Starting from where you are

White_Feathers_CroppedYesterday, I was in Milton Keynes and found myself, once again, searching for the magic cure for my life, which I believed to be one of two things:  It would be the book and secondly it would be the notebook to write down what comes out of the book.

Why do I need to cure my life?  Because I’m dissatisfied with it.  It’s nothing very bad, it’s just a succession of low-level niggles that bring me down whenever they rear their ugly heads.  Issues with my health, what I eat & drink, my motivation, creativity, money, organisation, faith, friendships – the list goes on.  I’m searching for the book that will not just help me fix one bit, but will help me fix all of it – and preferably not in seven days, forty days, five weeks, eight weeks or whatever.  I don’t want the quick fix, I want the permanent fix.

I searched the shelves of Waterstones and WHSmith without luck.  There are great books on health and diets (loads of them), and there are great books about de-junking, detoxing your spiritual life, great money management, getting fit, dressing to look your best, and so on and so forth, but there isn’t one that tackles everything.  By the time I’d spent nearly an hour at it, my head finally came out with a rationalization that the book doesn’t exist.  Publishers don’t want to sell me one book when they could sell me 12 books and booksellers can’t stock something that can’t be neatly placed on one specific shelf if it would be equally well placed on another 20.  Therefore, the answer isn’t in a bookshop.  So I gave up and started on the easier task of searching for the notebook.   I think I have a bit of an obsession with them.  Let me explain.

Hello, my name’s Rachel and I’m a compulsive writer.  Not only do words fall out of my head onto computer screens in the form of blog posts and stories, but they also come out of the end of my pens in the form of documenting my life.  I like to record things.  Books I read, films I watch, how I’m feeling, what I’m eating etc. Each one records my attempts at escaping the niggles.  Choice of notebook is very important to me and there’s nothing like a brand new notebook to signify a fresh start.  This time I will get it right.  This time I will succeed and this will be the notebook where all of it comes together!  Alas, I have a entire drawer of failed attempts.  Some of them are pretty much filled, but for some reason I stop working at it and cast the book aside into the notebook graveyard.  I was on the quest again for the notebook in the right format (about A5), lined and with a great cover.  A great cover is important.  I don’t like anything too girly or too childish.  Ideally, it should have a fantastical or inspirational picture.  As I’m writing this down I realise that it sounds faintly ridiculous, but that’s me all over, heigh ho…  Once again, as I went from shop to shop in my search, my head staged an intervention.  The perfect notebook isn’t here.  Start on a fresh page of one that you already have.  Start from where you are, Rachel. 

Start from where you are.  Those are calming words.  So many change your life books tell you to chuck out everything and start again.  How many of them begin by asking you to look at the life you have, look at what you’ve got and not so much stage a revolution in it, but embark on the evolution of it.  Gradual changes based on what you have, where you are and more importantly, what you can afford.  Buying a £10.00 diet book is all very well, but if the absolutely must have in your store cupboard list is out of your economic means, then it’s worthless.   You’re not going to stick at it.

I came away from Milton Keynes without the book or the notebook, but with a third thing in its place.  The blog.  More specifically, this blogStart from where you are came back to me again.  I have a blog, I can write it all down on here and more crucially, other people can share their insights and wisdom from their own lives, too.   I could put it all together and we could write our own book, collecting all these great things together in one place.  We can each share our version of this worked for me, or a modified version of this worked for me.  I could post articles about everything from dressing to diets, from money to microbiota (I know someone who’s ever so good on those), and everything in between.  Instead of the shelves of a bookshop I could colour code it along the lines of those life wheels – although I think a spectrum is more realistic and positive.  Things going around and around don’t help me, but seeing the change of colours gives a sense of movement that helps me to think I’m making progress.

So no book, no notebook, just a blog and some colours.  White for starting where you are.  White for starting to write your own life.  Anyone want to join in?


Posted in Starting where you are. | 1 Comment

Pressing on…

It’s been a while since I posted a blog on here, but I think it’s time I pressed it back into service.

I’m 45 now and it’s not sitting easily with me.  It’s not that I’m having trouble being a year older, I’m simply feeling an acute annoyance that the same old issues are blighting my life and I want them to stop.  Sadly, there is no magic wand and I know that every change will come down to the hard work of making good new habits.

It’s not just about wanting to lose weight.  Yes, I could do with losing a few pounds, but I want to address a range of things:

My food and drink choices are not always ones that promote good health
I’m an emotionally reactive eater
I get poor quality sleep and live in a state of sleep deprivation
I never exercise
I suffer with stress and anxiety
I have low-level depression, high blood pressure and the beginnings of arthritis.
My self-esteem is low and I am vicious with myself
I don’t make the most of what I have – nice clothes and haircuts are for other people
I’m disorganized, forgetful and easily distracted
My spiritual life could be classed as ‘lip-service at best’
I am an emotional yo-yo
I have a crippling fear of failure and rarely start something, ‘because I’ll fail at it…’
I feel like I’m drifting along and not making any progress
I have ambitions but no realistic chance of achieving them
I’m building a long list here…

I’m sure there are people who will identify with my list and others who will read it and think ‘get over yourself.’  Each to their own.  This is my life and I’d like it to feel that I’m achieving something worthwhile and that I’m making the best of myself and the opportunities that present themselves.  I’m not out to change the world, but I do want to change myself.  I’m not aiming to be superwoman, I just want to be the best me I can be.

So where am I going to start?  I’m going to start with good food, lots of water and working on my sleep.  There’s no point trying to work on anything else if I’m tired, malnourished and dehydrated.  After that, I’ll start on the rest.

Posted in Dieting, Emotions, Exercise, Faith, Food, Health, Personal Development, Self-Esteem, Weight Issues | 1 Comment

I probably should have spotted it in the vegetables.

ComicGirlIconIf you know me, you’ll know that by and large, I’m not noted for my reckless behaviour.  I can see the point in rule following, I think manners are vastly underrated and it’s my greatest wish that ‘being nice’ wasn’t hurled at people as some sort of insult.  So trying to, in effect, set fire to my own life – as in metaphorically torch it to the ground and walk away – was probably the clue that all was not well in my head.  I probably haven’t been well for a couple of months, but it was that incident which made me realise that I needed to seek help, because finally, the difficulties were starting to become publicly noticeable.

Out of character behaviour is one thing, but there was far more going on and I wasn’t joining the dots.  It’s no good using low self-esteem as a yardstick to measure whether I’m depressed, because I have it permanently.  I’m never going to suffer from the delusion that I am the most brilliant person on the planet.  However, it’s been worse than usual.  Couple that with being tearful, irritable and not my usual positive self and you’ve got the beginnings of a picture emerging.  I’ve been having difficulty sleeping and difficulty getting out of bed.  Me, being in bed past 6.30am on any given morning is almost unheard of, but it’s been happening regularly.  The thing I love to do the most of all (writing) has been lying untouched.  My eating is chaotic, I’ve been making excuses not to see friends and I can’t raise interest to do anything.  But masking all that was absolutely crippling anxiety and of course, its sidekick, an inability to make decisions for fear of ‘getting it wrong.’

That’s what I thought I was dealing with – straightforward anxiety and I didn’t clue in to all the other stuff going on.  It wasn’t until Googled anxiety and one article listed it with the symptoms of depression – and I pretty much ticked all the boxes, that I realised that I might have another problem on my hands.

Strangely, it was instant relief .  I’m depressed?  Oh thank goodness!  Seriously, I said that.  Depression doesn’t worry me.  I’ve had it before, I’ve conquered it twice and it’s absolutely no surprise that I’m feeling like this, given how hard I have pushed myself for nearly 18 months.

Now that I’ve been to the Doctors, had a proper diagnosis and got some medication, I’ve been looking back, trying to pinpoint why I didn’t spot it earlier.  I think I’ve found a clue buried in the everyday of early September, when there was a seemingly insignificant change in my routine.

Anyone looking at my life when I’m good and healthy will find order.  I like lists, I like plans, I like appointments and organisation in general.  I am methodical and habitual because I like to know that I have everything covered.  My week is not an acre of free time and so I have carved out a ‘shopping slot.’  I make a menu plan and list in my book (yes, I have a book for it), and I go shopping every Tuesday afternoon to get everything I need for the week.  I do it all in one hit and don’t darken the doors of the supermarket again until the following week.  I usually try and work at the meal planning a bit, trying to get lots of variety.  But now, looking back, there was a subtle change in early September where things clearly took a nose-drive and my menus narrowed into about 7 or 8 things that we’ve been eating over and over for the last few weeks.*  Essentially, I gave up trying to even think about what to eat and it’s come down to what sauce can I put with this particular meat or pasta.  I haven’t bought a proper selection of vegetables for well over a month, so there’s the evidence that I’ve been pretty much doing life on autopilot and that I’ve not been myself since the start of September.  But we think these things will pass, we think a good night’s sleep will cure it.  Or, like me, you think it’s just temporary because you’re a bit anxious about something.

I’m really looking forward to having myself back once the medication starts to work and addressing the fears that have contributed to this happening.  You will not believe the absolute pickle I can get myself into when I get anxious over things and people.  If it’s possible, I want to be the most positive depressed person you can meet, because I know that there are a battery of tools available and lots more help around than there was ten years ago when I last suffered from this.  I know what’s caused it (overwork).  I know what feeds it (fear) and I know, even thought I do have a hard time convincing myself of it, that I am not the worst person on the planet.

I look forward to the day when I’m buying vegetables again.

* No, my husband and daughter haven’t noticed.  *eye roll*

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What’s next…

ComicGirlIconNovember 18th 2010 was a very special day for me.  It was the day I decided that I couldn’t cope with having to use a CPAP machine to manage my sleep apnoea anymore and it was time to do something about it.  I don’t think I quite imagined back then exactly how my life would change, but change it definitely has.  Friend and fellow writer Diana Jackson got in touch for an updated version of my story, the one with all the ‘what happened next’ bit in.  Getting to your goal weight is all well and good, but what’s next?  When the scales mostly say what you want them to say, what’s life like after massive weight loss?    Hop over to her Selection of Recollections blog to find out.

The Proof of the Dieting is in the Sleeping:  Updated.


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Averting the Crash About to Happen

ComicGirlIconThe fact that I’ve not posted here since July gives you some idea of what the problem is.  Busy is good, but get too busy and some of the plates start to spin off and crash to the floor.

“Here you go, way too fast, if you don’t slow down you’re gonna crash…” sang The Primitives back in *gasp*1988 (yes, it really was that long ago).  While I haven’t actually crashed and burned, I’m definitely in amber-warning ‘crash about to happen’ territory (a rather splendid song from Brett Anderson).  Things are getting forgotten about, things are getting missed and, worse, there’s an increasing list of things I simply can’t find time to do.  One of which is find time to talk to the man I’m married to.  Our longest conversation during the last seven days took place five minutes before the start of the church meeting on Tuesday.  Before that, it was a series of one-sentence affairs as we passed each other between commitments, and for the last four days it’s been via text message as he’s been away.  Looking at the calendar, it’s actually going to be next Friday before we can talk to one another; but we’re out that night, so it’ll have to wait until Saturday.  Let’s hope we don’t have to deal with anything crucial, eh?

But it isn’t simply about not being able to speak to my other half, it’s a wider problem which runs right through my life.  I am too busy and I have very little ‘down’ time.  I never get chance to listen to the radio, watch the TV or even spend much time reading a news website.  As a result I feel disconnected from the world and I increasingly live in one of my own making, one that is largely Facebook and Twitter-dependent and contracting inwards all the time.

There are things I can’t change, such as commitments that I have.   But, equally, there are things that I can change and it’s here that I have to deal with a very big problem… I really don’t like letting people down.  I don’t like the idea of something that I’ve given up meaning more work for other people.  When I say I’ll do something, barring a catastrophic event, I will do it.  Therefore extracting myself from anything is something I do with the heaviest of hearts.  I am also going to have to learn to say ‘no’ – not something I’m good at, because again, I don’t like the feeling that I’m not doing my bit.

Is this something that anyone else struggles with, or are the rest of you quite able to jettison things with no guilt at all?

For the next few weeks I’m going to be prioritising some key things:  My faith, my family and my writing.  If it doesn’t appear under one of those headings then for a time at least it’s going to have to come out while I make sure that the rest is working correctly. I also need to pay attention to myself.  My sleep is up the yingyang again, I am achieving very little in the way of regular exercise and my eating… well, the less said about that the better.  I am constantly stressed and under pressure in a life that really shouldn’t have much pressure in it at all.  I talk to Facebook walls more than I speak to my family and that in anyone’s book is just plain wrong.

But this doesn’t mean I’m disappearing completely, I’m just focussing on what needs to be done.  Writing is important to me, my blogs are important to me and once I’ve posted them I need to publicise them, so I’ll be posting to my Writer’s Page and Twitter.  I just won’t be on there cluttering up your newsfeed with my increasingly gin-soaked ramblings.  Every cloud… :)

Hopefully this means I’m a crash averted, not a crash about to happen.  Take it away Mr Anderson…


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The World is My Oyster

ComicGirlIconOne of the things I love most about having a holiday is that for a few days at least I get to stick my head above the parapet of my life and check out what’s going on ‘out there.’  It’s always the time of year when I desperately feel like making changes to my life and vow that when I go home I won’t slip back into the same old routine.  But inevitably I do and before long I end up jaded and bored with things. Oh to be able to re-grasp that summer optimism!  My life is essentially a well-worn routine, my habit web binds me tightly, so for me to make changes means an enormous effort to make even the smallest difference.  But I recognise that deep need in me to break out of the rut, so for my own future happiness I have to make these changes or I’ll just end up going around the same old same old for ever and ever Amen. Pfft!  So I have a plan…

‘Time for me to break my cover.
Time for me to move ahead.’
Richard Ashcroft  – Break the Night With Colour.

OysterShellWhilst I was ambling along a beach one evening last week I nearly stood on half an oyster shell.  It’s not something I’ve ever seen on a UK beach before – even though I know they live in the waters off our island.  So I picked it up, washed it off in the sea and brought it home.  I’ve never eaten an oyster but given the chance I would. And that’s part of what this oyster shell means to me – opportunity. The phrase ‘the world is my oyster’ fascinates me. Not only is it the first line of one of my most favourite songs ever (Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome), but it also encapsulates the potential each one of us has in our lives.  Some oysters are just for eating, whilst other species yield the most amazing pearls.  But whichever one you open, it’s ours to enjoy, just as the world is ours to enjoy. So why don’t we? Or more specifically, why don’t I? Sometimes I feel like I live in a perspex box, I can see the outside world, but I can’t touch it.

Why do I sometimes intentionally stop myself from enjoying life?
Why do I constantly hold myself back or sabotage my efforts to succeed?
Why don’t I feel I have the right to do well in life?
Why do I walk around believing that other people are so much better than I am?
Why do I shy away from doing or trying new things?

Oh there are 101 questions about myself that I want to tackle. So I’m adopting this oyster shell as my ‘mascot’ for the next year to remind me, like the words of the the FatFace tagline life is out there and it’s for enjoying. Any changes I want to make will not happen unless I make them and the days (and nights) at my disposal are there to seize. I am the only person who can hoik my life out of the rut it’s inclined to fall into and make the changes I want to see.  There is no Fairy Godmother, there is no Gok Wan, there is no shouty Life Coach, I have to be my own Godmother / Gok / Coach.  Yes, I battle with food and I am sick to the back teeth of it. Yes, I battle with my self-confidence and I wish I could leave that behind.  I want to be a confident person and not feel stupid or that I’m hiding from everyone because I feel like a second-class citizen. I want to feel like I’m getting the most out of my life and I’m never going to do it if I let another year slip by without making the changes I want to see.

The thing is, it’s going to be HARD.  It’s as much a mental battle as anything else and a change in mindset. I don’t want to become self-obsessed, but I have to start taking an interest in myself.  Far too many times I end up going along with what other people want without considering whether it’s right for me.  I am essentially a shy person with a fear of the unknown and I miss out on so many opportunities in life because I talk myself out of them. I can list a page of things I have never done because I’ve been too afraid of failing at them. Writing is a case in point.  Why can I blog and write FanFiction until it comes out of my ears?  Because no one is judging me.  If I write something that requires someone to judge it for quality then my confidence runs and hides and I start procrastinating and talking myself out of it.  It’s the same with anything else, give me an exam or a test or ask other people if I’m any good and I will shy away from doing it.  It’s my biggest fear in life to be judged and found wanting and anything that helps me over that massive hurdle has to be of benefit to me.

In making changes I’m not talking about doing anything particularly radical, like upping sticks and moving to the other side of the world; I just want to be ME, the me I know is inside, but keeps getting filtered out by all sorts of head stuff that gets in the way. I know I can bloody write, so why is being judged on it such a massive block? There’s an entire blog post on that!

Of course, journeys and changes are best done with friends.  Anyone else up for the ride too?  No strings, no hoops to jump through, just that commitment to ourselves that this is the last year that we find ourselves longing for what could be, stop the excuses and make strides towards making it a reality in our lives, whatever it is.

So, with my oyster shell placed firmly in my eyeline, it’s time to keep hold of this holiday feeling and make a promise to myself to make the changes I want to see. Think I might need some help from Frankie Goes to Hollywood first…

Posted in Personal Development, Self-Esteem | Tagged | 3 Comments

Gimme Some Loving!


Warning: Marriage and ladies bits.  If that’s not your thing read something else.

An article in the Guardian yesterday piqued my interest.  In essence, it said you can forget the societal stereotype of women as being more suited to monogamy than men. When tested women are pretty much up for it anytime and surprisingly, with strangers. But not because they are strangers, just because the strangers were giving them what they wanted. And it got me wondering…

I’ve had a bad week.  I’ve been in physical pain for 5 out of the last 7 days. For two of those it was acute abdominal pain along my lateral surgery scar, which I think can put down to adhesions, as it doesn’t seem to be related to any infection or muscle strain.  But in the early part of the week this could not immediately be established, so I was given a high-dose antibiotic. Two doses in and I’ll give you an option, depending on your preference, they will both achieve the same result:

1a) Find your local BDSM practitioner and get them to spank your entire groin area until it’s red raw.
1b) Stop by the school chemistry lab, obtain a bottle of weak acid. Pour over entire groin area until it feels like it’s on fire.
2) Try and go about your business without resorting to walking as if you’ve just spent three days on the back of a horse.

Yes, welcome to the exciting new world of antibiotic-related vaginal thrush.  Gosh what an inexplicable joy I’ve missed out on all these years.  Oh it’s delightful isn’t it?  Can’t sit down, can’t walk about, can’t pass water without adding to the problem.  Muck about with the delicate bacterial balance of ourselves in our most intimate places and all hell breaks loose. Ouch!

So, after several days of that the husband arrives home from a week away and this is where it goes a bit wrong. Now, in my head I’m expecting something along the lines of (but not these exact words), ‘Oh my darling, how awful for you, it must be so painful.  Why don’t you have a soothing bath (obviously with no harsh detergents – more ows) and I’ll hold you in my arms until dawn.’  Instead I explain it and get something along the lines of (but not these exact noises) *grumble* *grunt* *snore.*  Of course, up go my eyebrows, my mouth does its best cat bum impression and my head throws its latest blockbuster romance to the floor and grumbles that this sort of crap never happens to Elizabeth Darcy.

Obviously, I appreciate what a long day is.  Mine start at 5.30am and rarely end before midnight.  I appreciate how wearing driving a long distance can be.  I appreciate that a week away when you haven’t slept well doesn’t make it easy to be Mr Seduction when you walk through the door.  But at some time over the weekend it might occur to you to express your condolences and do your best to soothe your aching, sore and now frankly pissed-off wife.  No?  OK, so I’m Mrs Unreasonable Expectations.

There was a row, I started it, I always start these things and I always come away thinking ‘is it me?’  Should I be content with ‘look there’s money in the bank account for food this month, be satisfied woman, I have met your needs!’  Well of course I need food and I need the bill for Anglian Water paying so I can get something to drink and wash in.  I need a roof over my head and we pay the Nationwide for that,  NPower are paid insane amounts so we can have electricity and gas, Direct Line have to be paid so I can drive the car safe in the knowledge that if something happens, they’ll wriggle out of paying up.  Yes, my fundamental needs are met, but what about my other needs, the ones that you can’t put a price on?  I am talking of course about love, sex and romance.

I’m your classic heterosexual female, I like most men.  I say most because if you are a beer-bellied football fan who insists on spending the summer in your back garden in board shorts and no top and use the phrase ‘larging it,’  I don’t want to know.  You are not attractive to me and I don’t even want to be friends with you.  But I appreciate that some women find you attractive – God alone knows why. I don’t have a specific type, but by and large I go for smartly turned out and educated.  If you have at least a first degree and can rock a suit, darling you and me are going to be friends.

Every woman wants her needs met and speaking personally, they do encompass more in my life than being able to pay the bills.  It isn’t about throwing money at me, it’s about the need to feel loved and cherished ABOVE ALL ELSE.  I’ll just put that in shouty capitals, and bold, italic and underline it for emphasis. The understanding that you are first in your husbands thoughts, that he would deliberately make it part of his day to find out how you are and that you are the person he can’t wait to be with when he gets home is a heady and wonderful feeling.  It’s knowing that you are important to him and having that reinforced again and again with a succession of free or relatively cost-free actions.  A text message is hardly breaking the bank. This isn’t about turning up every night with the contents of Kew Gardens in your arms, but it is about… well, actually, it’s what Madonna said in 1986:

“Make you feel like you’re a queen on a throne, make him love you ’til you can’t come down.” Express Yourself.

I was 16 when that song came out, which probably explains why my entire adult life has been on a mission to be made to feel like I’m the queen of someone’s life, that I matter to them. And when I don’t get it I seek it out in books, or on films and in my head.  My needs become met by the likes of Mr Darcy, by Mr Knightley and a whole host of other books where a woman is of paramount importance to a man.  She is everything to him and he can’t wait to get back to her, can’t wait to hold her, wants to know what she’s doing – not because he’s keeping tabs on her, but because he’s genuinely interested in what she’s doing. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t that the basis of love?

Available free on the internet.  Just sayin'...

Men! This is the standard.
He’s actually gay, but if you could be this and not gay then you’re on to something.

But there’s a downside for men.  Meeting a woman’s emotional needs may not require much in the way of money, but it will require effort.  I’m not proud to say it, I don’t think it’s possible to beat the sight of a freshly showered, clean shaven, well-turned out man in a suit.  Which leads me to think that I need to be taking the commuter trains into London a bit more.  But that aside, your appearance does matter to your partner.  A lot of pressure is heaped on women to keep looking good, but I think it works the other way too.  If you can’t be bothered to take an interest in yourself then how is your partner to expect you to take an interest in her?  Get a wash, man! Your sartorial role-model should not be Jim Royle.  This is not to say that my husband is rocking the Jim Royle, it’s a general point.

For me the written word is a very powerful thing, second only to the person actually looking you in the eye and saying it.  Reading them or hearing words sung will set my head alight and once my mind’s engaged the rest of me is too.  I have little need to see pictures, the pictures in my head are so much better.  I bet that I’m not the only woman who gets her emotional needs met by fictional men and I’m sure it’s no great piece of detective work to work out that if men are being written about in this way, then it’s what women want.

It’s the nature of me to be frank and open, I have no desire to hide in any sphere of my life, but my repeated attempts to explain to my husband that he’s not meeting my needs in this area (and this isn’t the first time I’ve done it), results in hurt bewilderment.  But I have paid all the bills, I have done all the paperwork.  As someone famously once said in a book ‘oh fuck the paperwork!’  Perhaps it is my no-nonsense northern way of conveying such information that results in this bewilderment?  What part of I need to be kissed don’t you understand?   Perhaps I should sugar-coat it a little and coyly suggest that flogging the guts out of himself out at work all day and leaving naff all for me isn’t really hitting the spot.

I don’t know.  There are times when I feel after the umpteenth go around on this that I might just as well give up.  Does anyone else feel like this or does everyone else have a man who is able to pay the bills and pay you attention at the same time?  Can I borrow him?   I don’t like retreating into a fictional world, but it is my preferred method of self-preservation.  I need to feel loved, I need to feel of value and importance to the man I love.  I don’t want to find he’s fallen asleep in the middle of a conversation, that’s just hurtful.  He doesn’t understand my brand of telling him how he can put things right, if he did this would have been solved years ago.  I don’t know what to do, other than lose my hurts in the pages of a novel until he somehow twigs that I’m getting from there what I’m not getting in real life.  A husband should be a provider, that is true and the paramount thing he should provide is love.  Anything else is just paying the bills.

Posted in Emotions | 15 Comments

Surgery Part 2: Knowing My Limits

ComicGirlIcon24 hours since surgery and I’m discovering what an abdomen encased in a restrictive binder can do.  Not much. A woman in a binder eh…?  Don’t tell Mitt 😉

All credit to the Doctors on the Plastic Surgery team they do their ward rounds early in the day.  None of this endlessly hanging around for them, although as I discovered, these days it’s hard to tell a Doctor from someone you might meet in a pub on Saturday night. Sunday’s Doctor carefully removed my binder and checked the dressings underneath.  They were all clean, meaning that I was healing well. The other good news on Sunday was that one drain had slowed to virtually nothing and could come out. The bad news was that it was deeply embedded and was an uncomfortable experience to have removed, which left me a bit tearful and protective of myself for a while afterwards. Still, one down…

Once I’d got over the initial ArghPain! post-surgery feeling I found myself in an odd situation, in that if I didn’t move I had no pain whatsoever. But if I did, it was a definite case of *(%^$”£&%!  By Sunday my body shape had subtly changed, with fluid pooling in my hips and upper thighs, leaving me quite a bit wider than I actually am. I was aware of this before I saw it because the binder I was wrapped in started to roll upwards as the fluid settled.  But I did feel a bit brighter, so, drain in hand, I ventured a little further down the ward each time I got up so I could build up my mobility again.  I can’t fully straighten up at the moment, so I’m walking hunched over – which is causing backache more than anything. This is expected, it’s the way I’m taped up and it’ll take a few days to loosen off.

It’s a surprise just how much you can’t do once your abdominal area is compromised, but it’s human nature to compensate.  I quickly learned that pushing was not an action I had too much trouble with, whereas pulling and lifting were out.  Also, there’s nothing much to do otherwise, so my daily routine became time punctuated by walks, meals and nurses coming to do my obs. I am so glad I read because it passes many hours effortlessly.

Monday was a Bank Holiday, which can only be the explanation for finding the Doctor attending to me that morning in Jeans and a faded Muse T-Shirt and looking like he was wearing them from Saturday night.  Still, he was happy with the contents of drain 2 (rather a lot of blood), said it could come out – and so could I!   He also wanted all my dressings changed prior to departure, which gave me an opportunity to discover what was lying beneath. Drain 2 came out and although uncomfortable was less shocking as I knew what to expect. It’s like a snake wriggling its way out of your abdomen and pulling the rest of it along too. Taking the dressings off was a protracted business. There are lots of them and as you can imagine, in some places dressing adhesive and body hair is an unpleasant combination.  Thank God for scissors! Underneath, covered in Steri-Strips was my 73cm inverted T –  neat and straight. And, sitting in its new position but packed with gauze, was my new umbilicus. It was quite a humbling sight to see how much had been achieved in the space of three hours.  Touching it feels odd too. The whole area is very sensitive and even the slightest touch with my own hand feels like being tickled. It’s all a bit swollen – that’s a given bearing in mind what they’ve done – but it’s all where it needs to be and the excess bits are no longer there. The Nurse cleaned it and covered it all back up with fresh Steri-Strips and dressings until later in the week.

After that I could get dressed.  As I said earlier my shape’s changed with fluid retention, so it was lucky that I’d brought soft exercise trousers to wear rather than anything fitted.  Achieving knickers for the first time post-drains was a thing – especially as they no longer disappear under an enormous paunch!  I wasn’t quite up to putting my own shoes on though, so Simon helped with those and before I knew it I was making my way out of the door and home.

It’s been five days now and I still can’t straighten up entirely, so back ache remains prevalent.  I’m getting used to sleeping semi-reclined on my back with a pillow under my knees, although moving between that position and vertical remains my greatest problem.  My abdomen does not hurt otherwise and is starting to itch, indicating that my skin is knitting together well. I’m learning what I can and can’t do. I’m learning to not charge about and to realise that I get worn out very quickly and will do for a while. I’ve loosened off the binder a little so it’s supportive but not restrictive.  I’m going to have to wear this for the next 2-3 months, so it and I are going to have to become good friends.  I can’t shower or bath at the moment so I’m having to do a strip wash which I can mostly manage on my own.  Stairs wear me out and the swelling in my upper thighs and hips is dissipating now that I’m more mobile.

Turning sideways and looking at myself in the mirror is odd.  I do have a sort of a flat stomach even now – even if it is rather swollen – so in time I look forward to seeing how it recovers and settles down. Scarring will be substantial, but as I said previously, this was never about being able to wear a bikini; just the comfort that will come from having skin that finally fits. :)

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Surgery Part 1: Cut Here

ComicGirlIconLast Friday, 3rd May I had an ‘Inverted T Abdominoplasty.’  It’s been five days since surgery so what’s been my experience?

In the weeks leading up to surgery all I could really think about was what needed to be done before the anaesthetist stuck the needle in the back of my hand.  What needed to be ticked off the list so that it didn’t need to be organised or worried about in the aftermath of my operation.  I didn’t really think about immediately afterwards, other than I wasn’t looking forward to the pain.

In this part of Bedfordshire, major plastic surgery is carried out at the Lister Hospital, Stevenage and it was there that I pitched up at just before 7am last Friday. Elective surgery is a very civilised business at The Lister, they have a dedicated ward so that anyone who is having a scheduled operation goes from there to surgery and is then transferred to the main wards from Recovery.  The vast majority of my paperwork had been done, so apart from a slightly unscheduled dash down to Pathology to have more blood taken, it was simply a case of waiting. I waited all morning as I was Mr P’s afternoon surgery – all of it.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  Mr P came to see me around 8am, got out his blue marker pen and tape measure and proceeded to draw all over my abdomen.  He started at the base of my bra and drew a vertical line all the way down my middle, through my belly button to the top of my knickers. He then drew a line from the base of that one out to each hip.  That’s the extent of the wound I now have. It is 73cms long in total, a smidge under 29″.  Out from each lateral and vertical line, squeezing together and measuring as he went, he drew other lines and marked these areas up with cross-hatching.  The cross-hatched areas would be taken out, the underlying fat removed and the remaining skin stitched back into place.  Easy-peasy!  What shocked me was just how much he would be taking out – there wouldn’t be any slack left in the system! Also, he’d be relocating my belly-button.  We decided that Chelmsford was a bit far so it’s in there somewhere under all the dressing, but I’ve not said hello to it yet.

At 1.45pm I walked down to theatre, standing in the main lifts down to floor 4 with several suited execs, fetchingly attired in hospital-issue gown, knee-length compression socks and clutching a pillow.  There wasn’t much waiting and as the clock ticked its way up to the hour the anaesthetist fed the anaesthetic into the back of my hand – I was irritatingly in the middle of a conversation with the nurse. I came round in Recovery shortly before 6pm in that slightly bewildered state you’re left in.  I immediately went for my stomach. It was encased in something hard and there were tubes.  My first thought was that I’d been turned into the Borg Queen. Result!  And blissfully there was absolutely no pain. Morphine is bloody marvellous stuff! Despite having done diddly squat all day I was surprisingly exhausted and although I do remember asking if it was OK if I went back to sleep, I don’t remember being transferred to the Plastics ward on the 11th floor.

At some later point I came round a bit more and registered that there was a drip in my arm and two tubes coming out from whatever my abdomen was encased in. I lifted the covers and clapped eyes on my new friends – my two drains.  Two long lengths of clear tubing connected to two bottles slowly filling with blood and other stuff draining from my abdomen.  It wasn’t a pretty sight.  Simon arrived then and some conversation took place although I can’t remember much of what was said. The nursing staff were monitoring my temperature and blood pressure every half an hour, although no one went near my stomach and I was glad of that.

I was expecting to be catheterised, but I wasn’t and that meant a hilarious overnight expedition to the toilet, involving two nurses, a drip stand and the two drains that I had to carry with me. It took ages but did allow me to see that I was wrapped in some kind of large, thick, velcro tubigrip and that I didn’t like where those drains were coming out from.

I didn’t sleep much.  If you’ve ever stayed on a hospital ward you’ll know that they’re never completely dark, never quiet and they’re not really conducive to sleep.  I was next to a woman who was linked up to more kit than the USS Enterprise and beeped constantly and across from another who didn’t stop wittering all night.  I lay there doing my best to sleep and trying to work out how you moved without the aid of morphine.

I’m not good at sitting still and so when they got me up the next day and sat me in a chair I didn’t stay there.  Bad move.  I took a small turn around the ward and only just managed to get back to the chair before having a turn myself and passing out.  I came round to see three nurses anxiously bringing me round and a blood pressure reading that had clearly gone through the floor.  I’d tried to do too much too soon.  They packed me off into bed, stuck another drip up and left me to behave myself and read Carole Matthews A Cottage by the Sea from cover to cover.  Enforced rest is eminently achieveable with a good book and that was a good book!

Midway through the morning a Doctor arrived to give me a bit of disturbing news.  There had been an accident during my surgery and my blood had come into contact with someone else’s blood via the needle that was being used to suture me back up (they’d stabbed themselves with it) and so they needed to take more blood from me to check I didn’t have anything malevolent circulating around in it.  Nice!

So for 24 hours post-op and I was pretty much confined to bed and still in possession of two drains – two bottles of my own collected blood – which were rapidly becoming the bane of my life.  Not that they hurt in any way, but they had to be carefully taken everywhere and absolutely not dropped. By the end of that first day I was totally knackered and beginning to feel a bit sorry for myself. That was until I struck up a conversation with the lady in the bed next to me who had had both 12 operations and been bedridden since 19th March.  They are doing major reconstructive surgery on her and she’ll be there for some time to come.  :(

In Part 2: Drains out and clapping eyes on Mr P’s handiwork.

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This was never about a bikini

ComicGirlIconAll being well I am having surgery on Friday. Seven stone (100lbs) weight loss leaves a legacy and thanks to the generosity of my local Primary Care Trust, they have agreed to fund an abdominoplasty, which is the removal of all the excess skin on my abdomen.

Getting that approval was a long process and, I must stress, was NEVER motivated by a desire to wear a bikini and parade about on a beach.  I have felt deeply saddened every time I have heard that comment – and I’ve heard it many times – because if you knew me at all you would know that I would never do that. Of all the factors that influenced my decision, my appearance in the briefest of clothing was never an issue.

I am having it done because my skin is constantly inflamed and infected as skin rubs against skin.  I coat my abdomen in talcum powder each morning and by the end of the day it is a gunky, smelly mess. It is unpleasant, it makes me feel self-conscious and impacts greatly on my self-esteem.  I’m not doing it to parade about in cropped tops, to show off a washboard stomach or anything whatsoever to do with vanity, this is for my comfort.

In going through this operation there will be extensive scarring both laterally and vertically over most of my abdominal area, creating an upside down cross. Laterally it will go hip to hip and remove all the skin below my navel.  The vertical incision will go much higher and will mean that they will have to relocate my navel.  Possibly in Chelmsford.  :)

In opting to have this done I am choosing to go through major surgery for something that few people will ever see.  I’m doing it because my skin is causing me problems.  I’m doing it because it’s going to make me feel better not having to cope with constantly irritated skin. I’m doing it because afterwards I can exercise without the sweat and friction making it worse.

There will be a long recovery time.  There will be extensive scarring – the official write up of it is ‘brutal’ and it will hurt- a lot.  In doing this I’ve not made a decision about how I look but what will be of benefit to me long term.  So much good has come out of me having lost weight, it’s just sad that this has been one of the downsides.  Still, thanks to an NHS who are prepared to consider funding for cases such as these, I am thankful to be able to have this done at all.

I’m aware of the arguments against funding for what is, in essence, a self-inflicted condition, but I will save the NHS a great deal of money in the years to come by eliminating my risk of obesity-related health issues.  I have maintained my current weight for over two years and have enjoyed the benefits of being much fitter, healthier and happier as a result.  This will also mark the end of a massive transformational process for me. I hope you will wish me well as I go through this, but please forgive me if I don’t post ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures.

Well… apart from this one. :)


Posted in Dieting, Emotions, Exercise, Health, Self-Esteem, Weight Issues | Tagged , | 1 Comment