Tuesday, 22 July 2014


I'm a great believer in mottos. I love words and I am always collecting new favourites: words and sayings that grab me for one reason or another. I especially cherish the ones that make me laugh or help me to feel strong.

So it's quite fitting that I recently adopted a bon mot of the inimitable Winston Churchill, who would sign off his messages and phone calls with the acronym "KBO". It meant, of course, "Keep Buggering On" and brilliantly encapsulated the kind of grim determination that saw Britain through the war years. I thought I only liked it because it made me laugh, but I've just had a clear lesson in what it actually means in practice.

Yesterday, I was so exhausted, so totally debilitated by this MS fatigue, that I decided to scrap all my plans for the day and stay in bed. It was not a happy day. I don't fare well when I'm home alone for long periods, with no energy to do anything "useful". I don't imagine anyone does. And doubtless it contributes to my depression. So last night I made a gentler, less intensive plan for today. Crucially, it included my first visit to a mindfulness class that I've just discovered.
When I woke up this morning feeling even more exhausted than the day before, I was absolutely gutted. Another day of cancelled plans, mooching around the house feeling sorry for myself? Initially, yes, that's exactly how it was.


After a bit of complaining to the OH, a couple of hours of sulking, and a super-nutritious juice, I suddenly found the will to force myself to leave the house. Yes, my legs felt like lead weights, but I wanted to go to that class, dammit! And getting there has made all the difference to my day. I feel at least 20% more energetic than when I woke up, and 100% more positive.
Did I drop off during the meditations? I think so.
Am I still exhausted? Yes.
Do I now feel better, emotionally and physically, than if I'd stayed in bed? Absolutely!

Of course I'll now have to make sure I don't overdo it and I get appropriate rest tonight, but I'm beginning to understand that for me, self-care doesn't mean wrapping myself in cotton wool and it doesn't mean always pulling out of something just because I'm feeling rough.

Today I learned that KBO is more than just a wry motto. For Churchill's Britain, it meant fighting on even when they felt there was no fight left in them. For me, it means marshalling the power of my will to push through all the obstacles that would prevent me doing what I know I need to do to get better. Even if part of me doesn't want to do it.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Too stressed to meditate? Try this.

Since I started thinking about this post yesterday, I've had a perfect opportunity to test this out today, and can absolutely swear that it works!

If, like me, you ever find yourself too stressed or too busy to sit down and meditate, you can still calm your mind and your body using this insanely simple technique. I discovered it in Dr Andrew Weil's audiobook, "Breathing: The Master Key to Self-Healing", which has a whole toolkit of breathing techniques. But the one I'm playing with this week is, in my opinion, the simplest and most powerful.
Dr Weil calls it "Making your breath quieter, slower, deeper and more regular". Mmm, needs a catchier name perhaps. I'll call it the breathing magic trick.

All you do is exactly what it says. Sitting in the comfortable position of your choice - it's probably best with a straight but relaxed spine, but let's not get too hung up on that - you simply slow down your breaths, making each one a bit longer, a bit deeper, a bit quieter. Continue for as long as it's enjoyable. It doesn't matter what your mind does while you're doing this; it's a body-based practice. It's not even meditation, if that's a word that freaks you out. But it does have an amazing effect on your body, and then a knock-on effect on your mind. Try it and see what I mean!
To really have fun with this, I combined it with something I picked up in a course recently, which suggested aiming to slow your breaths to 4 per minute. That's 4 inhalations and 4 exhalations. It sounded a bit extreme at the time, but I tried it and it really isn't. I simply look at the second hand on my watch as I breathe in quietly, slowly and deeply for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 seconds ... pause for 2 seconds, breathe out for 6 seconds, pause for 2. Before you know it, you're breathing at 4 breaths a minute. Apparently doing this regularly calms the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-and-flight response. So it helps to combat stress, adrenal fatigue and inflammation.

I don't know if that's true, but I do know that when I tried this today, in the midst of a stressful day involving a funeral, a 6 hour train journey and the London Underground at rush hour, it instantly calmed me down and kept me calm. And I was able to continue breathing slowly and calmly even while negotiating a path through the commuters in the tube station.

There's definitely something magic about this breathing business. I think I'm going to be hooked. I can think of worse addictions to have!

Monday, 7 July 2014

How do you milk an almond?

I've been playing in my kitchen this weekend, trying out some new dishes that might make my life with the OMS diet a bit simpler, without losing the pleasure of good food. I'd love to say that all my creations were gourmet masterpieces, but the only real stand-out success was my almond milk.
When offered a latte made with fresh almond milk, the OH thought it was hilarious that I was just popping into the kitchen to milk an almond.

He knows, of course, as I'm sure you do, that almond milk is simply a tasty alternative to dairy that is mostly almonds and water. You can buy it in most supermarkets these days, and I consider it healthier than soya milk and creamier than rice milk.

But I've been trying to make my own that doesn't have added fats. The organic brand I've been buying did list "cold-pressed sunflower oil" in its short list of recognisable ingredients, making it preferable to the brands with all sorts of "industrial" substances in. The trouble is, these lists don't tell you what they've actually done to the ingredients, so it's difficult to know whether the oils have been cooked. (For a full explanation of the dangers of heat-treated (cooked) oils, check out the OMS book or website). The stuff in cartons is also quite expensive.

Yesterday, I think I finally cracked it. So, and I hope I haven't bigged it up too much, here is my recipe for the yummiest, purest almond milk I've tasted so far ....

Almond milk (makes 660ml, approx. 3g sat fat total)

  • 75g whole almonds (brown skin on)
  • filtered water
  • several grinds of sea salt
  • pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground vanilla (or 1cm vanilla pod or 6-8 drops vanilla extract). Use more for a sweeter flavour.
  • 4-6 drops almond extract

Soak almonds overnight / 8-12 hours in enough filtered water to cover.
Put almonds in a blender with 800ml filtered water, salt, vanilla, and almond extract, and blitz until the "bits" are very small.
Pour mixture through a fine sieve - here you could use nutmilk bags if you have them, but my fine metal sieve seems to work just fine. Allow the milk sufficient time to strain. Relax, hum a tune - you know what comes to those who wait, don't you?

If you're catering for picky eaters you may want to repeat this straining process to get every last particle out. I didn't bother, and I thought it was yummy anyway - it's a bit like finding the odd stray coffee ground in the bottom of your cup.

Pour the strained almond milk into glass bottles and store in the fridge, if you can bear to not drink it straight away! I've designed my recipe to make 660ml because I happen to have 2 dark glass 330ml bottles (that once had Purdey's in). 

As always, you can experiment with the flavours. I found this didn't need anything to sweeten it, but for a sweet tooth you can add more vanilla. I was surprised to discover this was good in tea as well as on its own. It would also be great in smoothies, but mine didn't last that long! 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Answers are easier to hear when you shut up and listen

So I asked the question: "How do I rebuild myself?" Then I shut up long enough to hear my first answer already!

Sometimes, if we're lucky, or blessed, or someone somewhere is praying for us (thanks, Mum-in-law!) or it's just our turn - the answers come. 

Anyway, I don't know why, but through a sequence of coincidences something has already found its way into my lap that is, quite unmistakeably, part of the answer to a question I've been asking for a while. Let me tell you about it ...

Question: How can I learn to love myself when I don't?

I've known for a long time that to truly heal my body and brain I need to heal my relationship with myself. I mean that I need to love myself. I know this is a phrase that many of us find uncomfortable. It sounds like conceit, or worse - self-helpy, new-age fluff.

But when you actually think about it, it's the height of conceit to think that it's good to love other people - our entire post-Christian morality is founded on loving your neighbour and so on - but it's not acceptable to love ourselves, as if we were somehow different from everyone else on the planet!

But anyway, it's not a logical argument for most us. We have just learned to think ourselves unloveable, to feel at a deep, unconscious level that we do not deserve love. And I believe that unconscious drive can lead to chronic illness and persistent depression. 

Tougher question: How can I change an unconscious belief?

The problem with unconsciously held beliefs and feelings is that, of course, you can't talk yourself out of them. You can't just take a "logic pill" to make it go away. You can't even take a "self-love pill" or a "happy pill", although many have tried!

I've been grappling with this conundrum since the early years of my depression. I've tried talking cures and anti-depressants, emotional healing techniques, prayer and retail therapy. Most of what I've tried has helped a bit, some has helped a lot, and some has just helped my credit card company. 

An answer? Why not start here...

Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on ItBut here, in this small but powerful little e-book, I think I've found some answers that are already helping me. It's called, rather brilliantly I thought, "Love yourself like your life depends on it". When I read the title I had to buy it because that's exactly what I feel to be true for me. This is not a book by a psychologist, therapist or guru. It's a book born out of real experience. It's short because the guy doesn't need to lecture at length to show off his knowledge. It's potent because it contains a true story and some simple things that you can learn in seconds and practice in minutes - every day for the rest of your life if you want to. 

I'm not sure how much more to say, because I don't want to plagiarise the author. But I'm so grateful to him, and to whatever grace is leading me right now. 

Grateful, grace-ful and feeling bloody great-ful! 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How do you build a new woman?

We can rebuild her, we have the technology >>>>>>>>>>

Yesterday was a "Why" moment. Today is about the "How".

If we take Einstein's definition of insanity, "to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result", then I've been insane for years. So has the whole human race.

On that basis, here's what I won't be doing any more:

1. Beating myself up for getting sick. Usually I blame myself when I have an MS relapse or a depressive episode, and usually this involves crediting any of the following heinous crimes:

  • eating the "wrong" foods
  • not getting enough exercise
  • not sleeping 8 hours a night
     and mostly, these days ...
  • getting too stressed about any of the following:
    my job - my marriage - my "To Do"  list - "unethical" shopping habits - the Middle East - the state of British politics and how little I'm doing about it - casual racism - dealing with call centres - regrets about not having children - regrets about past mistakes - regrets about things that were never my fault in the first place - feeling guilty about not being at work while my husband is working his butt off - feeling guilty about spending money when I'm not earning any myself - feeling guilty about everything ...
2. Getting a whole new plan in my head, being completely unrealistic about how much difference it will make in a very short time (usually about 3 days), and then getting so disheartened / self-critical that I end up ...

3. Eating rubbish or bingeing on TV box sets before quickly returning to Step 1.

So what will I be doing?

I know that there are lots of things I could do - and have done - to support the body-mind's build-in repair and maintenance systems. I also know that I need to do something new (like the physicist said). Or possibly something old, but in a new way. 

So I need to make room in my head for intuition. I have always followed what my rational mind told me to do, even to the point of over-riding my voice of my intuition. When I started this last job contract, my intuition was shouting at me, "No, not now, not this!", and I ignored it because I couldn't rationalise it. This is something I'm aware of doing over and over throughout my adult life. It's left me indecisive, stuck between what my intellect wanted and what my intuitive self was counselling.

So this time, just as an experiment, I'll listen to my intuition. Starting with - for no other reason than it feels like a good idea - a complete physical and mental cleanse. I've read memoirs of people who have used cleansing to open up more space in their lives, to clear out old mental and emotional habits, all the baggage that we carry from the past, our parents, our society. Apparently cleansing can clear out a lot of physical problems too. It includes cutting out poisons like TV, news, caffeine, pain pills etc and replacing them with music, oxygen, exercise, enemas, meditation and sleep. It won't mean a huge change in diet because I already "eat clean" anyway (more on this later). And even if it doesn't do any of these things I've read about, I can reasonably expect clearer skin and better sleep within a week or so. Might save a few quid on newspapers and coffees too.

Seems a long way from the arse-kicking bionic woman, but I'm happy to start small. 
That's another new thing: making small quiet changes instead of dramatic grand gestures.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Life begins at 39 and 11 months

You may have read astounding, inspiring life stories of people who have miraculously healed from terrifying illnesses, diseases that we think of as incurable and fatal, diseases that we fear so much that we use euphemisms to avoid saying their names. I certainly have, and I love these memoirs - they inspire me and I often turn to them when I need to remember that life is infinitely more unpredictable and mysterious than we tend to believe.

This is not one of those stories. I am not dying. The problem is, I'm not living either. Can you relate? I'm nearly 40, and I'm afraid of everything, except perhaps death itself. No, death is a rather friendly thought in my imagination, it represents the end of my grey existence. A final letting off the hook of the life I'm too scared to live. I do fear my deathbed though. I have no doubt that if I were dying today, the regret would be total, it would be suffocating.

And today - as I recover from my 5th attack of Multiple Sclerosis and as the steroids and midsummer Sun burn the faintest break in the thick cold cloud of the depression that has been my prison for over 2 decades - today, I begin to create a new me. A new everything. Because I don't want to be too afraid to live any more. I am making a promise to myself, a solemn vow right here on this Tuesday afternoon pavement table, surrounded by rucksacked tourists, street traders and baby buggies, to do whatever it takes to finally inhabit my own life. There are no sacred cows here. There is nothing I will not do, try or sacrifice if I believe it is required.

Those stories, the ones that end with the once terminally ill person dancing off into the sunset - happy, healthy, healed - they always seem to start from a life-and-death moment, don't they? They're in the hospice, with days to live. The tumours have spread to every organ system. The doctors are about to switch off the machines.

If I carry on for the next 20 years as I have for the last 20 - flash forward to 60 years old - that could be me. And maybe I too would have a miraculous recovery, write a book, and dance off into the sunset. I believe it's possible: I know that the body has an astounding ability to heal itself, given a chance. So why wait to get that sick? 
When would now be a good time to start?

For once, I'm making a proactive choice. I'm not going to wait till I'm dying to start living.