Getting back up

Part three – Don’t be the girl who fell. Be the girl who got back up

Finally getting back up!

Part three has been a very, very long time coming and it’s difficult to know where to begin. I’ll begin with the most common theme throughout the past three years – brain fog and fatigue.

I can remember with clarity writing parts one and two – the process, the flow, the relative ease of finding words – and realise now that it was only the beginning (spoiler: this isn’t going to be a dramatic story, but one that may resonate with many people). I did say in part two that improvement is a work in progress, but I was really not prepared for how long it was going to take.

Late summer in 2018 I took the plunge and decided to remove gluten from my diet based on an overwhelming amount of both peer-reviewed research and anecdotal evidence. This choice was made in the context of the link between nutrient deficiencies, leaky gut and gluten. I won’t lie, being gluten-free (GF) is far more tricky to cater for than being vegetarian or vegan, not least because of the fact that many GF foods are in fact extremely unhealthy (check out the length of the ingredients list for some). But also because for those unaffected or uninformed, GF living is considered yet another attention-seeking trend followed by the “worried well”. Luckily, I had already experienced the discomfort of being “the vegetarian” at the dinner table.

As time wore on my research escalated (which was draining in itself). My GF porridge oats adorned with turmeric, Brazil nuts and anything that could possibly have anything to do with any issue that could possibly go wrong with any person’s health (it became an obsession). One thing that still had to go (according to my most recent leaky gut research) was dairy. Two months GF and I had no extra energy but my long-term balance improved. Strange. Three months GF and one month dairy-free (DF) and my balance improved some more. Five months GF, three months DF and one month having removed oats (which are in most GF products) and my balance was better than it had been in roughly 16-17 years. Bingo!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t really do much with this new-found proprioceptive confidence, because I was still shattered and suffering from what felt like a 6-month-long brain fart. February 2019 and my days were spent napping on the sofa, researching, guilt-tripping myself, stressing about issues that I couldn’t address, forcing myself to take my dogs out (I really begrudge any illness which makes that feel like a chore), and trying to motivate myself to work, which didn’t happen. I felt like I was getting nowhere, I was wasting time despite trying desperately not to. I’d lost interest in my interests for what felt like years and, as pathetic as I feel admitting this, I was just functioning and no more. No ooooomppphh! So I signed up for a long-distance walking challenge for which I had less than five months to train. As that’s the obvious thing to do when you’re in that predicament.

I trained by starting with three mile walks at a local hill (which I’d ran in previously), worked up to two to three circuits, took ten mile walks at the weekend. I managed to complete the challenge. I’d love to say I was back to normal, but I wasn’t. I’m glad I took the challenge as it made me convert to a 98% whole foods diet and my energy was back. But it wasn’t motivation energy, it was I-will-if-I-need-to energy. I did the walk no problem, fell into the top 40% times for my gender and age group. I marched it. But it was through an area I’ve loved my entire life yet I felt very little at most sections. I played music and got bored with it (that was becoming a MAJOR red flag for me).

Two months later, late summer 2019 we went on an amazing two-week holiday covering a route through more stunning areas of natural beauty. I climbed a mountain I’d been obsessed with from my teens. It was great, very picturesque, but I wasn’t back to me for sure, still no fire in the belly.

Approaching Christmas 2019, dark nights and the cosiness which I’d never lost my appreciation for the whole time, maybe because it’s an excuse to hide away, nap and, well, feel cosy. Savings and the prospect of a short break to the mountains on the 27th seemed suddenly really exciting. Exciting! I believe I was experiencing normal dopamine levels for the first time in 2 years and I didn’t question it. First of all, the area is one we’ve visited regularly over the years. Dramatic scenery, walks, wine and good food, and cosiness. I had a good feeling about it. Secondly, the savings. I should say I’ve never been a “stuff” person, but the promise of a white box with a little apple emblem was too much to bear. It symbolised my second foray into writing. Not only was some of my vocabulary coming back (yes, I really, really struggled, and still do), but my rusty little head cogs and sleepy minds-eye had subconsciously planted little glimpses of landscapes, characters and plot twists in my awakening imagination. I had an idea for a novel (I can hear your eyes rolling, reader!)

Fast forward to now, July 2020. I’ve gotten back up again. I’m feeling tiny little fires now and then. I’m finally able to write this post although I thought I’d be writing it before the end of 2018.

Improving health, some tasty new tech, and the promise of a New Year (ok, I love resolution-creation). Everything was good. It still is and it’s getting better. It’s been a rough year so far (a complete and utter understatement in terms of the world). I’ve had health ups and downs, periods where I was sinking into fatigue again then diving down the research rabbit hole. I do acknowledge a lot more processed food has crept into my diet, and dairy too. But still living the gluten-free life. There have been recurring symptoms that I won’t go into but which lead me to believe there’s an element of autoimmunity, something that I think affects a massive proportion of the population to some degree. For the past two years I’ve not really been moved by music which is crazy for me as I always had music playing. But I’m hoping that will come with time. Every period of my life until two years ago had a soundtrack, and music always lifted me. I believe my cognitive issues include dopamine and serotonin imbalances. I know some mild depressive symptoms have overlapped other symptoms, but that is definitely changing. I have energy and motivation again.

The individual body’s reaction to the environment and food is a fascinating subject to me. But the past 8 months have taught me so much more about how to deal with feeling less than optimal, or downright hellish, whether you know the reason or not. Lessons that helped me:

  • Mental energy is finite as you get older – don’t waste it ruminating. I’d focus on my problems in the morning and be wiped out by lunchtime.
  • Be creative with accountability – I bought a Clever Fox planner. It’s a lovely thing and I love planning my days with it. And because it’s lovely (and not cheap), I’m pretty committed to ticking off my plans. Most of the time.
  • Simplify – Dogs, exercise, write. More and more often, that’s my day in no particular order. Some days can still be nap, dogs, wine, and that’s fine too, believe it or not because….
  • You need to let go of things you can’t control – including annoying symptoms. And other people’s behaviour. You can, however, control how you react, and that’s to your benefit.
  • Your can find new direction – twenty-five years ago I was aiming to be an adventure instructor. From balance issue onwards, and while working a stressful job, I was going to make jams and chutneys/stained glass to sell (never did it). Four years ago I became a copywriter, now a content writer (and a novelist…..?). Who knows, I may take on more adventure again.
  • Check in with yourself – before you react internally or externally, remember how much is habit, and how many of those habits only hurt you.
  • Be present – it’s becoming a cliche, but there’s so much to this that I think has really set me up to get going again. Ruminating, as mentioned is living in the past. Easy to fall into when you want to have a response lined up for someone the next time they mistreat you, or if you’re looking for validation. Thinking about the future is great when you stay on a positive track, but it’s human nature to deviate into uncertainty.

Keeping going

My interest in wellness and then my unexpected health blip (a long blip, but hopefully a blip all the same) were the impetus for beginning this blog. The chronic fatigue and brain fog led me to consider giving it up, but it’s been a lesson and a journey, and I would love to carry on writing if it’s to anyone else’s benefit. But my main focus will now be on the other sections of the blog, the good stuff, the adventure.

Thanks for reading (if you got this far) x

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