Tag Archives: health

Making it all about you

“You’re making it all about you!” It’s an interesting accusation and one I’ve been on the wrong end of a few times in recent years. From my perspective, it tends to happen when I am unable to be a good resource for someone in the way that I have been. Now, most people if that happens, come back concerned about whatever’s knocked me about – because usually it means I’m ill. I hate letting people down, and I will push through as much as I can, but sometimes that’s not an option.

Sometimes I do indeed take the decision to make it all about me. Usually I do this when not doing so runs the risk of pushing me into serious dysfunction with either bodily health, or mental health. I do it to avoid burnout, to avoid spiralling towards suicidal thoughts, to deal with massive triggering experiences and suchlike. These are times when I think I should be entitled to make it all about me.

So usually when someone accuses me of making it all about me the answer is yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing and need to do. You might want more or better from me, but if I can’t afford it, I’m not giving it. If a person has ever claimed friendship, then I expect that to matter. It might be bloody inconvenient and they might have every reason to feel grumpy and let down, but friends do not ask friends to burn out for them. Of course sometimes it may be a failure to recognise that the situation is that serious and I may have done a bad job of explaining – because, you know… ill…

What’s the intended effect of saying ‘you are making it all about you?’ Is it to punish someone emotionally for not doing the things? Is it to try and get them to back down? I know in some circumstances this would have meant a grovelling apology was called for followed by jumping to do the things no matter what the cost. I don’t want to live like that, and I don’t want to deal with people who will not allow me to make it all about me now and then.

I have, in recent years, become a lot more suspicious of the people who get angry with me for being in difficulty. I’ve stopped assuming this is just because I am a terrible person and everyone is entitled to be cross with me. This is a consequence of spending most of my time with people who genuinely care about me, want me to be well, would be horrified if I broke myself running around after them, and who, if I express myself badly because I’m in trouble, will give me the space to come back and do a better job of that later. I’ve said no to friends a lot this year, and they’ve reminded me that they care, and that they hope I feel better soon, and to yell if there’s anything they can do. It’s not the highest set bar in the world.


Understanding the mechanics

One of my key coping mechanisms is to try and understand how things work for me. It’s the approach I take any time I’m digging into areas of dysfunction. Why am I like this? How did I get here? Why am I responding in these ways? What can be changed? Once I’ve figured the mechanisms for something, I often blog about it in the hopes someone else will find that useful.

I’ve used these approaches to unpick beliefs and assumptions. I’ve dealt to some degree with an abuse legacy this way. I’ve pulled myself out of patterns of self-harm and self hate. It’s not easy work, but it definitely gets stuff done.

I try it with my body issues too, with varying degrees of effect. By experimenting on myself and paying attention, I’ve identified that I need to keep an eye on my iodine intake. I need to watch for electrolytes when my gut packs up. My gut packs up less often now I’m vegetarian – being an omnivore didn’t suit me. I can’t eat a lot of refined grains or my gut malfunctions. I can’t ingest cloves. I’ve got coping mechanisms in place for my cranky lymphs, and for the things that leave my body stiff and sore. So long as I pay careful attention to a lot of different factors I can, for much of the time, feel more in control of myself.

And then there are days like today, when many of the things that can go wrong have gone wrong. I can’t pin down any triggers. There are problems with conflicting solutions. I’m exhausted and need to rest. My lymphs are cranky and I need to get on the trampoline. My muscles are painfully sore anyway. I’ve got crazy hormone stuff going on. All of this has mental health implications. There’s no winning here.

I go round this repeatedly, studying the mechanics of my body, gaining some ground, managing better. And then, sooner or later, I get hit by a combination of things I didn’t manage to guard against and can’t easily fix, and then there can be some very tough days.

I find it difficult to accept that there might not be a solution. I suspect one of the kindest things I could do for myself would be to accept that there might not be a solution. There might not be a way of avoiding this. There might not be some perfect combination of foods avoided, exercises done, supplements taken, relaxation practices and so forth. It may be that this is what happens to me.

Talking about it is difficult because there’s usually someone who wants to tell me what they think I should change. That I should be gluten free, or not eating anything from the tomato family, or that I need to take something, or not take something, do more or less of something. I find this exhausting. I find the assumption that I would be well if only I did the thing depressing. I do try really hard with this stuff, all the time. I pay attention, I experiment. There’s only so much control I’ve ever been able to get.

No doubt, offering advice feels like being a good and helpful person. But, for the person who is struggling, it can be just one more thing to have to carry, or fend off. It’s a way of saying yes, this is your body and you live with it day to day but I reckon my two minutes of thinking about it means I understand it better than you do. That’s demoralising at best. Unsolicited, unwanted ‘help’ can have the effect of grinding a person down. And if you don’t know all the details and aren’t a qualified medical person, the ‘help’ can do more harm than good.

It would be more helpful to me to have affirmation that it is not my fault that sometimes my body malfunctions. What I do find helpful is the emotional support to take things gently. The encouragement to not blame myself. Permission to just have some time off and not have to be all the things. Kindness is good. And letting me be the one to say ‘no, there’s nothing I can do with this today’ is far more empowering than trying to fix me.


Finding more energy

I’ve had energy problems since my teens. Aged fourteen, my Doctor told me that ME didn’t exist, that it was probably psychosomatic or because I wanted to get out of doing PE. Oddly enough, I didn’t find that helpful. I figured out a lot of things on my own which have allowed me to manage my body a lot better.

I’m hypermobile, which apparently means everything is going to take me more effort than it does most people. Not a lot I can do about that, but knowing helps. It particularly helps in not blaming myself and telling myself I’m just being lazy and not trying hard enough. This in turn helps me rest when I need to and that’s improved my energy levels.

It may be the hypermobility impacting on my gut, it may be some other technical thing, but my digestive system has never been very reliable. I’ve eliminated the foods that make me ill – I can’t do meat, I can’t have too much refined anything, and I do better when I eat large quantities of fruit and veg. But, if my gut packs up, I mess up with the electrolytes and this in turn messes up my blood pressure leaving me feeling weak and useless. It took me a while to figure this because I get stressed by doctors so I don’t show up in tests as having low blood pressure!

By my early teens I was anxious about my weight, and went many rounds trying to starve myself. I’ve never been able to control my weight through any kind of dieting. In recent years I’ve focused on making sure I have the energy to be physically active. This works better for me, and having the energy from my food to do the things I want to do make a lot of odds. Investing in my diet helps with the aforementioned electrolytes issues. Having enough oil has helped reduce pain. I try to maintain good blood sugar because when low blood sugar and depression collide, energy disappears.

I’ve got the best energy levels and concentration I’ve had in a long time, and it’s more reliable than it’s ever been. I still get days when, for no reason I can identify, it’s like someone has coated my bones in lead, put old-style deep sea diving boots on my feet and sent me to walk through rivers of treacle. I don’t know what causes those days. I don’t push hard against them anymore, and I rest up as much as I can.

What this has taught me, over the years, is that my body is a really complicated thing, with many different factors involved (not all of which I have mentioned in this post). Simple, miracle cures have never cured me. Trying to work out things like how sleep, activity, stress, diet and body mechanics interact with each other is difficult, and those balances shift all the time. I’ve had to accept that I can’t totally fix myself and it’s not some kind of personal failing to have to work around some of this. Some of it is clearly genetic and I know something of the history of that in my family. Not everyone can cure all their stuff, and I’ve become very resistant to people who are adamant that a bit more magnesium and positive thinking (or whatever it is this week) would make me perfectly ok.

I’ve learned not to waste precious energy on people who are insistent about their miracle solutions. What I do know is that if a problem in your body was easily fixed, it was never that complicated a problem and it isn’t indicative of what will happen for anyone who has a whole mess of things going on.


Self care for the self-employed

This blog is prompted by seeing an author on twitter mention that they’d become unable to write decent sentences and then realised they’d missed lunch and had low blood sugar. It’s all too easy around self-employment to romanticise this sort of thing, treat is as heroic, desirable, necessary. The ten hour days with no breaks. The seven day weeks. The missed meals. It doesn’t make for a good life, and sooner or later it will damage not just your concentration, but also your health – mental and physical.

If you’re doing anything for the long haul, it is vitally important to take good care of yourself. Burnout is not efficient. Being too sick to work is not efficient. If you can’t take care of yourself from a place of feeling worth it, do it because that way you’ll be able to work longer.

You probably know what you should be doing – eating well, moving about, taking breaks from screens, not giving yourself a repetitive strain injury with excessive typing, not getting editor’s bottom from bad seating, not becoming agoraphobic through long term inability to go outside… those things and all the other things like them. You probably know. The reasons people fail at self care often have less to do with knowing stuff, and more to do with how we perceive ourselves, our relative value, the value of our work, and the heroism culture around working yourself to death.

The culture of heroically working yourself to death is hard to resist when it seems like everyone else is doing it. If your social media feed is full of people who sound strong, impressive, dedicated and whatnot because they hurt themselves routinely for their art, or their job, it’s hard to push the other way. The comics industry has been really bad for this, with seven hour days, back pain and poor diets treated as normal, and part of what it means to do the job. It shouldn’t be normal, and it shouldn’t be necessary.

Some of this is about pushing for decent hourly rates. Some of this is the politics of poverty and what you end up doing when you’re desperate and afraid. Not all of this can be dealt with at a personal level, but if you can, then do it and speak up. No one should feel obliged to work themselves to death.

If you’re looking for the Pagan angle here – it exists. Over work and overconsumption are intertwined. Poverty and planet-damage are profoundly connected. When we take better care of ourselves we are likely to move in directions that take better care of the planet, too. It’s an issue around diet, especially. No one makes a profit from your time off, and we need to be less obsessed with profit if we’re going to avoid killing ourselves as a species. A gentler life is a more planet friendly life, and self care is a radical act of pushback against exploitative capitalism. Practice self care where you can, and do what you can to enable other people to have that as well.

You can take better care of self employed people by sticking to the terms you agreed, not shifting the goalposts mid project, not demanding freebie extras or creating more work because you didn’t explain things properly in the first place. You can take better care of self employed people by paying fairly for what they do. You can respect that people need time off and not send them queries out of hours and expect instant responses, and so on, and so forth.


Life after cars

I’ve been cheered over the last month or so to see more people online talking about how we are going to have to cut back on car use. The only way to deal with congestion, is if more people drive less. I’m so glad to see growing recognition that building roads does not solve this problem. We need to tackle our dire air pollution – which is killing people. We need to square up to the way driving impacts on climate chaos. We also can’t simply replace current cars with electric ones, because there are rare earths currently needed for electric cars and the planet can’t afford us over-consuming those, either.

What needs to happen next is that we need to start getting excited about the implications of a mass cutback on car travel. So, here are some benefits to contemplate.

Reduced noise pollution. How much nicer and less stressful human environments are when we aren’t bombarded by car noise!

Less air pollution – which will help with respiratory diseases, and maybe make colds a bit less awful, and improve our life expectancies.

Less time wasted commuting. How much time does a person who sits in traffic squander in a state of frustration as they breathe in the toxins from the other cars around them? Think how much quality of life could be improved by reclaiming that time!

Being bodily and mentally healthier – getting about on foot or on a bike helps reduce stress and keeps us fit. This is a great life improver, and with fewer cars on the road, walking and cycling will become safer and nicer to do.

It’s more social – if you’re on public transport or on foot, you meet people. You might even talk to them in passing and make friends with them. Loneliness is a modern western epidemic and cars don’t help us with that.

If you don’t drive to work and for leisure, you have to be more involved with your local community. People are often less willing to shit where they eat, and being more involved with the people around us builds communities and gives us better lives. If we go over to car sharing or other, more communal systems, this also requires us to be more co-operative, which is good. We’d have to restructure so that accessing key resources was less car dependent. This would be good, and would inject life and opportunities back into small towns and villages.

It saves money. Cars cost money to buy, fuel and maintain. How many people are pushed into sudden debt because of an unexpected car expense?

Being safer. Every year many people are killed and injured through car use. Think of the pain, stress, misery and grief we could end if we got more people out of their cars.

Get people off the roads, and driving will be less stressful and dangerous for those few who really need to do it. It’ll be easier to move emergency vehicles around at need as well.


The joys of walking for transport

I’ve never driven a car, and I’ve not lived in a household with a car since my mid twenties. I’ve walked to shop, and carried groceries home. I’ve used trains and buses, and occasionally I get lifts, but mostly I’ve walked, or cycled. I don’t really enjoy cycling so these days I mostly get places by walking to them. Where I live was picked out with that in mind.

Most of the time, walking for transport is a joy. I get outside, I get exercise, I see wildlife, I meet people. While I’m walking, I get time to process ideas and feelings and come up with ideas. If I’m walking to work or to meetings, I get time to ready myself. I arrive calm and mentally prepared and I am never held up by traffic. At the end, I get to do my digesting on the way home, and I usually arrive home calm and on top of things.

I do not have to do radical things to feel adventurous. Every now and then I end up having to walk in adverse weather conditions – in snow, and ice and heavy rain. I have the kit for this, although as downpours increase in violence, I get soaked through more often. I do not need to seek out mountains to feel a bit heroic. Some weeks, all I have to do is handle the regular shopping in the conditions around me. I do not have to challenge myself with grand gestures to feel alive. I feel alive every time I’m going somewhere.

Often, the green answers are presented as losses. Could you give up your car? Could you do without it? As though the car makes us better off, and poverty is what we get in its absence. I’ve spent enough mornings walking past lines of traffic, seeing the faces of people stuck in their cars. None of them are smiling. I’ve got stress free easy movement, peace of mind, lower expenses and a healthier body because I walk. Every time I walk past a traffic queue I am reminded of the riches inherent in my choices.

There is so much freedom and independence to be had if you can set of from your own door and head out into the world on your own two feet. We could leave the roads for those who need them – for those who do not have the privilege of being able to walk, for the emergency services, for the movement of stuff too heavy to carry about on shoulders. We could empty our roads and fill our pavements, and put calmer human interactions into our days. We could improve our air quality and our personal health. It remains a mystery to me why more people don’t see the freedom and wealth inherent in walking as more desirable than the cost and stress of being in traffic.


Learning to be selfish

Nearly 18 months ago it became apparent that if my mental and physical health didn’t make it to the priority list, I was, sooner or later, going to break irretrievably. About a year ago, I started looking at what was going on with my creative work and identified a similar problem – if I was going to not give up, my work was going to have to be on the list of things that mattered.

It is in part about asking other people to give me time, space and other resources. It is about asking other people to take my needs seriously. But, I won’t do that if I’m not taking my needs seriously. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life feeling like stuff for me was never the most important thing. It so easily becomes a self-fulfilling thing as well. I don’t make much money from my creativity, so in terms of looking after my household, my creativity cannot be a priority and so I don’t invest in it and it doesn’t bring much in and round we go again.

In the last year or so, I’ve started asking what’s in it for me? I’ve stopped making what other people want the most important consideration. I’ve not really had a lot of choice – for the last five months or so, I’ve moved from one disease to another. Time, energy and personal resources are at a serious low. I cannot run round after many people. I truly don’t have much I can afford to give. Prioritising has become a matter of survival. It’s led me to saying no to people, to not showing up, not offering, not responding to stuff on social media. I allow myself to scroll on past if I don’t feel like I have the resources to spare to help.

Sometimes, that makes me feel like a cold and heartless sort of person.

However, I’ve managed to keep working all the time I’ve been ill. I’ve managed to honour my most important commitments. I’ve managed to be helpful sometimes, because I’ve focused on what I can most effectively do. I’ve mostly hung on, just on the right side of things. Bouts of crumbling into despair, into weeping that I cannot keep going, cannot do the things, have been few in what has been a very tough five months. Probably better to say no early on rather than try and fail and take things down with me, I feel.

I’ve decided I can choose who and what I am going to responsible for, rather than having it chosen for me. I’ve not put much energy into explain things to people where I’ve had to pull back – they don’t have to keep holding any space for me, they can write me off as a bad loss, that’s fine. But, I’m not doing drama, and I’m not investing energy in justifying myself and that has really helped. I keep reminding myself that I am not obliged to meet other people’s needs for my time, attention and energy – no matter how entitled they think they are, I am not obligated. To be honest, this still feels really weird, but I can see it working, and life has been easier as a consequence.

One of the curious lessons in all of this, is that it was never the people most in need who were sapping me the most. People with small problems and a big sense of entitlement are a lot more exhausting to deal with. People who wanted results from me but also wanted to control how I was going to deliver that have, with hindsight, been a massive problem. I’ve put a hand up for some larger projects recently and noticed how much easier it is when people just let me do what I do. When I’m trusted to know what I’m doing. When the people who want my help don’t then require me to fight them so that I can help in a way that actually works.

If I can work on my own terms, then I can work happily, and when it comes to ‘what’s in it for me?’ that’s a really important factor.


Low energy, decent output

Recently, Jen over at Liminal Luminous blogged about the problem with the perceived need to work long hours in order to be successful. As a person with limited energy, Jen obviously struggles with this and it struck me that I might be able to speak to this in a useful way. So, here is what I know.

Firstly, take the time to define success. Is it just about money? Success can mean best outcomes, quality of life, friendship, doing inherently rewarding work. Once your physical needs are met, more money doesn’t confer significantly more happiness anyway.

Secondly, most of us – even the entirely healthy people – are only really good for about four hours a day. You may not be able to manage four. Work out how many hours you are likely to have of high quality output. Once you get beyond those hours, the quality and speed of what you can do, will diminish. People tell themselves that they’re working hard when they’re working long hours. The odds are for much of that time, they are working tired, inefficient and not capable of their best thinking. Long wasted hours are of no use. Be clever. Make the most of your best time and then rest.

None of us can work flat out all the time. Whatever you do, you need time to re-charge, and to let your mind chew on things in an unstructured way. I don’t have good ideas while I’m busy working. I have good ideas when I’m walking, crafting, and cleaning. I work more effectively when I have a coherent plan, considered goals, a sense of direction and new ideas. I don’t get those by trying to work all the time, I have to make quiet space for them. If I’m not well rested, I’m not able to work.

Being uber-busy is not sustainable. Sooner or later, you burn out, or crack up, or get sick. Again, this is as much an issue for people who started out well as it is for the rest of us. Burning out, cracking up, getting sick, succumbing to anxiety and depression… these are not things that improve your productivity or bring success. Being ill is not a winning outcome. Being too ill to keep going is not a winning move either. Plan for the long term, and remember that your health – mental and physical – is also a measure of success. For some of us, simply staying viable is an epic win. If you trash your health for the sake of money, you are not going to be successful in the medium to long term.

The trick is pacing. Know your limits and you can make the best use of what you’ve got without pushing yourself into dysfunction. If you’re going to be self employed as a person with chronic illness or energy problems, then there are ways to make it more viable. It might sound blindingly obvious, but you have to focus on what you can do rather than what exhausts you. There’s no point aspiring to be a paid youtuber if sitting in front of a camera wipes you out. Look at what your body and mind can sustain. Ask what you can do most effectively in the time available to you. Look for the resources, platforms and opportunities that suit how you can actually work, not how you think you’re supposed to work.

Being an overnight success takes years. It takes most businesses three years to starting breaking even and moving towards profit. If your primary cost is your own time, you can do better than that. The temptation of course is to try and speed up your profit making by throwing more hours at it, but that isn’t a sure fire solution.

I reliably have four hours a day, often more but with that extra being less clever, plus uncertainty as to how much more from day to day. I do the most important bill paying work over four mornings a week. I do the more speculative stuff in the afternoons. I get far more done now than I used to when I was trying to work eight hour days and more. We get by financially, and I am far less ill than I was because I have more time for self care.


Rest, action and illness

When ‘normal’ people are ill or tired, they rest. What do you do if ill and/or exhausted are your normal condition? I go round this one a lot, and while I’m not able to offer definitive answers, I think there’s mileage to be had in framing the questions and possible answers.

Rest helps us recover faster from illness. Not resting when ill not only slows recovery, but also undermines mental health.

However, being physically active helps move the blood and lymph fluids about, which can also help. Too much inaction leaves us with weakened muscles, reduced stamina, less healthy hearts. Not moving much can also make mental health issues worse. Physical activity is encouraged as an answer to depression and anxiety. Being as fit as you can be helps you stay resilient.

Except if you always hurt and you never have much energy, being active is hard. It isn’t easy to tell if a sudden loss of energy is because you have energy issues, or because you are coming down with some simple ailment like the flu. If you are used to pushing to get things done it can be hard to work out when not pushing is the better answer.

Depression causes loss of energy. Depression is a common consequence of living with long term pain and illness. It isn’t easy to separate the heavy lethargy of depression from the physical experiences you may be having.

It is easy to get into unhelpful cycles. If you push all the time to keep going, you learn to ignore what your body tells you. You become alienated from your body and fight against it continually. You don’t notice when things go wrong that need some response other than pushing harder. This puts you at risk. Perhaps in the end you run out of the will to keep pushing yourself onwards all the time. That can be very hard to recover from.

If you rest too much, you lose, or do not develop physical strength, stamina and co-ordination. Depression may increase. Increasing your feelings of lethargy. You feel powerless, you may feel increasingly intimidated by the idea of trying to do anything. You may just keep spiralling down in this way until you aren’t really living your life at all.

There’s no simple solution to this that I can see. Listening to your body is good and so is trusting your body, but depression and exhaustion don’t make you into a good listener. Often the opposite. Other people will have advice for you, maybe some of them will think they know what you need better than you know. Sometimes they may be right, but not always. Other people will have magic cures and absolute certainties for things that will change everything – but your body is unique and what worked for one person is not guaranteed to work for you.

There are no simple answers. Keep questioning. Keep trying things. Don’t give up on yourself. You may never be able to get so that your body works in the way a normal body is assumed to work, but that’s not the only good outcome available. You can find combinations that serve you best, and that improve your quality of life and you can do it on your own terms.


Female body shapes

‘Thin’ is a problematic concept that has haunted me my entire life. Like many female-bodied persons, I tend towards curves. I’m aware that I have hips and breasts for breeding purposes. This is not an unusual quality in women. I also have a body that is perfectly willing to build muscle. Muscle does not make you thin. If you have muscles, you won’t have your bones on display.

Being thin depends on not eating too much. It depends on ignoring hunger. Calorie control, for me, means no energy, no means to be physically active. But then, thin doesn’t require you to be physically active, because thin doesn’t have any room in it for decent muscles.

What thin gives you is a delicate, fragile aesthetic. It says that you won’t be able to run away or put up much of a fight. You can easily be carried off. Thin female shapes can suggest pre-pubescence, or being a boy. There may be questions to ask about male tastes that favour girls who look like male children, and women who look easy to overpower.

Fit is a much easier thing to work on, I have found. Fit means choosing good food and not going hungry. It means having the energy to be active, and using that energy to be active. It means enjoying the body rather than denying it. That too, raises questions. Appetite for food is easily linked to other bodily appetites. If you’re working with an angels/whores take on womanhood, then the angles will be thin and unworldly, and the whores will enjoy all carnal things – food, sex, their own bodies… How much is thinness about not being allowed to enjoy your own physical self?

In the fashion industry, I gather the favouring of the very thin body has to do with how clothes sit. If the model is very thin across the pelvis and bust, you know the clothes will hang right regardless of who wears them. Thin is a way to make us all the same, to deny diversity and the reality of body shapes. Bodies are diverse. There would be more art in designing clothes that look good on different body shapes, but high fashion does not appear to be up for this challenge.

Thin is a full time job. You can’t take days off from it. Bodies that think they are living through a famine will store calories as soon as there are extra ones to play with. This is part of why many dieters find their weight yo-yos. Being thin, if it is not your natural body shape, is something you have to think about all the time. I’m not sure how many women have bone thin as their natural body shape. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who was really thin and who did not have to work at it. Naturally very thin women only seem to exist in films and TV shows, carelessly eating and drinking what they like and staying skinny because they are creatures of the (male?) imagination.

I think the quest to be thin is a dubious pursuit at best. There’s so much shaming of the female body in the industries that benefit from thinness. Imagine how much happier, and healthier we could all be and how much more time and money we could have to invest in other things if we gave up on the shapes we’ve been told to be, and started looking after our bodies with the idea of being fit and healthy instead.