I was doing at any given time in stead of letting my mind wander or using music or TV to distract my consciousness.

I didn’t fully commit to all of these techniques and generally just did which ever one I felt like at a time when I remembered to do it. But, surprisingly, I began to feel better almost immediately. This was especially shocking to me because, even though I was doing the techniques, I didn’t really believe that they would work at all. Within a week I felt amazing, more well than I have been since before the pandemic started. I was doing all kinds of chores and projects throughout the day, some mental, some physical, and never seemed to run out of energy. My feet started to ache because I’d been on them so long, but I still had the energy to keep going, and I didn’t have any flare-up symptoms at all. I could sit and rest my feet for a little while then get up again and carry on.

It was so surprising to me, that I went over everything else that I had done during the week, and the ones leading up to it, to see if anything else had changed that could explain my sudden wellness. Two things had changed aside from the visualisation techniques. Firstly, I was being more active because I felt I had more energy (again the chicken or the egg question beckons), secondly, the house was cleaner because I’d been cleaning it, but it wasn’t a cesspit before, there were just more dirty dishes and laundry about. Other than these things everything was still the same. My diet, my fluid intake, my hygiene routines, my sleep, my stress levels, no change in anything I could think of.

Then it was our anniversary. On special occasions we indulge in all the sugary, carby food we usually deprive ourselves of. We had two days of donuts for breakfast, pizza and sushi for dinner, plus snacks. I always expect a flare to follow these occasions, but it’s worth it for the celebration (like a hang-over is a risk worth taking for a good night out).

As expected Monday morning I was in a bad flare. I was in an immense amount of pain, my temperature was going up and down like a yoyo, and my body convulsed and muscles spasmed. But, even with all of that going on, I could still walk. I was tired because the pain had woken me up at 5:30am but I didn’t feel fatigued. I spent the day in bed because I know that my body needs rest to recuperate, and because that was where I was most comfortable but, after the pain killers had kicked in, I was still able to go downstairs and put together some (carb free) lunch for myself. This is unprecedented during a flare this bad, usually I’m lucky if I’m able to get to the toilet and back by myself. I suspected that it was because I had been so well previously, that I must have some left over energy that was keeping me going.

Normally a flare like this would last a minimum of 4 days, but more likely a full week is needed before I’m able to get up and out of bed properly, and then it usually takes another half a week or so before I’m able to go back to normal daily activities. Since I was feeling surprisingly good for the amount of pain I was in though, I decided to spend some more of my lying-completely-still-in-bed time to do some more visualisation.

I began with a modified version of something I heard in Dr. David’s book. It’s a breathing technique where you breathe deeply, into your stomach, then back out again slowly. As I did this I imagined my pain as a black tar inside of my body. The air that I breathed in was like a cleansing water, it went in, grabbed the tar and pulled it out. The first exhale was thick, black and sticky, but each breath resulted in a more fluid, lighter colour being excreted as it cleaned my pain away. Finally, clean water went in and clean water came out, and for a little while, my pain was minimised.

I also did a yellow-light-waterfall meditation that I used to do to manage my stress. You imagine a stream of yellow light flowing into you through the crown of your head and you watch as it slowly fills you up. You imagine the light to be warm and comforting and it helps your body and mind to relax. This is a favourite of mine if I can put aside the time to do it, and having done it many times before it didn’t take much concentration to achieve a state of calm in myself.

Another one I used when little pockets of pain just popped up out of nowhere, was to use an imaginary iron to flatten them back out again. Often the pains felt like swollen inflammation and made me think of a boxers face. In a similar way, I used an imaginary old fashioned iron to push the swelling down. The iron was cold too, so that helped to ease the red hot tissue.

Finally, I used the simple affirmations; “I am okay. I am not dying. My mitochondria are multiplying even now. My body knows how to deal with all that sugar.” I spoke directly to my body with love saying; “Thank you for trying to look after me, but we don’t need an immune response. Nothing is attacking me, I don’t need to be protected. Focus your cells on processing the sugar and all will be well again.” I repeated these frequently throughout the day.

By the end of the day I had taken half the amount of pain killers that I had expected to in the morning. I felt a definite improvement although I was still in a bad way. I slept well. The next morning, I still felt pain but it was day 6 pain, not day 2 pain. And still no fatigue, just a little tired. I felt so much better that I cooked myself breakfast (bacon, sausage, eggs) and cleaned out the cat’s litter tray. I still took a ‘rest day’ because I didn’t want to accidentally trigger my body again, but I didn’t really feel like I needed to. My brain got a little foggy in the evening, but that was about all. By day 3 I was up and about and back to doing chores and working on projects again.

To me, this feels miraculous. Never in the history of my M.E have I recovered so quickly from such a bad flare. Again, I went over the previous few weeks to see if there were any other changes in my life that could have prompted such a thing, and I came up with nothing. As I said before, it is likely that had I not been so healthy previous to the flare, I would not have recovered so quickly, but that good health in itself is still a mystery to me.

The flare-up happened last Monday. This Monday, I feel the same wellness that I did before the flare. I will continue to look for other explanations, but for now, I have to conclude that the visualisation techniques actually work.

P.s, I intended to use this blog post to briefly explain the science around why this works and other applications for it (like building muscle mass), but then I had the flare and I couldn’t not talk about that. I might still write the intended post in a fortnight but if you are interested, I would recommend reading the book I mentioned in the intro, it is well written and talks about actual experiments that have been run, rather than just talking theoretically.

Clevermind

Clevermind

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the mind-body connection. We all know about psychosomatic illnesses, the placebo effect, and how a stressful life can lead to heart disease and vegan yogis can live to be over a hundred years old. So it is well established, with medical science as well as observational sciences, that positive mindset improves health and boosts the immune system, whereas negative mindset contributes to poor health and shorter life span.

I have a number of questions surrounding the studies that have been done on the mind-body connection though. For example, I wonder if mindset actually has more of an effect on behaviours that influence health, rather than a direct effect. I.e, if I feel more positively about my prognosis then I’m more likely to take my meds on time, eat better, exercise, look after my hygiene etc. Whereas if I feel hopeless and like I’ll never improve, then I’m more likely to lie in bed, eat junk food and feel sorry for myself. I’m not saying that there isn’t a direct effect, but I wonder if other variables are being discounted in certain studies.

I also wonder about the chicken or the egg aspect, i.e, are people sick because they’re depressed or depressed because they’re sick. I wonder about children who are born with certain illnesses, and who are the happiest, most positive people on the planet but still end up declining and dying regardless.

I wonder how much of the mind healing the body happens innately, and how much of it requires focused cognition. If we stop complaining, repeat daily mantras and visualise ourselves as healthy, happy people, will our bodies feed off of those signals and begin to improve? Or do we have to meditate on the specific area of the body that is damaged and will it to function correctly?

I’ve spoken to a couple of people who have experience with this, and I’m planning to listen to some books that focus on the topic more in depth (including neurological studies on the Vagus Nerve and its effect on the immune system). But, as anyone with a scientific mind would do, I also want to carry out my own experiements.

I frequently practice reducing my pain with my breath and visualisation techniques. I often find that ignoring or distracting myself from the pain only makes it worse over time, whereas if I take a few moments to sit with the pain, observe it, and breathe through it, then it can either lessen in intensity or dissipate entirely. Similarly, there are times where I’m stood at the bottom of the stairs, clinging to the bannisters, looking up in despair as my legs tell me that they are just too tired to take me up, then I take a long, deep breath, imagine the remaining strength in my body and lift myself up one step at a time. So, I wonder what else I can apply this technique to? Pain and fatigue are neural messages being passed from your limbs to your brain, so it stands to reason that I can send messages back the other way to over-ride them, but could I convince a rash on my hand to heal faster? Or an ulcer in my mouth?

I have no doubt that over time the body will heal from an improved immune system and better functioning organs and more regulated hormones, but how much time is required? How much energy is required? How much focus? These are all things that I’m hoping to learn more about.

I have been told that there are people out there who have cured themselves of M.E with the ‘mind over matter’ technique. But my skeptical mind tells me that if they have truly been ‘cured’ then they probably didn’t have it in the first place, and were in fact just suffering from general fatigue. If they have been ‘cured’ in the sense that they no longer have symptoms, then I say, yeah, I did that too, but it’s reliant on my continued treatment regime. I believe that if those people stopped doing all the other things they are doing to keep themselves well, but kept their positive attitude, their symptoms would come back. After all, is it possible to destroy tumours with positive thinking? Or regrow pancreatic cells?

These are things I’ve been thinking about recently. I want to believe but I can’t help but be skeptical.

New Year, New Decade, New Experiences.

New Year, New Decade, New Experiences.

To listen to me read this blog post, please click here: Reading “New Year, New Decade, New Experiences”


From what I can tell from my social media pages, most people seem to have had a rough 2019. I, therefore, feel lucky and guilty that I have had a good year. The first half was a little touch-and-go but the second half was the best I’ve had in as long as I can remember. And I plan to make 2020 even better.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post is going to be self-indulgent and a little braggy. If you don’t like reading about other people’s happiness and good fortunes then stop reading now.

There’s no denying that the main reason for my happiness is my improved health and, as mentioned in a previous post, that is almost completely down to my amazing, supportive partner. I spent the majority of my illness thinking about all the things I would do if I wasn’t ill. Therefor, when my health began to improve I began to do as many of those things as possible. My main restriction shifted from energy levels to time in the day, and that is an incredible feeling.

So I guess we should start with my physical improvements. I have talked about this in more detail before so I’ll just highlight my favourite bits. I do yoga. Walking a mile to the shop is not something I have to worry about. I took up running again. Every morning I can get up, shower, brush my teeth, dress, do my hair and make-up and feel ready for the day, not ready for bed. But more than that, we can go out, for meals, to shows, to fairs and fetes, or just for a walk around the park. It’s so good to spend time with the man I love outside of this house. And inside the house I can indulge my inner housewife with cleaning, baking, mending and crafting. I can “waste” energy on doing things that are completely frivolous and purely for my own enjoyment. I feel like I can function normally again and that is such a blessing.

Secondly, this is my final year of university, which for me is the culmination of 5 years of pursuing the future that I wanted for myself. Going back to education as a mature student with anxiety and depression was daunting enough, but to get M.E in the first year of this journey really tested how much I wanted it. In year 2 I was almost completely bedbound but still managed to drag myself through because this really is the most important thing that I have ever done with my life. I am sad and scared that it is ending because it has become familiar and safe, and has helped me to grow and develop as a person. I am also excited to move onto the next step of this process and actually begin living the life I have been working towards. So many more doors will open up to me once this one has closed behind me. I have also done some work experience over the summer which provided me with connections, taken on some part-time work which has given me experience, and given guided tours of the university to potential applicants which made me so proud and happy for the next generation of Biology students.

Self improvement has been a big focus for me this year. Physical improvements I have mentioned, educational improvements too, but I’ve also spent a lot of time on self-reflection and observation. I saw a councillor for a while and she was great. She asked the right questions and got me to focus on who I was and what I can do. Often we look outward to place blame and seek happiness. This year I have learned and internalised the idea that I have no control over others and the world around me, but total control over my own actions. I am responsible for my own happiness and I am to blame for my poor choices or reactions. In this way, I can make my life what I want it. My self-reflection has also lead me to ask the bigger questions too and I’ve revisited Zen Buddhism and listened to the Bhagavad Gita as well as “Letting Go” by David R Hawkins M.D PhD, and “The Madness of Crowds” by Douglas Murray. I also listened to “Battle Scars”, “Break Point”, and “First Man In”, by the hosts of the TV show “SAS: Who Dares Wins”, Jason Fox, Ollie Ollerton and Ant Middleton respectively. I also scattered some fiction in between because even made-up people in made-up situations can teach us things about ourselves. I started a Bullet Journal this year too as a creative outlet and to organise myself, but I also found that it motivated me to be more productive and to enjoy taking time over small details.

My domestic life this year gained a house, a cat and an improvement in my relationship. I don’t wish to talk too much about this as it is not just mine to divulge. My home life is shared with my partner and he deserves his privacy. I will say that I am feeling more like a wife and mother than ever before and that is a warm, comfortable feeling for me. I will be having my 30th birthday this year and I am more than ready for this phase of my life. In fact, I have been waiting for it for a long time but it has been waiting for me to be in the right place and the right time. All the chips are falling into place now and I feel like I am becoming the person I was always supposed to be.

So, to summarise, 2019 has been a year of exponential growth. It has been hard work, exhausting at times, but also enjoyable and so, so worth it. 2020 should continue this trend and although this time next year my life will look completely different, it will also be exactly as it should be.

Happy New Year. Best wishes to all of you.

The Common Cold (with not so common side effects)

The Common Cold (with not so common side effects)

A few weeks ago I had a cold. Now, I was only stuffed up and coughing my lungs out for maybe 4 days, but it was a beautiful demonstration of how bad my body is at dealing with illnesses and recuperating afterward.

It is generally accepted that, unless you have a form of flu or are highly contagious and work in the food or health industry, having the common cold is not grounds for time off. I do try to live by this unwritten social law but for me even something as ‘benign’ as the common cold can greatly affect my ability to go about life normally. The fatigue that I feel is felt by my body which responds to exertion in the ‘normal’ way by increasing heart rate and oxygen intake. The problem is that it responds to minute amounts of exertion as if I’ve just gone for a run.

When your body is fighting an illness there is a huge amount of energy expenditure that happens without your awareness. There are many processes occurring within your bloodstream and your tissues to get you well again. All these processes require an extra amount of energy on top of your usual daily expenditure. In order to keep up with these demands your heart has to beat faster and your oxygen intake needs to increase.

Anyone who’s ever had a cold knows how tiring it can be. Even if you’ve had a normal day, struggling to breathe and having a higher heart rate leaves you exhausted at the end of it. For me, having a cold feels like having a cold and then going for a run. I try to live by the unwritten social law, but sometimes even I am amazed at how exhausting it can be. Sometimes I have to accept that even though I only have a cold I have to take that time off to rest.

Then comes the recovery time. Most people will find that after having a cold it may take 2 or 3 days for them to feel back to their usual selves. But my batteries don’t recharge properly and every day that I try to get back to living a normal life again (after already being forced to take 3 to 4 days off while I had the cold), takes away energy from the recovery process. Therefore, what should take 2 to 3 days actually ends up taking two to three weeks. That’s two to three weeks of doing the bare minimum, of having to prioritise what is absolutely necessary because I can’t do any more than that. This is particularly awkward and difficult at a time when assignments are due in and exams are coming up. Unfortunately, these are also the times when I am most susceptible to catching a cold since stress further disables my already underactive immune system.

There is another aspect of this though, for me personally. The illness that triggered my M.E in the beginning, was a kind of flu. So any time I get a cold I also get with it flashbacks of sleepless nights and high fevers and muscle spasms and agonising pain that eventually lead to my current state of disability. And then there’s always the background fear that maybe it will happen again and I will repeat that process of expecting to feel better but never actually recuperating and eventually having to accept that this is the way that I will feel the rest of my life. I am more afraid of that then I would normally care to admit.

I had a cold a few weeks ago but I’m starting to feel better.