You might be happy, but are you WELL?

Personally, yes, I am well. Ok, so I have a chronic illness, that periodically makes my life a misery, but even in those times, and in-between those times, I am – mostly – well and happy and content.

I am perfectly happy with how I look, despite The Media yelling at me all the time that how I look is somehow wrong. (There is no wrong way to have a body. Just saying.)

I enjoy my food, and I am comfortable in that joy. In fact, I relish that joy of cooking and eating.

Wellness for me is not the elimination of everything you hold dear with no sound medical reason, because someone else has tagged it ‘unclean’. That doesn’t lead to wellness, it leads to fear, and paranoia, self denial and almost self flagellation. It also seems to lead to an awful lot of expense. The wellness and clean eating trend seems to mean a totally clean wallet, mainly. The Medjool date sellers and Sainsbury’s must be in heaven.

I am very well aware of how my body works, and what it needs to nourish itself.

Now. Read that again. “I am very well aware of how my body works, and what it needs to nourish itself.”

MY body, not yours. Or anyone else’s. What works for me (and I do NOT mean what makes me lose weight, in case anyone asks) may very well not work for anyone else at all on this planet.

We are legion, and because we are legion, there are as many body types, and health types as there are teeming billions on this tiny blue pearl of ours coasting through space.

Wellness, to me, doesn’t mean restriction to the point of madness. It certainly doesn’t mean designating a foodstuff ‘evil’ just because YOU have a reaction to it.

For example, if I take tetracycline antibiotic, it kills my white blood cells. We learned this through a nearly fatal experience when I was 6 or 7, but I am certainly not going to go around telling everyone I meet that they should never take it and that it will kill them. There is not, and never will be, a one size fits all when it comes to food and eating, and nor should there be. We are not living in Airstrip One. Yet.

Thane Prince made a very good comment the other night at our cookbook club, in that the current fads are now decrying what used to be our ‘wellness’ foods back in the day.

Good, wholemeal homemade bread has now become evil incarnate. It’s a great shame. One of the most simple, basic foods there has ever been, a food which has sustained millions, banished by people who think the world needs to be spoken to like they all have an illness or an allergy.  I am not in favour of the Chorleywood technique, as that has caused its own problems, despite it being a very useful tool when it was needed but the pure pleasure in eating well made bread, with cool butter, is one that should not be ignored.

Bread – 4 or so ingredients, butter 2 ingredients. Together they bring joy. (I am, however, extremely glad that a gluten free bakery in London has managed to provide my GF friends with the same joy. Restriction through necessity is not fun.)

Bread

Projecting your own food fears and obsessions out into the world can be dangerous, but it is also highly profitable. Our £60 BILLION diet industry is proof of that. It plays on our fears, and our insecurities. Ruby Tandoh has a rather brilliant post here on the subject. I am extremely glad that she is using her media position to speak out.

Life will be better IF we are more slim, just that bit more slim, and then a bit more.

WHEN you lose the weight, you can do [swimming/cycling/play with your kids]

This is all just another Cambridge Diet, or F Plan, or Slim Fast or Grapefruit Diet or Lighter Life in another guise.

Cycle, play with your kids, swim, walk, dance when nobody’s looking, dance when somebody IS looking. It’s YOUR body. Nobody else owns it.

I wish that people were able to genuinely love themselves for who and what they are.

Life doesn’t begin when you lose weight. It’s only you that is stopping yourself from doing all those fabulous things. Yes, I did lose a lot of weight a long time ago, through severe restriction. NOTHING CHANGED. I was still me, and what I discovered was that am not a bad thing to be.

I’ll go on the beach, or by the pool, in a swimsuit and hang the critics. Why? Because it’s my body, and it’s my life, and people do not dictate to me.

You are under no obligation to look at me. But you can if you want.

Run with the Moon
Sent to me by my friend Becca, as it reminded her of me. I am deeply honoured.

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Chutney Molly

I’ve always wanted to be a capable, organised cook. One of those deft fingered, sure footed women (sorry guys, but this is about me) with strong hands, that know where everything is in their kitchen, and exactly what they are doing. The cakes that rise every time, the crackle crusted breads from silken doughs, the glossy stews. My Nan was like that, and I cannot recall anything that she cooked going wrong. She would criticize it, almost as a reflex, because that was her all over, but everyone else loved whatever she made.

The difference in watching my mum cook, and my Nan, was that my Mum enjoys it. She enjoys food, and combining flavours, trying different things, talking about what goes well with what, and discussing what she’s cooked with other people. Nan always seemed to maybe not dislike cooking, but she didn’t revel in it, not like Mum and I can, and do.

Perhaps, for her, it really was just a chore, but one that she happened to be very good at indeed. Her chutneys and jams were things of legend in their Norfolk village, and she made so much every year that she could have had a cottage industry going if she’d ever thought to charge. As it was she just cooked mountains of chutneys, her kitchen piled high with garden produce. Always a harsh sting in the air from the white and spring onions, heaps of de-strung and sliced runner beans awaiting a mustard sauce, wooden chopping boards stained puce from fresh beetroot. She  gave most of those mountains away.

She had cooked for as long as I could remember. My first knowledge of her girlhood were the tales of her in the Land Army. Hoping to be sent away to somewhere she’d never been, but instead sent to a farm owned by a relative in Thundersley, Essex, was a bit of a blow but she coped, and coped admirably.

She was so small, and slight – “I had a 21 inch waist back then!” – that she could lie down in between the rows of cabbages in the fields when German planes went over, shielded by the dark, voluminous leaves. I can only imagine how terrifying that was as machine guns strafed the fields.

There was the time she had to ‘take the cow to the bull’, which she thought was just a “take that cow there, to stand outside that bull enclosure” instruction. She didn’t realise she had to put the cow IN with the bull, as she wasn’t aware of the purpose of that particular bovine visitation. The farm hands found her an hour later, still stood there, wondering what was meant to happen, with a particularly cross bull glaring at her from behind his fence.

The bull seemed to take a dislike to her after that, charging at her on one occasion and pinning her to the fence, each of his horns either side of her waist embedded in the wood. She wriggled free.

Another time he chased her across a field into a barn, where all she could do was flee up a great pile of chaff which, of course, just kept giving way beneath her. She was, essentially, running on the spot halfway up, while the bull stamped and snorted at the bottom, foaming at the mouth. The farm hands rescued her, once they’d stopped laughing.

Poor Molly Kathleen.

Life never ran smoothly for her. There were Things we never spoke of, which had made her very wary, and almost scared – certainly highly suspicious –  of any man that wasn’t my grandfather, whom she nagged to death. Sadly, that was literally. His last words to her were “For once in your life, Molly Crowe, will you shut up and listen!?”

Life probably could have been good to her, had she not seemed to always tread the path of most resistance. In a way I do wish that I could have made her journey easier, but she withstood even me, her only grandchild, becoming by the end a paranoid and bitter woman, insisting that we only wanted her for her money, which could not have been further from the truth.

Our last conversation, after my cards and letters were sent back torn up,  was her telling me that I was dead to her, because I’d taken the ‘side’ of my mum and my step dad (over some made up row that nobody but she could actually recall), and me telling her that if that was what she needed to do to feel safe, then so be it, but that I still loved her.

That was that. All contact severed, never to be heard from again. I tried a few times, but there’s only so much hurt you can take before you painfully realise that it’s actually a relief not to walk on eggshells, or jump when the phone rings any more.

Molly Kathleen Crowe, you may not have given me your love, at the end, but you did give me your skill, your curly hair, your siege mentality when it comes to the kitchen store cupboards, and two chutney recipes. (in her words, below)

Beetroot, Apple and Onion Chutney
(Nan’s Recipe)

1lb cooked and peeled beetroot, cold (about 1 cm square)
1lb (after peeling and coring) cooking apples
½ lb onions
½ lb soft brown sugar
¼ pint malt vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Chop apples and onions quite small (1 cm square) and put into a pan with the vinegar and sugar. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar is quite dissolved then simmer gently until thick and soft. Season and remove from the heat. Leave to cool for 5 minutes and then add the chopped beetroot and stir really well. Put into sterilised jars, cover with jam pot covers and secure tightly when cool. Try to use plastic lined lids as the vinegar reacts with the metal ones and can cause the chutney to taste awful. (This in a cheese sandwich is pure, sweet, tangy heaven ~ Lisa)

Autumn apple

Apple Chutney
(Nan’s Recipe)

2lb (after peeling and coring) of cooking apples
1lb onions
12 oz soft brown sugar
2-4 oz sultanas
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
½ pint malt vinegar

Chop apples and onions fairly small. Place onions in a pan with a little vinegar and simmer until soft then add the apples, dried fruit, spices and sugar. Stir well until the sugar is dissolved and then add the rest of the vinegar and cook until soft and thick. If you divide the mixture with a wooden spoon and the divide remains then it is done. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.
Place in warm sterilised jars and cover with waxed pot covers when cool. Use plastic lined lids as vinegar attacks metals ones and spoils the flavour.

Green Tomato Chutney

Wellbeing: mine, or yours?

“Health and wellbeing” seems to be the new favourite phrase. It’s being bandied about at my workplace, and whilst I am sure it comes from a good place, people do need to get a grip on what it means, not just generally, but individually.

It may come as a surprise to many, but thin doesn’t automatically equal healthy, and fat doesn’t automatically equal UNhealthy.

I know. Shocker, right? Who knew that a thin person could have chronic heart disease? Or that a fat person could have great blood pressure and cholesterol levels?

Or…what else? Oh yes. Did you know that both fat and thin people get the same illnesses? Yes, really. But did you also know that if I get an illness, I will get told to lose weight to cure it, and maybe given medicine but that when a thin person gets the same illness they will (mostly) be given a treatment without the body advice?

Appearance based healthcare should not be a thing. Actual medical evidence based healthcare should be a thing. The only thing you can really tell from what a person looks like is what they look like. (Apart from the obvious physical things like rickets, or decapitation, let’s not be silly about this.)

This week we had a Know Your Numbers session at work. What those numbers in relation to blood pressure, blood glucose levels etc., really mean.

Hurrah! says I. Useful stuff at last! and then I spied the devil in the detail. Those 3 letters that spell doom, gloom and lectures for most people who are not olympic athletes or star rugby players.

B M I

There were tape measures on all the tables, and little charts to help you work out your BMI. My heart sank.

Mostly it was ok. The Dr was an interesting speaker, and did a good job of explaining what most ‘normal’ numbers should be. BMI = 25, blood sugar = 5/6 and blood pressure more than 90 over 60 (90/60) and less than 120 over 80 (120/80). He did also say that BMI is of no real use. But then said it was a good measuring tool, which confused me.

I do not drink. I do not smoke. I rarely eat white bread, or pasta, or huge amounts of carbs. Junk food isn’t a thing in my house, and processed meals don’t really feature at all unless I have really run out of time and energy. I do not eat crisps, or even the latest ‘healthy’ snack, popcorn.

I follow, mostly, the Mediterranean diet because it’s what I love, it’s what I’m used to and who doesn’t love a good olive? (It’s ok, I know lots of people who do not.)

I decided to play with the blood pressure machine that the Dr had brought along, rather stupidly forgetting for a moment that I was going through two of the most stressful, upsetting, grief inducing weeks of my life, the culmination of which was going to be the next day, and which had a high probability of having a very bad, life altering outcome. Plus three people were crowded round staring at me while the machine was working.

I think my numbers were 142 over 91, then 140 over 90 the second time a couple of minutes later.

“That’s high blood pressure, you should get to your GP and get on statins. “

“But it’s never read like that before, it’s consistently within normal range whenever my GP checks it.”

“Well that’s just the numbers, that’s what it is.”

“So why, whenever I had had it checked, in all my 45 years, has it always been good? Even after a bike crash, it was perfect? Surely my GP would have said something?”

“Well, it’s just the numbers, go to your GP asap or get a blood pressure machine to use at home and keep an eye on it.”

But you know, it wasn’t his words. It was the look on his face. I know that look, I’ve seen it countless times over the years. It’s a slightly indulgent smile, and an expression that says

“Of course you’ve got high blood pressure, you’re fat.”

It doesn’t matter what I say, or how well I document what I eat, it’s never quite believed, because my appearance shouts the contrary, according to society. In fact one of my friends who kept a food diary, showing exactly how little she ate – and I know how she eats, she lived with me and was UNABLE to get to the shops herself to buy anything other than what was in the house – was told OUTRIGHT she was a liar.

The most stupid thing, the thing that I am angry with myself about, is that he actually managed to scare me, so I bought a portable blood pressure unit, and used it today. I could feel my heart racing as I put on the cuff, and of course…my BP was higher than when HE tested it, so has he now put so much fear in me that I’ll skew the result each time? Have I given myself some sort of white coat syndrome so that my adrenaline spikes at the very thought of the machine?

I feel fine, I eat well in a way that I know is good for me – the way my very first GP told me to eat when I was diagnosed with PCOS at age 16 – I try and walk as much as I can in the time I have each day, I try to not sit for too long at work, which is hard when you’re a PA whose job is mainly email and computer based, and I’m trying to lose weight for my own peace of mind but this whole thing has made me feel very scared, and about to run to my GP for statins.

This is not how properly done healthcare should make you feel. Whose wellbeing are they looking after, really, when one 10 minute meeting can leave a person upset and scared for days and spending money that they probably didn’t need to.

But, as ever…

G-PutOnBigGrlPanties

Holy wobbly walking conundrums Batman!

This week has been an extremely odd one.

Someone very close to me is under an almost unimaginable amount of stress, and there’s absolutely nothing that I can do about it. The first part of the week was spent being pretty much numb, having found out about said stress, and the source of it.

Once I’d started to feel again, a cold hit. You know, that infinitesimal difference in the way your nose feels, or the tiniest itch in the back of the throat that you might almost miss but which heralds that sagging of spirit as you realise exactly what is about to descend on you.

In fact, I had no idea what was about to descend on me.

Monday night I took my Vitamin C and zinc, I used First Defence spray.

Tuesday night I was a teensy bit sniffly, but that was it.

Wednesday – nothing.

Thursday – sniffles in the morning.

Thursday afternoon….BANG. The echo of sinuses clanging shut could be heard from afar. How I managed to sit through a technical meeting I do not know, but I did. I left work late as I had a lot to do, and more or less crawled home, feeling extremely grateful that I had Friday off. Thank goodness I did have Friday off.

My throat was so full of aches that I couldn’t swallow. Not the usual burning rasp that screams for ice cream and jelly, no. This was a full on, deep seated throb that prevented me from swallowing the painkillers that I knew I had to get down me. The irony of needing to swallow soluble aspirin because of tonsil pain, when you can’t swallow, so need to take soluble aspirin is not lost on me. I rejoiced when I found a nearly full packet of AsproClear in the cupboard. Added a dash of blackcurrant squash, and there we were.

Fast forward to 2am.

I am in my dressing gown – essentially a large purple velvet marquee that has persuaded itself into the shape of a dressing gown – sat in my armchair, wrapped in a furry blanket because I couldn’t sleep at all due to my sinuses still being a  closed off area. Even after liberal application of all the painkillers I have (carefully mixed, never fear) my throat still refuses to acknowledge this it is a passageway, and has put up a CLOSED sign.

And there I stayed for most of Friday, and all of Saturday apart from the bit where I went to bed because I was so cold, and passed out for 4 hours. After that, it was the armchair and the blanket again. I didn’t dare go up to my own bed, as the amount of fidgeting, and getting up and down, and nose blowing would have just woken my poor husband up, and that’s not fair.

Saturday night I experienced the joy of what seems to have been a 24 hour eye infection, and woke early on Sunday morning with my left eye glued shut.

I think it was at this point that I just gave in and cried.

The ridiculous thing is, I have a chronic illness. I was diagnosed with MS back in 1996, and so I am used to various bits of my body not working, or working in an entirely unpredictable manner, or being stabbed by random aches and pains and grumbles because my electric signals got lost around Mornington Crescent so the rest of me ended up in Nid for a few days.

I should be completely used to this malfunctioning palaver, and the fatigue. It’s what I do.

But I’m not used to it. I haven’t had a cold, if that’s what it is, this bad in a decade. Usually I get a light cold, but then the MS kicks off and starts pushing and shoving, spoiling for a particularly uncoordinated fight.

The MS tried to make an effort, with a few numb patches of skin here and there, but then I have a feeling that it ran away when it saw what was looming.

I have made an executive decision not to go to work tomorrow. I know I’ve lots to do but I have no idea if I’ll sleep tonight. I think I’ve had about 10 hours since Thursday. Plus The Cough has started. An irritating, dry, catches you when you try to breathe thing that I didn’t invite in, but which has taken up a noisy residence on my chest.

After an extremely long, very hot shower this afternoon, I did feel vaguely more human. The sinuses have relented a tad, the eye has more or less cleared up, and I think my tonsils are in retreat. At the very least they have agreed to parlay so long as I douse them with rum cough medicine every few hours.

Ooh, rum. There’s an idea. Honey and lemon with added spiced rum might be allowed. Or there’s some of that apricot brandy left over from Christmas. I could do with a few Cypriot lemons right now…

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