The Grocery Store

I typically go to a few stores each week.  Costco for as much of the produce and basics that we can.  Trader Joe’s for the other stuff we couldn’t find at Costco.  Whole Foods for certain supplements and select, “weird” items (see below).  I did my grocery shopping yesterday, and I went to Whole Foods first.  I knew they had cassava flour and probably some turkey bacon I could have.  Well, they did have all that.  And it only took me two and a half hours.

When I got there, the first thing I see is a holiday display for ordering Thanksgiving dishes.  Great.  I ordered our organic turkey.  (Part of AIP is being as organic as possible.)  They also had samples of their pumpkin spice cider.  Perfect.  I needed cider for the n’oatmeal recipe.  Problem #1: there is “natural flavoring”.  After about 10 minutes and talking with two workers, I learned that the 365 brand uses “natural flavoring” for essential oils and juices.  I’ll risk it.

I grab a few items of produce like bunched kale and some skirt steak that was insanely on sale and head into the spice aisle.  Mace.  Two of my recipes call for mace.  WTF is mace?  Problem #2: I can’t find it anywhere.  I stand there for about 15 minutes looking at everything on the whole aisle.  Fine.  I’ll skip it.  I’ll just grab gelatin while I’m here.  Problem #3: The recommended brand isn’t carried here.  They have the usual Knox gelatin, and the incredibly informative ingredients list only says “gelatin”.  Whatever.  I’ll take it.

I forgot spaghetti squash in the produce section, but I finally locate it on its own.  It’s big.  I go back to the freezer section to try my luck there, as cutting large veggies isn’t great for my hands.  No spaghetti squash.  So I return to the produce section.  This sort of behavior continues for several of my ingredients, and so my trip takes forever.  At last I decide to grab something to replace coffee.  Heck, I needed a cup of coffee after looping around the store several times.  Problem #4: The sales associates have no idea what chicory is (nor do I, really), and so all three of us search the coffee/tea aisle for a while.  Guy 1 finally finds it, but it has barley in it, so it’s a no.  Darn it!

When I leave the store, I have most of what I need, even the $17 cassava flour.  I think that I’m well prepared for the week, but I don’t know if I can take this long to shop and cook each and every week.  It’s exhausting!  Thankfully, Trader Joe’s and Costco were much easier, as the Facebook groups I’ve been following alerted me to compliant coconut milk at TJ’s, and I already knew the produce to pick at Costco.

 

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AIP: The Start of Week One

So what is AIP?  The Autoimmune Protocol (or Autoimmune Paleo; this book is what I will use for my food list and reintroduction method) is a diet used to identify foods which may be causing inflammation, pain, and brain fog.  By eliminating foods that are known to be potentially problematic and then reintroducing them slowly, the hope is that one can then eliminate those foods permanently and increase quality of life.

Why AIP?

I’ve been struggling with fatigue and brain fog since high school, and I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  I was still able to push through and do well in school and then complete a master’s degree, but when pain began in my back during my PhD I was forced to withdraw.  My back problem is yet to be diagnosed (though an army of doctors in two countries gave me the wonderfully vague diagnoses of sacroiliitis and sciatica) and really treated, and so I’ve been trying to treat myself using a fleet of holistic remedies (Pilates, chiropractor, acupuncture, massage, yoga, personal training, diet, and essential oils).  I’ve had some success, and I believe I would be much worse off going the route of traditional medicine or not doing as many of the holistic treatments as I do.  It’s exhausting, and in a perfect world I would identify problematic foods, eliminate them, and be able to cut back my treatments (and have more of a life outside work and appointments).

I have short term memory problems–books I loved I can’t remember save the fact I adored them, dear friends tell me details of their lives which I am unable to recall later, and I struggle to remember times and dates of things which leads me to ask repeatedly and get confused.  My back pain means that sitting and lying down are the most painful, so I have to try to walk as much as possible during the day and use a special chair, while sleeping is always incredibly difficult because I cannot get comfortable.  Some days it’s a real struggle: I know walking and exercise will make me feel better, but I’m too tired to do much of anything.  I’m out of spoons and I tank.  Sometimes, this sharp energy tank means that my back flares up.  Walking, bending over, even pulling a shirt on make me tear up and cry with pain.

In addition to the CFS and back pain, I also developed undiagnosed joint pain in my hands and feet.  It varies in intensity from day to day, but the one thing I know is that if I’ve exerted myself too much the day before or my back pain is intense, the joint pain will be worse.

The Food:

I am more than a little bummed that I’m starting this diet right before Thanksgiving and Christmas.  If you know me at all, you know that pumpkin and mint chocolate are my favorite flavors in the whole world, and that the way to my heart is some peppermint bark, pumpkin pie, or iced gingerbread cookies.

So what did I do to try to combat this intense “holy crap” feeling?  I cooked and baked a lot of autumnal-flavored foods.  I’m not a baker.  It’s not that I can’t bake; I’m actually not bad, and I love my elimination diet cake.  However, it just seems to take so much time and need so much clean-up.  I’d much rather indulge outside the house!

Snacks:

Apple Cider Muffins (They are tasty, but next time I will be sure to roll them into balls, as dropping the dough into the muffin tins doesn’t make for the best consistency.  This was also my first time using gelatin as an egg replacement.)

Banana Bread (Yes, this uses coconut sugar, which I know some people argue is not compliant.  I believe using it this sparingly and when I’m not eating anything else save a tiny amount in tea is okay.  Fight me.)

Pear Chai N’Oatmeal (I doubled the cinnamon and left the skins on the pears.  The consistency is still like applesauce, so I think it’s okay.)

Kombucha

Apples, berries, and bananas

Breakfast:

Steak, turkey bacon, sweet potato, asparagus, and kale hash

Pumpkin spice coconut milk for use with dandelion chicory tea, a substitute for coffee (1 container coconut milk, 1 can pumpkin puree, cinnamon, honey, and clove in a blender).  We’ll see how much I hate giving up coffee after tomorrow morning.

Lunch:

Baked chicken (onion and garlic powders, salt, oregano, and olive oil), sweet potatoes, and green beans with avocado

Dinner:

A variety of baked or sauteed meats (venison and fish this week) with a variety of marinades (Asian with coconut aminos, ginger, and garlic; olive oil with salt, onion powder, garlic powder, sage, and oregano)

Pumpkin coconut soup with asparagus and chicken (saute red onion in olive oil; add ginger and garlic; after 1 minute add 1 can coconut milk, 1 can pumpkin puree, and 5 cups broth; add vegetables and/or cooked meat of choice; add in sage and oregano or other spices of choice; simmer for 15 minutes).  Based on the basics of this recipe.

Cauliflower “rice”, sweet potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, green beans, and mushrooms.

I won’t bore you with my trip to the grocery store right now, so please see the next post immediately published after this one.  It was… different.  It took me a long, long time, and even though I’ve been reading labels a lot since teaching myself about nutrition, I felt out of my depth and lost.

It’s all cooked and made now, so I’ll post an update about the eating!

 

Update

I haven’t written in a while.

Like, a long while.

A lot has happened, and I will do my best to summarize and also tell all.

Over the past few months, we got a dog, I started a new job, I started a different elimination diet (today, actually), I turned another year older, we finally went to Yellowstone, and we’ve hosted my parents on several occasions.  I’m still managing my pain and fatigue as best I can, and I’ve learned a few new things since I last wrote.  I will address the new diet, the pup, Yellowstone, and the job in separate posts, and for now will just focus on my typical days and pain.

veg

Food: the possible solution to my problems.  Credit unknown.  

My back and pain are still issues everyday, as is my fatigue.  That’s the reason I just started the Autoimmune Protocol/Paleo (the name depends on who you ask, but it’s the same thing).  When I was coping with the accident and resulting upper back pain this summer, I started seeing an orthopedic masseuse.  That’s been a total game changer.  My pain and tenderness is from muscle tightness and resulting misalignment and imbalance, so finding someone whose knowledge of the muscular and skeletal systems is so vast has been a blessing.  Compared to acupuncture, I think massage has been more beneficial, but I’m sure every person has a different degree of success.

I also saw a genetics specialist at the urging of my holistic doctor.  I believe that the particular doctor I saw may work for some people, but for me was just a money pit.  She believes that I am impacted by wifi, and so suggested I buy a pendant, special water, and various vitamins from her.  I suspended my disbelief and tried it, but I felt no different after drinking the magic water for a week and wearing the pendant for a fortnight.  I was skeptical at the end of our session, and I remain so after giving her treatments a shot with no improvement.  Isn’t there that saying, “If it seems to good to be true, it probably is”?  Yeah, well, I believe this is one of those cases.

The AIP Diet is a more extreme version of the elimination diet.  I had mild success with that (my husband swears I was better, but I didn’t actually recognize a marked improvement; if he observed fewer pain episodes and improved mood, then I believe it worked to some extent), and so I think I need to get even more strict to see more results.  AIP take the other restrictions (no gluten, white potatoes/breads, sugar, soy, beef, dairy, eggs, caffeine, alcohol) and takes it a few steps further.  On top of those foods above, I cannot have nuts, beans/legumes, grains/rice, or nightshade vegetables like peppers and tomatoes.  This means that I’m basically down to fruits, vegetables, and meat/fish.  This will make for interesting holidays; cassava, coconut, or tiger nut flour for everything, no black pepper for seasoning, no stuffing, and no carbs other than roots and squashes.  It’s going to be an interesting ride, but my family is being very supportive.

I will update the blog with more information about AIP, as well as posts about our dog, Rosie (only the best golden retriever ever), running, my job and its new challenges, and Yellowstone.

“But You Don’t Look Sick”

That’s the refrain I hear all the time, and it’s certainly what other people think.

I’m not pregnant, so my doctor’s appointments and therapies aren’t considered a matter of survival as they are for my pregnant co-workers’.

I don’t have a limp, a cast, a wheelchair, a cane, or some other obvious mobility impairment, so my join pain isn’t considered devastating to my daily comings and goings or ability to do my job sitting at a computer for hours on end.

I look tired, but that gets many “wait ’til you have kids!” responses if I dare mention it or try to explain fatigue.

To anyone else at the gym, in a waiting room, or in the grocery store I look normal and functional.  My CFS and joint pain/autoimmune disease is sometimes as debilitating as all those conditions above, but I must live up to the expectations of all the other “normal” people each day.

It’s confusing and hurtful to see and hear others brush off what is a real issue for me.  Daily life for me and for all the others suffering from chronic pain and disease is barely manageable at best and almost stifling in its complexity, frustration, and pain at worst.  Not to mention, the pain causes depression and anxiety, and may also prevent adequate sleep (a real and aggravating issue when one also has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).

I used to be the best in school.  I still had to fight with chronic infections and with the pressure I put on myself, but I studied extremely hard to make sure I aced exams and completed homework.  In fact, in my years of study I only missed one reading assignment the week of midterms.  I devoured books, both for class and at my own leisure.  I could remember movies and made lists of the ones coming out I wanted to see.  I met friends for coffee or meals frequently, and actually didn’t have to cancel.  I made sure my room or flat was clean, did my laundry in a timely fashion, and kept my living space functioning.  That was all when my chronic condition was mostly due to colds and the occasional knee popping out of its socket–things that were regular, but isolated incidents.  I had CFS at the time, but it was more manageable at the time and uncomplicated by an inability to sleep at night.

So, you’re right.  I don’t look sick.  I probably look quite “normal”–I’m either in a workout outfit that’s clean and well cared-for or a work outfit comprised of slacks, a button-down, and jewelry.  I usually have makeup on outside the house when not at the gym or on a hike, and I make sure that my nails don’t get too scruffy and that I bathe regularly no matter how poor I feel.  I don’t eat out, so you see me eating fresh foods I take hours to prepare myself because I have to.  You see me walking on my lunch break and working out in the gym because my back does better with movement, and because the more I walk the less I feel the fire in the joints of my feet.

So on behalf of those who also must go through great lengths to function at a percentage of what you do: listen to us, have compassion, and understand that each person has his or her own battle which is ongoing.  That person who uses a handicap parking pass and walks into the store may be having a good day, but may not be able to walk very far to accomplish small errands.  That friend who has to cancel plans or doesn’t want to go out may be fighting depression or pain.  That coworker who looks fatigued all the time but has no “excuse” because he or she doesn’t have any stressors of note may be fighting a chronic condition.

Essential Oils

Okay, hear me out.  I know I can come off a a bit of a hippie, but just hear me out before you run screaming from the co-op-loving, organic-eating, essential oils-hawking, kale-adoring girl.

I’ve been veering away from traditional medicine for a while now after so many specialists have failed me and prescription medications haven’t worked.  Pilates, strength training, massage, and movement are much better treatment options for me.  So when a friend gave me an information session about essential oils I was curious.  I see the massive displays in stores, and I’ve heard about ADHD/ADD symptoms lessening significantly when oils are diffused or applied.  Okay, I’ll try it.

I bought a starter kit, and my husband and I immediately felt more relaxed that evening when we used the lavender oil in the diffuser.  I coupled that sometimes with a stress-away blend, and I honestly do feel less stressed.  I also tried copaiba, which is a dietary supplement.  This one did seem to make me feel less pained and irritable in the month I took it consistently, and there was a noticeable uptick in my aggravation when I stopped it.  (I think this is pain-related.  Perhaps I don’t realize my pain is higher on a given day when I think about it, but MAN, is my mood different depending on my pain level.)

I’m branching out into blends and other topically-applied oils like vetiver to boost my mood and energy.  I keep rosemary at my desk for a little boost when I’m tired (since I don’t drink coffee except for a few ounces on very special occasions).  I got a sample of an essential oil pain relief cream which has peppermint and other cooling ingredients, and I was amazed that I got immediate relief.  According to my FitBit, I had the largest chunk of deep sleep I’ve had since updating my tracker to monitor sleep.

If you are at all interested in finding a more homeopathic way to treat pain or illness, I would encourage you to investigate essential oils.  While I haven’t had the dramatic results I was hoping for (save the cream), I think I’m happier when I make a conscious effort to incorporate them into my daily life.

Allergy-Free Chocolate Cake

Gluten-free, vegan, processed sugar-free, soy-free, and corn-free cake with frosting!

 My husband recently had a birthday.  The first summer we were together after about 9 months of dating I took it upon myself to bake him his very first homemade birthday cake.  It was strawberry, and as per usual, I decided to go the hard way and handmake everything–no gelatin, jams, or other pre-made helpers for flavor.  Nope.  I needed to make the strawberry puree on my own, and at the time all I had was my hands, a spoon, and a strainer.  No hand blenders, Vitamixes, or food processors for this girl!

He loved that cake, and so after these past two months of his support with my diet I decided to try to find a cake that would work with what I was allowed to eat.  I felt it was some small way to repay him for all he’d done for me.  And, as he’s a bigger chocoholic than I am, it needed to be chocolate.

This is the recipe I used, and OH BOY.  The batter on its own is delicious, and as it’s egg-free, you can consume it straight out of the bowl if that’s how you prefer to roll!  The cake itself is dense and fudgy, and it has more of a brownie consistency.  The recipe makes enough for two 9-inch cake tiers, but with the absence of traditional flour or egg it doesn’t rise much.  For an impressive cake that’s of a more normal height, I would suggest doubling the recipe.

The frosting seems a bit marshmallowy in flavor to me.  Fluffy, not too sweet, easily-spreadable, and delightful!  Below makes enough for two cakes, in my opinion, but it may be just right if you double it as I indicated above.

 

Allergy-Free Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups brown rice flour

1/2 cup tapioca flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 1/2 tea. baking soda

1 1/2 tea. xanthan gum

1/2 tea. sea salt

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1/2 cup prunes

1/2 cup dates

1/2 cup coconut oil

1 cup dark agave nectar

2 table. apple cider vinegar

1 table. vanilla

1/2 to 1 teas. dry instant coffee

Method:

  1. Set oven to 350 F and grease two 9-inch baking pans.  (I used coconut oil spray here.)
  2. Combine the prunes, dates, and boiling water and let soak.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the two flours, cocoa, baking soda, salt, baking soda, and salt into a medium- to large-sized bowl and stir to combine well.
  4. In a blender, combine the prunes/water mix, vinegar, coconut oil, agave, vanilla, and coffee.  Blend until smooth.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir to combine well.  Batter will be sticky and fairly stiff.
  6. Evenly distribute the batter between the two tins, and spread as evenly as possible to fill the tins.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes.
  8. Pull out of oven and let cool in tins for approx. 10 minutes.
  9. Flip onto baking racks until cooled completely.

 

Allergy-Free Chocolate Almond Frosting

Ingredients:

2 cups vegetable shortening

1 cup arrowroot powder

1 cup agave nectar

4 tea. vanilla

2 tea. almond extract

1/2 to 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

Method:

  1. Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and whip with a hand mixer until well combined and fluffy.  Add more of the extracts or cocoa powder to taste.
  2. Optional: garnish with slivered almonds in the middle of the layers with the frosting or vegan chocolate chips for a little texture.

Fitness

I often compare my fitness to my past self’s or to others.  It’s something that I cannot get past, even though I know I shouldn’t think about what others are able to accomplish.

I recently had a garage sale, and getting ready for it meant two things: 1) going through each nook and cranny of the house and 2) sorting items into toss, sell, or donate piles.

I had to do the sorting bit a little at a time.  I can’t just go all day as I used to.  I remember marathon packing or organizing sessions in college and as a kid, but my body doesn’t give me that kind of stamina anymore.  This is something that all chronic disease and chronic pain sufferers and specialists reiterate over and over again: pace yourself.  It’s often hard for me because I get “in the zone” and become so focused, but I’ve done my best to hold myself back from overexertion.

The hardest bit was actually sorting everything.  Making decisions about plates, bakeware, and old clothes as easy-peasy.  However, facing my college and postgraduate notes, articles, and books was extremely difficult.  I had to leave my PhD program so suddenly for such a difficult reason beyond my control, so that work feels very unfinished.  In addition, I look at my notes and articles, and I realize I don’t remember any of it.  None.  Nada.  Zip.  I recognize the names of works and characters like Sir Orfeo or Roland, but I can’t remember the details.  I know Sir Orfeo is the medieval incantation of the Orpheus of classical myth, but other than that…  I remember marching in Roland and that it’s of French origin, but what was the war and who were the characters?  It’s so hard to face the reality that my mind isn’t as it was in college or as a kid.

I understand and am thankful for the fact that my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms and chronic pain aren’t as bad as others’.  I’m not bedridden, and I can function usually without OTC painkillers or even prescription-strength.  But my mental and physical fitness seems to pale in comparison to everyone else’s around me.

I suppose the best I can do is just continue doing what I’ve been doing.  Go to my appointments, treat myself kindly, and eat as well as I can.  I can’t let comparisons to others weigh down my estimation of myself.  (Though, this is so much easier said than done, in my humble opinion.)

I also need to redefine “fitness” as it pertains to me.  I can’t remember social graces like thank you cards, if I’m in pain or fatigued I don’t register emails or texts, and I get overwhelmed easily.  I have to make my peace with that and hope friends and family understand.  I can’t remember things I’ve read or movies I’ve seen unless they’re ones I’ve experienced many, many times.  I doubt myself a lot because I sometimes can’t remember work processes, and so I ask questions.  I cannot expect to keep up with the brilliant academics on my Facebook feed who are at conferences and working in postdoctoral positions.  I cannot expect to be that Regency-era lady who is excellent at timely correspondence.  It’s a constant struggle to make myself believe this is okay, and it’s normal for me.  I’m doing as well as I can, and that’s all I can do.

Exhaustion

This week has been difficult.

Each day of the week save alternate Saturdays and Sundays I got to a different treatment.  Acupuncture, massage, Pilates, the chiropractor, and now also personal training (for glute and leg strength to help stabilize my core and back).  It’s completely exhausting, and it makes me feel pressured for time just about consistently.  I commute to work, am there for 8.5 hours, commute to treatment, get my treatment, and then commute home.  Most days I am out of the house for a full 12 hours.

I have found that working full time is the biggest source of this exhaustion, which makes sense looking at the duration of each day at work.  However, I find that it’s the emotional effort that takes its toll the most.

I have to make sure I’m out of the office right at 4:00 in order to get to whichever practitioner I’m seeing that day before rush hour traffic is too heavy.  I have to plan my little hourly walks in order to prevent more-than-usual back pain later in the day or week.  I have to consistently be the odd one out who is eating her packed lunches while everyone else noshes on birthday cake, pizza, or potlucks.  I attempt to share my joy in perfecting a new recipe only to get strange looks because I guess I am now that girl.  I have hardly any social life, as my appointments take up the bulk of my schedule outside of work, so I make a rather dull conversationalist.  It’s lonely and frustrating.

I was less aware of this when I was in college and at university.  I suppose I could hide it better.  Going from class to class, my day was broken up.  If I couldn’t take the stairs that day (I had knee issues in college, and my kneecaps could pop out of place randomly causing extreme shooting pain), no one took notice.  Any arrangements I’d made with the Disability Services Office and my professors were private.  I could take pain medications without feeling on display–what college student or researcher doesn’t pop a Tylenol once in a while?  It was no matter that I was living in the one-story dorm on campus, as it was for upperclassmen only, and I was friends with most of the others who chose its substance-free environment.

And as a side note, who isn’t a little different in some way as a college student?  Those who mattered to me (and who still do) were the ones who loved Harry PotterDoctor Who, and Latin, and those are the people I was around more than anyone else.  If they noticed, they didn’t care, and if they didn’t it was thanks to the fact they weren’t next to me 8 hours a day.  My tribe didn’t ever make me feel out-of-place.

My tribe these days is filled with my coworkers.  While some of them are amazing and supportive, the rest are cordial but not close.  Any mention of anything wrong with me or in my life–anything different–is looked down on and avoided by others if possible.  It doesn’t mean I don’t see the eye rolls or the vacant expressions when I have to request fruit at the ice cream social or not take on extra work in order to make sure I’m out of the office for an appointment.

Working with a chronic condition takes so much more than just those 8 hours.  I haven’t mastered it yet, and I’m looking forward to a day that is simply routine instead of a physical and emotional struggle each and every minute.

Brown Rice & Fish Paella

One of the best recipes I’ve had since I started my elimination diet was prepared by my father.  He’d given us a cast iron skillet, and when he and my mother visited us last he wanted to try it out.  As I was already limited in what I could eat, we had to get creative with recipes, and this paella resulted.  It was delicious, I was satiated, and it made amazing leftovers!  My parents aren’t usually brown rice people, but they also loved all the flavor packed into this dish.

Ingredients

  • 6-8 2 oz. fillets of fish of choice.  (Cod and salmon work well here, but more traditional shellfish could be used here, as well.)
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 8 oz. mushrooms of choice, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 2 cups short grain brown rice (Long grain can be substituted, but I prefer the texture of the short grain here.)
  • 1 container reduced sodium vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, sliced finely
  • 1/3 c. fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. lemon peel
  • dash of paprika
  • 1 package frozen peas

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. In saucepan, heat broth to boiling over high heat.  Stir in saffron threads.  Cover and remove from heat.
  3. In cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium high heat until hot.  Add fennel, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook until the fennel softens.  Add tomatoes, red pepper, and mushrooms.  After cooking for one minute, add the rice and stir well.  Add the warm broth and lemon peel, and heat skillet to boiling.  Boil for approximately 3 minutes or until the liquid thickens slightly.
  4. Place skillet in oven and bake uncovered for 20-23 minutes.  Add the frozen peas.  Top with the fillets of fish, then dust with paprika.  Pop skillet back in the oven, and back 8-10 minutes longer until rice is done and fish is just cooked.
  5. Let rest for 5 minutes, and garnish with remaining parsley.

Self Care

Just being an adult requires copious amounts of self care.  Remember playing The Sims?  They’d throw tantrums and refuse to do things if you made them study, work, or exercise for too long at a time.  We humans are like that, too.  We go crazy and it’s unbearable if we go-go-go without a break and without sufficient relaxation and kindness for ourselves.

That’s one of the lessons I’ve had to learn since my CFS came back and since my chronic pain started.  I used to get by on probably normal amounts of sleep (plus naps) and relaxation.  I could be up for class at 8:00 AM, be out of the dorm until the end of my last class around 4:00 PM (sometimes as late as 6:30), go back to do my homework, eat dinner, and then work until 2:00 AM.  Repeat.  I’d sleep in until late on the weekends, study and do chores, and then enjoy a film on Saturday nights.  I had no problem doing this for four years.

In Durham I spent more time than usual in my room studying, sleeping, and watching back episodes of The Great British Baking ShowDon’t Tell the Bride, and Come Dine with Me.  But I got through with my distinction.  In York my CFS came back with a vengeance, and I had to sleep really late each day to function at all.  I started needing more time to do yoga, to sleep, to lay in bed, and to have a cup of tea outside.  I forced myself to meet friends out more than I’d used to, as I seemed to need that social interaction to get through the weeks.  When I met my boyfriend (now husband), I needed that phone conversation each evening and our fortnightly meetings to propel me through my days.  When I hurt my back, I was in bed almost 24/7 and was in so much pain I could barely think straight.  Films and television shows were my new best friends, and I had to be as kind as I could to myself.

That has carried over into my present situation.  Although I’m able to go to work most days, I find that I’ve become more of a homebody and needed more self care than I had previously.  I can no longer push through my week at full-speed and make up my self care time on the weekends.  I need that care everyday for longer than would be ideal.

Of course, my self-care also involves going to appointments four out of five workdays a week.  Chiropractor Mondays, acupuncture Tuesdays, Pilates Wednesdays and Thursdays, and then finally muscle massage on alternate Fridays or Sundays.  It’s exhausting, so even though I’m doing all this for me and for my self care, it’s hard to view it as relaxing.

So what else can I do which would actually feel like self care and not an obligation?

I take baths sometimes, which helps the pain level and also gives me some peace in my own room, isolated from the cats and my husband.  I take pride in the food I buy.  It tends to be organic, brightly-colored, and without much packaging–real food, I suppose many would argue.  I buy and brew far too much tea, and I have an addiction to buying books.  I love window shopping, especially at jewelry and furniture/home/vintage stores.  One of my favorite items is a heated throw which I use in the basement no matter the temperature or weather outside.  A handful of times I’ve gotten facials, and sometimes I’ll apply face masks at home.  I cuddle my cats as much as they will allow, and I pet any dog who I walk past.  (I actually have been known to change my course if there’s a golden retriever…)  Often these small enjoyments aren’t enough to make me feel totally rejuvenated, and I have to spend even glorious days inside resting with a heating pad.

I hope that whatever you need to do to get through your hard days is enjoyable and helpful.