Exercise, Healthy living, reflection, Well-being

March in Review

Another month closer to 50!  Two more months to go.

At the beginning of March I set myself three goals:

  1. Not drink alcohol
  2. Cut out sweet treats
  3. Try to increase activity levels

It would be fair to say that I achieved mixed results!

With regards to the alcohol, I did manage to cut down the amount of wine that I was drinking.  As I’ve mentioned before I’m not a great wine guzzler, but I don’t handle it particularly well.  I wanted to see if it did have that much of a difference on my general health and pain levels.  It does definitely have an impact.  Does it cause my pain?  I don’t think so.  But if I am in pain, it really doesn’t make things better – it makes painful days more painful but it’s not the sole cause of the pain.  It also makes hot flushes hotter!  During the two weeks that I had no wine at all the hot flushes didn’t stop – but they were noticeably less intense.  We are also heading into summer here in Albufeira and I do know that I don’t manage wine with the heat, I get very dehydrated very quickly and so would say that from here on in, I am unlikely to drink much by way of wine. Equally, if I am going out for an evening for a meal with friends, I won’t totally avoid wine, but drinking wine for drinking’s sake is at an end.  One thing that I have realise is how much sitting still causes pain, particularly through the night.  I suspect in the past I have blamed the wine – but in actual fact it is sitting still for prolonged periods that is the main culprit.

Cutting out sweet treats was an epic fail.  There is no other way to describe it!  On top of the odd twix here and there, I also did some baking during March.  I do love baking but find eating it all a bit overwhelming.  This month, however, I had the opportunity to bake and share my offerings which made it all a bit more manageable.  As we leave lockdown, I expect the opportunities to bake will stop – but having said that, the fabulous cake shop in Albufeira may well re-open and it would be a shame not to partake!  So, I am going to try a bit harder this month to cut down on the number of sweet treats I eat.  Obviously, it is Easter this weekend and so I will have a chocolate egg to savour, but once that has gone, I will try really hard not to snack on chocolate so much and save it for special occasions.

Increasing exercise was a bit of a mixed bag.  I did complete the 500 sun salutation challenge, which was a real plus considering I only managed 10 last year.  I’d like to say I enjoyed it, but that would be a lie!  I’m not even that sure I learned all that much about myself either.  By the end of the month, I was finding breathing with the moves easier and I am definitely a bit more flexible, but that’s pretty much where the benefits have ended.  Having said that, I may well carry on doing 10 a day for the next while just to see if there is a difference over time.  I did find that doing 10 sun salutations in the afternoon is a great energy boost and lifts you out of the post lunch slump really effectively.

I’ve also maintained 15 to 30 minutes a day of yoga and started doing the Lift Program for prolapse with Fem Fusion Fitness.  I have had a prolapse for about 3 years or so and am in a bit of a cycle.  I do the exercises and get to the point where I feel really well, then don’t bother with the exercises, the prolapse gets worse again and so I return to the exercises!  I should just learn to carry on doing the exercises!  It does also really help my back as it also strengthens my core.  Not in the six-pack version of core exercises, but the deep core muscles that help to keep the pelvis stable.  I’ve reached the point where I am doing 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, including the yoga.

Earlier in the month, I did have a bit of a set-back.  A week where I just wasn’t really able to motivate myself, much beyond the sun salutations and the 15 minutes of yoga in the morning.  It wasn’t until I started to come out of the slump that I realised quite how bad it had been.  But I did keep on going with the sun salutations, which I am quite proud of and I didn’t totally give up.  However, my daily walks did go out of the window and I haven’t started them back up as yet.  Hopefully, during April I will be able to reintroduce those and get back to achieving 11,000 steps per day on top of my other exercise.  It’s taken me a long time to reach the point that I am able to accept set-backs and to listen to my body rather than force it to complete things that it just isn’t well enough to do.  I suspect many of the problems I have with my back are exacerbated by running in the past, as I forced my body to compete in a sport it wasn’t really capable of!

Besides that, I have made progress in other areas and as I leave lockdown, I am very excited about what lies ahead of me.  In the past I often said I would just like the world to stop so that I could get off and rest for a while.  Covid has allowed that to happen and I feel in a much stronger place mentally as the world opens up again and I have a better understanding of what matters to me.

I have started another degree with the Open University.  I’m currently doing an introductory module with a view to studying Classical Studies, however, I might change that to English Literature as I am enjoying that aspect of the course far more than I anticipated

I have also just started Portuguese lessons.  My language skills are fairly ropey, but I am quite determined to learn and hope that hearing the language on a daily basis will help me to pick it up sooner rather than later.  

Finally, I am hoping to start doing some voluntary work at a local charity shop.  It’s taken quite a while for me to reach this point but finally I am starting to regain the zest for life that has been missing.  There is so much I want to try and get involved with and slowly I am making steps in the right direction.  

I am very excited to see where I am by the end of April!  

Alternative Therapies, Healthy living, Mindfulness, reflection, Well-being

Three Months to 50!

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

In exactly 3 months time I will be turning 50.  I understand now what people mean when they say that life slips by in the blink of an eye.  On the whole, I am very happy with where I find myself on the approach to my 50th birthday.  I’ve experienced all kinds of things during those 50 years, travelled to more places than I’d imagined given my dislike of flying, ticked several things off my bucket list and achieved far more than I’d ever imagined I would.  That’s the great thing about not being a goal setter – any achievement is a bonus!  There is just one thing during those 50 years that hasn’t quite been as tip top as I’d have liked and that has been my health, but I’ve tried really hard not to let it stop me.  As I go beyond this milestone, though, I would quite like to see the end of the niggles and embrace life with vigour and verve.  I quite intend to grow old as disgracefully as I can.

I am a big believer in using alternative remedies and diet to manage health conditions.  Obviously, not in place of allopathic medicine, especially in the case of severe ill-health, but for the every day, not so great niggles I do believe they have their place.  This time last year I was in a position where I struggled to walk for any great period and was in pain for most of the time.  Having had every test known to man the medical profession was none the wiser and popped me off with some painkillers.  During one of the consultations with my GP he asked me what was I doing to manage the situation myself.  I love it when I GP asks this question.  So I reeled off all the things I was doing:  yoga, meditation, walking and he recommended that I keep on doing those things.

Fast forward a year and I have maintained a daily yoga practice.  It is only 10-15 minutes per day, but it is daily.  I have reached the point where I can walk 3-4 miles a few times a week and not be in agony and be able to walk the following day.  I have also maintained a daily meditation practice.  But there is still that last bit of pain.  What I have found interesting is that during periods of lockdown the pain levels have been significantly lower than when I was out of lockdown – when I put my party hat back on and let it all go.  Don’t get me wrong I am significantly better, to the point that I have been able to come off the painkillers and it is a minor inconvenience, but for once, I would just like to know what it feels like to be pain free.  For a whole day.  And if that could be for multiple days then that would be even more amazing.  

So.  I have three months to achieve my goal of pain free living!  Apparently if you believe things hard enough they can happen – thoughts become things.  I have a bit of an outline.  I’m not great with plans, so no point making one of those as I won’t be sticking to it!  But I am going to try my very best to:

  • Not drink alcohol (again).  I’m not very good at this!  I tend to get swept along in the moment, but I am really going to try not to.  I just want to see what happens if I don’t drink for 3 months.  Obviously, this is helped in part by being in lockdown and so socialising at bars isn’t happening at the moment. Will it make any difference to my pain levels?  It may, it may not, but if I don’t try I will never know.
  • Cut out sweet treats.  This is a real killer for me, but added sugar is really quite bad and it is an inflammatory food.  It may be that I treat myself to one cake per week, just to keep me sane, but again, if I don’t cut it out, how do I know if it does or doesn’t impact the pain that I feel.  I have a strategy for this.  Each time I feel the desire to eat something sweet I will get a piece of fruit to eat instead.  I’m not a fan of fruit, so suspect that the majority of times I’ll have nothing!
  • Try to increase my activity levels.  During March I am going to attempt 500 sun salutations and am going to try one or two full length exercise classes per week.  And I will continue with my daily walks.  At the end of the day, it’s not like I am short on time and in general, the more I move, the less I hurt.  It seems to be sitting still that causes the most discomfort.

But I guess the key thing is that I believe it can work.  Husband isn’t really onboard with all the voodoo joo joo to quite the same degree I am, but he understands that I think it works and with many things, that is half of the battle won.  I’m going to try using affirmations.  I’m going to try turning negative thoughts into positive thoughts.  I’m going to try living with an attitude of gratitude.  I’m going to try going into each and every situation with an attitude of love rather than fear.  We’ll see how this all pans out, I may well be mad as a box of frogs, but at the end of the day, I’m willing to give it a try and embrace the idea of pain-free living.  Wouldn’t it be exciting if by my 50th birthday it had actually worked and I could dance the night away with no fear of how I’m going to feel the next day.  

Happiness, Healthy living, Well-being

De-Activating Facebook

This past Saturday evening (19th September 2020), I de-activated my Facebook account.  I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, but was doing an online course that had a corresponding Facebook group and I wanted to see that through.  It’s not been an easy decision.  I am a member of several groups that are excellent sources of information and that have become my go to reference points, particularly about life in Portugal.  Then there are the friends that I have known for many years, some I’ve known in real life, some I’ve only met through Facebook, but these are all people that I have been able to keep in touch with, which is important for me as I live in a different city to many of the people I am friends with, so it means I can maintain a connection with them over a longer distance.  People ask ‘Well, why can’t you just go straight into the groups and ignore your feed”?  This brings me nicely to the negatives!

The constant adverts, the ‘click-bait’ that seems to roll around the FB feed.  Then there’s my issue with the feed you actually see.  I’d go and look for friends because they’d been quiet for a while and it turns out they hadn’t necessarily been quiet, but I’d not had their posts on my feed, because the algorithm had decided for me what I was or wasn’t interested in.  I’m not having a pop at the algorithm here – I don’t know enough about how it works, but all I do know is that I wasn’t seeing pictures and posts from friends that I would have really liked to see, whilst seeing a whole heap of ‘stuff’ I really didn’t care about.

Then there is the issue that Facebook was essentially designed for people like me!  Those that do say ‘Oo – look at that lovely red blob in the corner, I wonder who’s posted today’?  Those that do click on the adverts because “those shoes are pretty”.  Those who get sucked in to chatting to people and realise that a good hour has passed me by – achieving precisely nothing.  I know, I know, doing nothing is good for you – but I can think of a whole heap of ‘doing nothings’ that are actually more enjoyable for me.  I had done as much as I could to be rid of Facebook in my life – I had deleted it off my phone that I couldn’t use it when I was out and about, but still it ‘called’ to me!

This next negative is all about my head!  I still have in my head that I should be earning money, that I should be making a living and so many people seem to use social media to get ahead.  The vast majority of crochet designers have beautifully themed Instagram and Facebook pages which they use to display their creations.  There are a few issues with this – I can’t crochet that quickly and to be frank, I can’t really be arsed with taking all the photos!  I love taking a photo – but rearranging the furniture to get an arty looking backdrop to take a picture of my crochet to post to the world to say ‘look what I did’ ….. I just can’t be arsed!  I have a certain sympathy with my parents.  There are oodles of pictures of my sister as a baby and a toddler – when it was my turn, very few were taken.  And then there was my Nana who believed that photographs removed your soul and so should be avoided at all costs – so all in all my photographic heritage is a bit hit and miss!  So, every now and then, I get a great idea, a burst of energy to photograph my work, or the things I am doing with my day, or my sustainable life, or things I am doing to keep fit, but after a week, the novelty wears off.  Obviously, there is also the problem of the more you post, the more time you spend on FB, so the more you get sucked into FB land and the more of your day / live goes down the FB plug hole.

So.  Back to this past Saturday night.  I decided to go for it and de-activated my account.  It took my very clever, sleuthing sister precisely 24 hours to spot this and message me.  What occurred as a consequence of that message?  I spoke her her, in real life.  Result!

The first 24 hours were a breeze.  I did loads of things, I cleaned, I crocheted enough to fill a feed for a good week, I chatted to husband, I wrote in my journal.  It was fabulous and evidence if it were needed that I did not need Facebook in my life.  Day 2, however, was not quite the same.  Instead of being on Facebook I played Two Dots.  So now I’ve had to delete that too.  I picked my laptop or tablet up at various points of the day, looked at the news, played Two Dots, looked at my email (yawn) and generally whiled away time doing nothing in particular – generally being bored.  It was like I just had to have the tablet in my hand, because that was going to be the answer to my boredom prayers.  I was also so incredibly tired.  I don’t know if the two things were connected, I very much doubt it, but I was so very tired and for me that’s precisely the time that I would spend on Facebook.  When I’m just too tired to contemplate anything else.  

I appreciate that sometimes doing nothing is the thing you should be doing, but not all the time.  The daft thing is, there are a million things I could be doing instead:

  • Yoga
  • Meditating
  • Reading or doing an online course for fun (yes, I do that)
  • Sewing
  • Crochet
  • Writing a blog post
  • Walking on the beach
  • Astronomy GCSE
  • Learning embroidery
  • Chat to my husband whilst drinking a cup of tea
  • Write a letter!

This list does bring to mind Glennon Doyle’s book ‘Untamed’ where she discusses having a ‘reset’ list.  There are all of those things we could do, that are easy and so accessible – like sit on Facebook, play Two Dots, go and get a sneaky stick of chocolate from the fridge.  But in the long term the easy things don’t bring about the joy that the things on your reset list do.

I do even have specifics at the moment!  I have bunting to make for a friend’s granddaughter and a seat cover to make for another friend’s garden bench.  But even that couldn’t force me out of my reverie.  But the truth is, that for some reason, I just can’t be arsed.  To. Do. Anything.  In the end, I decided to write about my experience during the first 48 hours.  I have been quite shocked at how often I just reach for my laptop, followed by the dawning realisation that it’s not there.  My quick fix is not there.  I am really hoping that as the days go by, I become more inclined to do all the things on my list and less inclined to sit and reach for my lap-top in the hope it provides me with a quick fix.

Day 3.  Oh my goodness.  I don’t know how many times I trotted off to the fridge/cupboard to look for something to eat to fill a big 2 or 3 minutes of my time!  I had multiple cups of tea!  Today was definitely about filling the time doing anything – I read, meditated (twice), did yoga, did some work on an EFT course I am doing, read emails, looked at the internet, did some crochet – anything other than just sit still.  I am very surprised, to be honest!  I had thought in my mind that I had given social media a break in the past, but clearly, just deleting it off your phone whilst still having it on your laptop isn’t the same.  I am really quick shocked at how difficult I am finding this.  I also found husband very irritating and felt very irritable all day.  I was dying to go out for the evening, just to do something different to fill the time, as just sitting was really, really difficult!

But then….. Later on in the day Boris did a televised speech about re-tightening rules regarding lock-down in England.  Because I had de-activated my Facebook account I could not go on to Facebook and could not get wound up by people deliberately mis-interpreting the rules to suit themselves, or the raging conspiracy people, or just the general chit-chat surrounding the whole situation.  So I could prepare for bed with a light heart, without a million voices fighting for attention in my head.  What a blessed relief!  

Day 4.  A much better day!  It started in a park doing a yoga class, a bit of sunshine and a bit of rain, and the highlight, opening my eyes after savasana to see clouds floating across a blue sky through the leaves of the tree.  What more could you want.  The day continued with a positive theme; I sat and chatted to husband (I even got a chance to sit in the manchair), drank a cup of tea whilst doing nothing else – that’s it, I just sat and drank the cup of tea and let the world pass my by for a few minutes.  I wrote a pattern for a crochet submission, possibly the most tedious part of crochet design!  I still struggled with snacking, but the desire to pick up my laptop or phone to fill time was greatly diminished.  I believe I may have turned the corner!  

Day 5.  Today didn’t really count.  I had a raging headache and took to my bed for a significant portion of the day!  But other than that, it was the first day when I didn’t think about Facebook or looking at it.  This has continued for the remainder of the week.  There have been the occasional moments when I’ve picked up my laptop, read the news and then gone on to type facebook into the search bar, only to remember I don’t have an account any more – but that has happened once or twice over the course of 3 days, so definite progress.

So, what have I achieved this week other than ridding myself of Facebook?  I have finished off a crochet shawl that I have been working on for a few weeks.  I have started another crochet project, just for fun and not one that is going to be sent for submission as part of the crochet diploma.  But more importantly than that, I have felt so much more content and relaxed, I’ve read more, definitely chatted to husband more, looked out of the window aimlessly a bit more, and actually started to enjoy my own company again.  I’ve started to listen to and hear my body.  I will admit that I have missed seeing the photos of friends, along with the opportunity to comment – but I know they are at the end of a phone call or a message.

Exercise, Healthy living, Well-being, Women's Health

Getting fit for free

This past week or so I’ve been getting a bit deflated, I’m not going to lie!  There seems to be a price for everything.

My inbox and Facebook feed has recently been filled with sale after sale after sale.  Buy a mindfulness course, buy a neuro-science course, buy a spirituality course, buy a yoga course, buy a Qi Gong course, buy a meditation course.  But then it suddenly hit me, why do I have to pay for all of this stuff, surely there has to be enough out there for free.  And so, I set off on my google search and sure enough there is plenty that is available that’s free of charge.

As you know, I have this mad fool dream of paddling across the sea on my paddle board, and there has been some progress as I have had a swimming lesson in the sea.  Sadly, since the aforementioned lesson I have been without a car, so have been unable to go for a second one, but believe you me, as soon as I can I will be going for a second swimming lesson in the sea as I progress towards my goal. The other thing that really needs to be improved in order to achieve my goal is to strengthen was is currently a very weak core, in a safe manner appropriate for a woman of a certain age!

You Tube is always a great place to start if you are looking for anything.   I already follow:

  • Yoga with Adriene
  • Yoga with Kassandra
  • FemFusion Fitness

After a short while searching I also came across:

  • Videos by Women’s Health Magazine
  • Walk at Home by Leslie Sansone
  • PopSugar fitness
  • The Body Coach – although some of his workouts are a bit beyond me at the moment

And since when did you need to pay money to meditate or pray, at the end of the day it involves sitting quietly on a chair or a school with a timer going, dependent on how long you wish to sit there.  You don’t have to download a fancy app with a million different types of meditations.  I’ve been reading ‘Untamed’ by Glennon Doyle and I read recently that Adele accredits the book for her dramatic recent shift in outlook on life.  Glennon herself says she started meditating by just sitting in her closet for 10 minutes a day, and after a while it became easier and she could sit for longer.  No fancy app, just sit.  

Another quote I read in ‘Untamed’ was ‘This life is mine alone’.  I am the only person on this planet with these skills, these talents, these people.  I am the only person living this experience, in this body, that’s this shape, with these health problems  – so what is the point in trying to be like someone else?  Of trying to make an exercise programme that’s designed for somebody completely different fit me as best as it can. There is absolutely no point at all, because I am not the same as everyone else and they aren’t the same as me – what suits one person is not going to suit another and a one size fits all really just doesn’t work that well.  Obviously, I am prone to over thinking and this set me off thinking about that old saying ‘keeping up with the Jones’.  You could have exactly the same things as your neighbours, same car, same house, same tv – but you can never be the same.  Ever.

You can apply this to everything – social media, marketing, exercise, everything.  The whole kit and kaboodle is based on us all being the same!  Where’s the point in that!

I found this to be incredibly refreshing!  

So, I have decided that I am going to try and get on to my paddle board for free!  Just by using free apps, or programmes, or pins on Pinterest and rather than just pay someone to tell me what to do I’m going to try to put together a programme that works for me.  A diet that works for me.  Not doing what someone else tells me I should be doing, especially as I am mindful of a weak pelvic floor, a need to build up my core and the ever-present fibromyalgia.  There are also so many opportunities for exercising free of charge in Portugal, walking, cycling, swimming, exercise equipment in the parks and I don’t have to worry about poor weather stopping me getting outside into the fresh air.

Having said that, I will still pay for swimming lessons in the sea – they are a need to get me on the paddle board, and I will still pay for yoga lessons, as this is also a social activity for me and having contact with the other members of the class is beneficial to my mental health.  I am sociable by nature, so I do need to have some human interaction.  I also appreciate that I am in a fortunate situation in that I already have trainers, a good sports bra, a bike and access to technology to do the online exercises, so don’t have to spend money on bits of equipment to get going.  Beyond that, I am going to reward myself with a €1 a day for exercising and will spend that money on equipment should I need to replace anything during the course of the challenge.  In an ideal world I would complete a Personal Trainer instructor course so that I can safely advise other women of a certain age, how they could add exercise in to their lives in a safe and consistent manner, but that’s just out there for the universe to decide at the moment so in the meantime, I shall just share what I’m doing and the progress I am making.I’m just off to unsubscribe from all of the sales emails in my inbox and am quite excited by the challenge of finding new and different ways to improve my fitness, without creating a huge hole in my bank balance. 

Sustainable Living, Well-being

One Month of Sustainable Living

So this is the end of my first month of trying to be a little more sustainable, or at the very least buying less.

It’s not been particularly difficult, primarily as I already have so much stuff that I have to use up that there has actually been no need for me to think about buying things, which I admit is a bit of a cheat.

It was also far easier for the first part of January as we were in Albufeira and there is nothing to buy and I mean nothing.  It’s a small town that focusses on the summer tourist trade, so the shops that are open sell the same tat all year round.  Tat that you wouldn’t want to buy, or need to buy on your summer holidays, so in the middle of winter it becomes really pointless.  There’s not that much need to a pair of flip flops, or a sun hat in the winter months, let alone a back scratcher!

Coming back to Bristol was more of a challenge, particularly as we arrived back towards the end of sale season and so the bigger, final discounts were starting to appear.  This is not made easier due to the fact we live right in the centre of town, Primark is my local store!  It’s made me realise just how often I ‘popped’ to the shops to fill time.  There have been a couple of times when I’ve been pacing around the flat at a loose end, having to force myself not to walk out to the city centre and just have a mooch around the shops.  Instead I’ve had to force myself to walk in the opposite direction towards the harbourside.  Either that or occupy myself in a more productive manner!  What is it about shopping that draws you in?  

Me:  I’m bored

Me:  I know, why not walk to the shops and spend money you can’t afford on things you don’t need.

Me:  Good idea, I’ll put my coat on

What is that about!  

There have been more frequent visitations to coffee and tea shops, rewarding myself for getting out and walking, going in the opposite direction rather than to the shops.  It also has the advantage of being infinitely more sustainable and also a tonne cheaper!  Especially at the local library where its still just £1 for a cup of tea!!!! The library has become a real life saver! I do love going there and perusing and can lose myself there for hours. Already, this month, I can see how it’s going to play a bigger role in helping me avoid the city centre!

Visiting the coffee shops is a cheaper alternative to shopping

I have brought some things.  A few kindle books, a couple of second hand books and a few things related to improving my general health.  I suppose that I’m generally trying to live a cleaner, healthier lifestyle and unfortunately, there were a few bits and pieces that I wanted to buy to help me on my way.

So I brought:

  • a dry body brush
  • a tongue scraper
  • a couple of essential oils

There were also a couple of more outrageous purchases one of which was an accidental tub of body butter from the Body Shop when I wasn’t thinking.  This was disappointing for several reasons:  I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic containers I buy, I’m trying to use up what I have before I buy more and I’d really like to try making my own using essential oils and other ingredients!

I did also buy a pair of slippers.  These were a need.  I’m not a great fan of slippers, I’d rather walk around in my socks, but especially on the tiled floors of Portugal I just wasn’t getting my feet warm at all and it was becoming quite challenge and a real nightmare.  When we returned to Bristol I was dying for a hot bath, just to get my feet warm for the first time in a month.  So slippers.  My need for warm feet was a priority!

I’ve also had a great time making things using materials that I already had.  I made three pieces of Valentine’s day bunting, using material and felt I had in Portugal and binding I had in Bristol, all of which were donated to the local charity shop.  I also made a crochet brooch, a carnation, using thread that I already had in my stash.  

Valentine’s Bunting using existing materials

I do appreciate that as the months go by it is going to become more of a challenge as I need to start replacing things that I use up, which will then present me with a range of dilemmas, but also options to investigate!  Randomly, I have found not buying magazines a real challenge! Like many things, I don’t suppose I really registered quite how often I bought them until I thought about whether or not I needed them. At the moment, I am finding it very satisfying to see how I can make use of what I already have rather than automatically thinking I need to go out and buy something new.