Living with an invisible illness….dealing with M.E

Living with someone who has an auto-immune disease (or should I say an invisible illness) is something I cannot describe with any degree of clarity anymore. There is nothing straightforward about it and sometimes you feel so helpless about everything that you end up just wanting to run away from it all. Frustration, anguish and despair are the defining characteristics of dealing with this condition. Most people I have spoken to do not know what M.E is when you tell them.

That isn’t a good start…. bring on the isolation.

My husband was unfortunately struck down with glandular fever about 5 years ago and it was only after this illness had improved that he started encountering a myriad of symptoms daily that seemed to have no apparent reason or explanation. The problem with M.E is that the symptoms could represent other serious illnesses so we don’t know what to think or expect. I cannot tell you the amount of times we have had to call 999 as some of the symptoms have been so frightening.

There are 250,000 people living in the UK with M.E. That is a lot of visits to the doctor with no clear outcome. A lot of pleas for help with doctors looking at you wondering if you are a hysterical hypochondriac or not. Test after test, after test, after test, and nothing. In the end, you begin to doubt even your own sanity. ‘Perhaps it really is all in his head. Perhaps he just thinks he’s ill when really he is just stressed.’ The doubts go on and on…just like the tests.

‘Oh your husband is just anxious.’ No, he isn’t. To hell with anxiety. Not every patient who comes through the door of the surgery is anxious. He is anxious BECAUSE he is feeling so ill. As soon as a doctor says this to me, I feel my blood pressure rising. It makes me so angry that nobody understands or can take it seriously. I have seen his symptoms change daily. Sometimes hourly. Swelling joints. Chest pains. Blood shot eyes. Tremors in the limbs. Hot sweats. Tremendous spikes in blood pressure. Rashes that come and go overnight. Brain fog. Feeling dizzy and spaced out constantly. Moderate to severe exhaustion with hardly any exertion.

Sometimes he will be completely calm and at ease with himself and suddenly out of the blue he will experience a massive attack of dizziness, racing heart beat and have pains all over his body.

Yes…all in his head of course.

What hurts me most of all is seeing a man who desperately wants to get on with his life, who wants to be his normal self again and is held back by some kind of disease that nobody understands. Not even I can truly understand it when he is at his worst. He describes it as one of the worst flu bugs you could ever have whilst simutaneously having what feels like a stroke. What can we do? I can only empathise as best I can and try and be as supportive as I can when he is experiencing a flare. Apart from that…I feel incredibly helpless.

One thing is for sure. Good health is paramount.

As soon as you lose it, you realise just how valuable it actually is. We appreciate the good days now more than ever before. Every moment of normality and peace is cherished. Every walk in the park, every meal, every day. The simple things.

Perhaps the cure to this awful illness is a simple one. We just need to find it which means people understanding and taking it seriously. Even after everything, we are still going strong together. Both working hard still and determined to make things better. That is amazing in itself despite the difficulty.

If you are one of those who have M.E or are struggling alone to support someone who is suffering with this illness, feel free to comment or send me an email and let me know how you are coping with it.

C xxx

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Want success? Don’t stress out – chill out! 6 simple ways to work productively

“Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or tortuous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive.”
― Joanne Harris, Chocolat

Life is busy, stressful and chaotic. Tell me something I don’t know right? Sure it is. We fight constantly to get our heads above water. That promotion, that property, more this, more that, whatever dream we aspire to.

If I told you success was all about simplicity, perseverance and application, would you believe me?

It isn’t about slacking off. It isn’t about killing yourself in the process either. Not at all. It is all about applying energy and focus in the right way.

Be proactive:

The goal of success is a dream. A dream that needs your attention and focus to materialise. Doing something everyday, no matter how small you think it is, will take you one step closer to realising your goals.

Be realistic in your outlook:

Make sure your goals are actually obtainable. Biting off more than you can chew creates a lot of needless stress which is of course, a waste of energy. You need your energy to do things that are within your grasp and capability. It doesn’t mean you don’t aim high…just aim to do what you can.

Keep it simple:

The most fundamental and powerful rule of all. Don’t complicate things needlessly. Other people will do that for you most of the time. Have one main goal, find a way to achieve it within reach and most importantly, believe in it!

Be positive:

Even on the days where everything sucks (you’ll have some weeks like that too), keep going. Things usually get better and more postive in time. Just keep going and remember what Winston Churchill said:

‘When you’re going though hell, keep going.’

Don’t quit. Or if you do quit more often than not, quit quitting!

Take things in your stride:

Don’t beat yourself up when things don’t happen quickly. Nothing happens instantly. Good things, great ideas and grand plans take time to come to fruition. Small steps all the way will lead to the completion of the journey in the end. Before you realise it, you will have found the success you were looking for. Just be patient….

Relax:

If you feel wound up, tense and frustrated, you will not be in the right mindset. You will be negative and then you will start attracting the wrong energy. If you’ve ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed, you’ll easily relate to what I’m saying! There is no reason for it, you just feel ‘off’ for no apparent reason. Clear your mind, get rid of any negative thoughts and replace them with postive ones. Basically, positive things will happen when you feel positive and vice versa. Smile at someone and you may just get a smile back!

Don't be a grumpy cat....

Don’t be a sour puss….

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Smile! – simple and effective….

© Christina McDonald 2014

What is True Spirituality?

Religion, spirituality and faith are words we all know and are familiar with. To some of us, they are simply words. To others, they are a way of life. Something we do and practice every day. Being ‘in touch’ with something is implied. ‘This feels like a very spiritual place’. What does that mean? Most of the time, I have no idea. It implies there is some kind of unusual or comforting feeling we experience.

Usually, people have a sense that there is something quite powerful and wonderful at work when they feel a deep sense of spirituality. Many people feel incredibly peaceful and calm when they are in these places. If you have ever stood alone silently in a church or cathedral and just allowed yourself to sense those deep feelings, you will know exactly what I mean. It is the fabric of existence I suppose…whatever that is.

Growing up in N.Ireland, I saw life from a very strange and surreal perspective. I was brought up as a protestant which has as much meaning for me now as advanced physics and quadratic equations – I don’t have a clue what it means anymore. I was very conscious of neeing to ‘belong’ to a particular sect of belief though. Religion had created a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’. In all honesty, I hated it. I didn’t feel like I belonged to any tradition really. I was a musicican (flautist) and so was immeresed in the flute band tradition. So -there I was at the tender age of 13 marching on the 12th of July, proud as punch. (Not because I was so proud of my protestant heritage but from the sheer amazement I could play a wind instrument and walk for miles on end – with very sore, hot feet I might add!)

Music was the only thing that had real meaning then for me and so it remains today. For me, music gave me that connection to something real, something much larger than my little self. That’s when my own discovery and journey to the inner me began – through music. To me, music was a pleasure that had the ability to open up doors into a completely new world of understanding.

I remember going to church every Sunday when I was about 7 or 8 years old and being completley bored out of my head. I was fidgeting, giggling and on some occasions, humming to distract myself from what seemed a mundane and very complicated sermon that simply went over my head. I didn’t want to be there, but HAD to be there. Oh the joys! I couldn’t have been less interested in what was being said. I was thinking (dreaming more like) of other places, other things I could be doing – anything to take me away from having to sit on what was becoming after an hour of lecturing, an increasingly uncomfortable church pew!

This is not to say that spirituality is confined to being in church. Far from it. These feelings can be sensed anywhere. It doesn’t require you to go to church (although that can certainly help). It is all so very abstract and defining it is not easy. If you have ever sat in meditation and sensed feelings of happiness and gratefulness for no apparent reason, that is how I would describe it.

It is something that reminds us who we truly are. The joy of simply being is found within the essence of spirituality. Nothing is dependent upon it, simply your awareness of anything that arises from worrying thoughts and distressing emotions that causes you to lose that inner sense of grounding. When I first started this blog, I was thinking about happiness and how so many of us make our quest for happiness in life the ultimate goal. It is the goal but I think too many people are dependent on other people and other things to make them feel that sense of happiness and contentment that can quickly be lost as soon as our circumstances change for the worse.

The vast uniqueness of human experience allows us to explore every facet of aliveness. The good times and the bad. The ups and downs. The laughter and the tears. Good decisions and bad decisions. You could call it ‘free will’. The many cycles of life that come and go are there to remind us always that there is a deeper message behind it all. What that message is… only you can know. That is the most wonderful part. Your own life, your story is yours and yours alone. Your journey, your lessons and your time. To me, that is what spirituality means.

Everything that happens to us, whether we interpret it as good or bad has a lesson in it for you somewhere. A lesson that cannot just simply be found by going to church every Sunday. Repeating the same routine over and over again without questioning it will not give a true insight into who you are. Conforming to beliefs that you do not really understand is not a belief.

Having faith is an active, not a passive experience. Who you truly know yourself to be is an instrinsic part of actually having a living experience of faith. Be right here, right now and you begin to feel what it means to experience true spirituality which is of course….your infinite connection to all there is.

© Christina McDonald 2014

Food is good….

Travelling abroad recently combined with early starts, skipping meals and caffeine fuelled searching for departure gates reminded me of one simple thing-eating is important. Not just eating but eating and enjoying good food in a relaxed state. Lying in bed in my hotel room, I wondered why I felt so unwell. I had not eaten enough all day apart from a half a croissant in the morning (with a very strong black coffee of course).

The morning sunrise was something special on my first day there:

Sunrise in the Canaries...

Sunrise in the Canaries…

Running on empty was no way to travel sanely. Thinking about it, this crazy pattern of behaviour is symptomatic of my life as a whole. Always ‘too busy’ with other things to care about myself properly. When did I ever really appreciate the importance of eating well? The truth is-I do not as of yet appreciate or care properly about what I eat. I have a ‘grab a sandwich, anything will do’ philosophy which I am determined to change.

If anything, like so many of us, I love eating the wrong things. The ridiculous thing is that I love eating really good wholesome food. There is nothing more satisfying than feeling the food you have just eaten is doing your body good.

Working full time as an assistant manager for a chocolate company, I am slowly but surely learning to appreciate what goes into making great chocolate. My curiosity is expanding into new territories. Who knows what discoveries I will make on this new journey into appreciating food. I mean….’food glorious food’ must mean something good right?

BUT – the very thought of having to prepare a meal when I get home from work makes me feel exhausted….or perhaps that is my excuse for being too lazy to think about it. I know one thing for sure. I think I might actually enjoy it if I could just find somewhere to start. So -where to start? The kitchen. I think….

I always know what I enjoy eating. That part is easy of course. Cheese is up there. I love bread. I enjoy salads. …sometimes. (If there is cheese). With salads, I usually feel very hungry if I don’t have any protein or carbohydrates with it. As long as it is filling and satisfying, I am content. It is also where I fall down…I feel the same about pizza too.

What annoys me most of all, is coming home to a cupboard of food and not seeing anything I would want to eat. I only have myself to blame! First thing is first then – I have to make sure there is nutritious food that I enjoy eating waiting for me at home when I finish work. Then, I’ll have something to look forward to!

I am not sure I have ever really properly tasted food. Enjoying food and a satisfying meal, yes. When hunger is satisfied, that’s all well and good. My appreciation of food is still under par. Like so many things in life, I take it for granted. I don’t think I have tasted food and thought about how the ingredients have been combined to create the enjoyment of tasting it. Why does it taste good? Why do certain flavours work brilliantly together?

Apart from being hungry and subconsciously eating three meals a day, I now want to satisfy my curiosity about food, not just my appetite.

I wonder if we actually truly enjoy eating junk food. Isn’t it just the convenience we enjoy more? Having easy food ‘ready to go’ as it were, (I used to love microwave meals at uni), isn’t cooking. The most most important part isn’t included – having to think about making it. Making a list of healthy foods that we really enjoy is step one of the plan.

If we approach cooking with enjoyment, it ceases to be a chore. So – what do you love eating?

Get cooking! 🙂

© Copyright Christina McDonald 2014

The seductive and magical world of chocolate….

I could really eat a bar of chocolate right now. One thing is for sure – I’ve always loved chocolate. That hasn’t changed much over the years (unlike my waistline!) What has changed is my level of appreciation for good, high quality chocolate. When I first tasted dark chocolate that had been properly made, I was surprised at how I didn’t react much initially. I thought I knew what chocolate was having grown up with it in massive abundance through parental bribery. It was great – lovely in fact! So smooth, creamy and rich. To me, it was still just ‘chocolate’. Gorgeous, amazingly addictive, chocolate.

Why was it so good?

I’ve worked in the chocolate industry and luxury retail now for just over two years. I still remember my very first day at work in a chocolate shop. I was like a kid let lose. After I had the (very difficult task) of trying and sampling the many different and overwhelming varietes of chocolate, I hadn’t yet realised that my palate had become accustomed to other taste sensations that were not obscured by sugar. Walking home from work I thought I should buy a Cadbury’s fruit and nut bar (you know, for old time’s sake)…I felt sick eating it…all I could taste was sugar and fat.

Yes, I have been utterly spoiled!

Good chocolate needs only a select handful of ingredients. They are cocoa butter, cocoa solids, sugar and soya lecithin. If you look at the label of a chocolate bar, you should really only see these components. Everything else is junk. Not needed. I felt as though I was becoming more familiar with what I was actually eating instead of simply just buying something I ‘thought’ I liked. The truth was – I didn’t actually know the difference between what was good quality and what was bad quality chocolate. If we haven’t tried it, we cannot know!

Dark chocolate is especially good for you. Full of antioxidants. Various studies have shown it may be very good for the heart and lowering blood pressure to name but a few benefits. With all of this, it would be foolish to deny ourselves the pleasure of eating chocolate now and again. Not only does dark chocolate have some excellent health benefits, but it also helps to lift the mood too. There are certain chemical compounds within dark chocolate that can boost our serotonin levels. Not too shabby….

I love working with a product that can inspire the imagaination in such a way – even as grown adults, we cannot fail to be seduced by the simple wonder that is chocolate. So much to try, so much to taste…so much to experience in a world where we can allow ourselves to feel a little magic again….

© Christina McDonald 2014.

Emotion, Stress and Appetite – how to crave less and eat more.

If we are stressed, busy and under pressure, eating a healthy diet is an imperative. Not so easy as I have discovered recently. If I have a lot to do and my ‘to-do’ list is on my mind more than eating, I will start skipping meals. Then, I will end up snacking on things that are doing me no good.

Quick sugar fixes and caffine usually comes into play with me. I then wonder by 10.30am why I am ravenous. If you are used to ‘running on empty’, I would hold stress and anxiety as a possible culprit.

I always find if I am dealing with more stess than usual and a busy diary, I find my appetite suffers tremendously. The urge to eat disappears completely. Of course, if your stomach is tied up in emotional knots, eating will be near impossible.

Prioritise your stress load:

We all have a lot of stuff to do. It may not be as important as other things on the daily grind list so prioritising is a must. If too many things mount up, we become unable to deal with anything productively.

So we are not overwhelmed with stress and start forgetting to do really important things (like eating), we need to ensure we are on top of things. Get a pen, get the diary and organise yourself properly so you can plan your daily tasks before you feel yourself becoming swept away by them!

Stay away from convenient comfort food:

It is so tempting to eat food that is emotionally satisfying and not nutritiously good for you. Ready meals are a curse for this. Full of sugar, fat and filled to the brim with emotional comfort. If we are emotional, anxious or stressed, we will not think in a way that benefits are physiological wellbeing. Sugar rushes are not what you are craving in fact.

You probably need some carbs! The body knows what it needs and while we are right to follow our instincts when it comes to food, always ensure you are following your intuition when choosing what to eat. Cravings can lead you astray if you are not sure what it is your really need. The answers – know EXACTLY what your body is craving.

Avoid emotional eating:

How many food purchases are based on emotional eating? Loads. I remember when I left home how many ulster fries I would eat out and make at home when I was a student. Why? Simple really. My mum used to make it for the whole family every sunday and it was amazing. They tasted so good! I couldn’t wait for Sunday every week.

I don’t think I could remember feeling so much satisfaction and pleasure from food in such a way. When there was no more left, it was the worst thing ever! Crispy bacon, pancakes, fried bread and maple syrup…the worst food that could go in me and I was a glutton for more!

The key: Not allowing yourself to suffer excess stress will enable your body to respond properly to what it needs.

© Christina McDonald 2014