Wednesday, September 25

jinxing myself

"There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

C.S. Lewis

I am a little bit superstitious about one thing, which is a little bit silly because I don’t actually think the world works like that.

I think that I’ll jinx myself if I tell people I am feeling well.

For about 5 years now this has been the case. I share my overflowing excitement about feeling like a normal human being, and then the next day boooom. Back to bed. This is the first year that I’ve starting to think a little more rationally about the fact that I probably never did jinx myself. I think relapses have a lot more to do with the fact that my body wasn’t well enough to sustain health longer than a day or two, than that my words doomed me.

So, I kind of want to write a blog and tell you how delicious some of the days this last month have been and how I hope this is going to go on and on, but you know now why I don’t really want to. The other reason is that various people in my acquaintance have no concept of ‘chronic’ or ‘fluctuations’ and think that more well for a month means all better forever more. Dream boats. I have to be selective. Some people I tell, the ones who know it could/will be fleeting. Other people I give my favourite phrase of all time, not bad. Which is really: not telling.

But because I don’t think I can jinx myself, I’ll write that I have been on some successful shopping trips, stayed up late without severe consequence, seen some people without headaches, and generally felt a wellness ever since the start of my fructose free diet. Not all the time, but a lot more of the time. Ben has had the week off work, and for the first time in our marriage, we have been able to do the fun holiday things that we always wanted to.

The warmer days and sunshine seems to be playing a major part in all of this, for some reason every year around this time I just start to pick up. Unfortunately, each January I have either moved house {such a bad idea} or started university {equally bad}, and gone plummeting back. What I wonder is this:
If there is no major life event this year, could the good days continue?

I continue to think that relaxed and pleasant experiences foster good health, just as stress can make us unwell. I feel that the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ is unhelpful. Do we have to ruin good pleasures with guilt?

My not-at-all-guilty pleasures are:

Showering with the window wide open so that I look onto the sun and grass outside.

Eating chocolate cake, which is free from all the things my body dislikes and still tastes flipping amazing.

Asparagus. My mum-in-law grows the best asparagus ever, and I am in love with it. Ben thinks I am a health freak and regularly calls me one, and I think I may now fit into that category. We are planting our own veggie garden in a week.

 Sunning. Sitting in the sun, with or without tea and book is just about as good as it gets. If you add in Wolfgang and Ben, it’s even better.

Saturday, September 14

on not picking up where I left off - recovery dilemnas


less is more, more or less

It’s a little perplexing to find myself nearly 23 and so very far off the typical western life path. I’ve been existing in a different world, as far away from merit, competition and systems as I could limp, in order to re learn to exist without pain. 

Unlike my peers, I do not have a bachelor. The last time I worked for a boss was 5 years ago. If I were to write my resume there would be a blank for most of my adult life. My means of income: the pension. Role: lying on the couch and popping pain killers. Not to brag or anything, but I can swallow six at a time. Without choking.
I wonder: how on earth do you proceed when this is your situation? If I do continue to have more strength each year, I have to think about reassimilating. But I am so altered, it’s not as simple as picking up where I left off.

The thing is, I find myself desiring the opposite life to the one I wanted and lived before. I don’t want to practice tirelessly to become a flautist, despite feeling the same passionate love for the arts. I don’t even want to teach really, because it is intrinsically linked to the world that surrounds my illness. I want to lead a simple life. I just want to love and be well.

High achiever options are out the window. I mean, I am seriously considering dog walking and floristry. If you’d suggested that to me 5 years ago, I would have given you a withering look. 

I knew what I wanted to invest energy in even as a young girl. I never once looked up potential careers because I didn’t need suggestions. I was bamboozled that some people had no idea of what to do for a vocation and surprised about how often they changed course. I thought they lacked constancy. Now I sit on the couch and write down lists of things that interest me, like a Year 10 student deciding for the first time. Only, now I am the person with no conviction or sureness of which direction I should turn in.

But there is a step I can take now now, and it dawned on me and Ben a month ago as we grappled with the ‘what next’ question for the hundredth time. What next for someone who wants to dip their toes in life outside the lounge room? For someone who doesn’t want to do what they’re most qualified in, doesn’t want to start a whole new degree, doesn’t have much energy, and would love a family before tooooo long....

I can volunteer.
It’s a chance for me to take a gentle step out of my cocoon. It’s a pressure free way to test my health, aside from driving alertness and vacuuming ease. I don’t know why it took me so long to think of it, possibly because I’d never considered it in all my life.  I am thinking of offering 2 hours per week to begin with, to see how I cope. Can you imagine me coming home from having gone out and contributed?! Right now, I am most interested in Geelong Animal Welfare Society, the local pound which cares for so many beautiful animals. I don’t feel ready to deal with people in need yet, because I am still so fragile. But I feel I could care for homeless dogs.

 I am struck by how excited I am to work for nothing and do a menial task – and the strangest thing of all is that I am as happy now or happier than I was when I was doing ‘greater’ things. 

I have a very strong feeling that success doesn't equal happiness. 

Tuesday, September 10

trying hard things: five weeks fructose free


Day 1 and Day 2 I was wandering around the kitchen like a nomad, peeking at the dates in the pantry and opening the fridge over and over in dismay. I felt an unquenchable thirst for sweetness. It was overwhelming to realise that when I reached an energy and emotional low, I couldn’t pick myself up with a hit of dates, fruit, lindt or caffine. I was surprised to realise how real my addiction was. I was flat as a pancake.

Just as I was settling in for prolonged misery, I quite suddenly stopped craving things. It was bizarre how abruptly it ended.

 Ben bought jars and jars of Rice Malt Syrup, the fructose-free sweetener of my choice. He has always been a fabulously caring husband, and this was no exception. He did all the cooking, and baked for me so that my nightly tea {herbal now} wasn’t lonesome. Soon though, I was well enough to do my own baking, and that is something I haven’t done in months.

Here’s the strangest thing of all: I have never really enjoyed vegetables overly much, apart from sweet potatoes and corn -  and potatoes in the fries version. Now, I’m desiring green vegetables, even over grains. I walk into the veggie mart (yes, walk in, that’s right) and want to buy greens and eat greens. I honestly think I have broken the sugar addiction after nearly 23 years. I still wonder if this is the honeymoon period, or if I truly want healthy food now? Is my body saying, ‘FINALLY! You ended my complicated relationship with sugar. Thank you!”

The month I left off fructose, I was struggling to keep my eyes open, unable to drive because I felt blank to the very back of my head, and dreading getting off the couch to get a cup of tea. Things had been pretty wretched since moving. Now days I’m not up and down throughout the day with sugar hits and energy lows. I am driving with a clear head, not needing afternoon sleeps 90% of the time, recovering more quickly from exertion and generally experiencing a radical reduction in symptoms.

The results are worth the sacrifice many times over. And to think I put this off for four years, because I was scared it would be too hard – but, like so many things (apart from coming of antidepressants), it was easier in reality.

Today someone posted this article about fructose being very unhealthy en masse. And until a few months ago, I thought orange juice was good for me. Thank-you myths and supermarket promotions.

-        Summer might be tricky, because I love watermelon and mangoes on hot days. 

-        Going out just isn’t the same when you can’t order chai tea with honey. And no ciders or wines on special occassions. {it is worth it, it is worth it, it is worth it.}

-        Smelling Ben’s fresh brownies makes me drool, and waver in my resolution, but I will not give in.

-        I am eating ALL vegetables – including onion, tomatoes and garlic, but deliberately limiting these ones. If I hadn’t seen such a radical result, I might have eliminated these too but for now I’m content.

Tuesday, September 3

chinese secrets

"To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I first met Dr. Lim a year ago. I am so very fond of him and his smiling Asian face with Howardesque eyebrows. I look forward to Saturday mornings with him – yes, frightened me, who develops a telltale nervous rash and wants to vomit or bolt at the western doctors. From herbs, to manners, to common sense, he has taught me many things.

“Come in Mrs. Martin. How you feel? Any better?”

Dr. Lim is so delightfully caring. He genuinely gets excited when I’m doing well, and concerned and sad when I’m not. I have no fear in telling him how I’m going because he won’t shrug off anything that I say lightly. He deals with the whole of me, from muscles to mind, and respects my feelings and emotions in a way I rarely come across.

Many doctors sit there coldly and then declare there is nothing they can do for my condition. Then they smirk when I mention that I’m seeing a Chinese Medicine doctor. They bemoan the use of my money on something that obviously won’t work if they have declared my condition is untreatable. I wish for open minds and love in the western profession.

“Drink warm water, is good for you.”

For a couple of winters my immune system was a nightmare, permitting me 5 day breaks between colds. Dr. Lim suggested that I drink warm water. He told me that when cold water goes into the body, it naturally cools it down and the energy required to warm it back up takes away from its ability to fight off viruses.

Since switching to warm water and boiling the jug a trillion times a day, I've only had two mild colds in a whole winter. It’s an incredible change. Sometimes you don’t need a pill or potion, just some smart body sense.

“On sunny days, go for walk outside.”

To keep myself from fainting, I've had to exercise very often for the last few years. I diligently go to the gym because I've been told to, but, eww. After I moved to Geelong and felt the low mood cloud descend on me, I opted out of trying more antidepressants {after a hellish experience coming off them last time} and instead took Chinese Herbs and sunshine. The choice is unshowered dripping males and fluorescent lighting, or fragrant spring flowers and sunshine. I'm still amazed at how joyful I feel in the sun, smelling flowers - it's a merry combination.

“Eat yoghurt for this problem, you feel better.”

Recently I had a bout of tummy bloating, severe heartburn, and other unmentionable bowel dilemmas...I expected him to give me another bottle of herbs for this issue, but instead he said to try yogurt first. As I can't tolerate dairy, we decided on a probiotic. His intuition was right on, as it immediately settled things down. I do love a simple pharmacy or food solution and avoiding a trip to the white coats.

“I have something make it go away. Be all better.”

I came to Lim after two trips to the physio which hadn't solved my neck pain and headaches. He came back from his store room with patches to put on my neck and back, containing strong herbs like Menthol and Camphor. I wanted to believe this would help, but after an unsuccessful week of treatment at the physio, I was fearful of ongoing pain. I skeptically put the patches on, and in 3 days I was pain free.

We can't underestimate the importance of easing another's burden, even if we can't take it away. I was dancing around the house over joyed to have one less pain on my plate.

Smile often

Dr. Lim and his son who helps him smile continually. They absolutely beam. I've never met such smiley people in my entire life. From the dozens of 'you feel better soon's' to the 'we find something just right for you's' I feel a warmth which is delightfully refreshing for a jaded appointment attendee. After my appointments they usually chat to Ben and I for quite some time like we are their friends - about our lives and their lives, and always with lots of laughter. I've never left without the smile they gave to me in the room.

They don't worry about being 'professional', a word which has come to feel so clinical and cold to me. I feel they embody what doctors really should be - caring, affirmative, and eager to reduce pain.

"Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution."

 Kahlil Gibran