Browsing Category

Helen’s Health

6 THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY

6 THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY

Actually, please allow me to rephrase the above to ‘6 Things That Made Me Happy This Week’ because, boy, it has been a good one.

As many of you know I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of why my health fell apart in December 2015. You can read the night it all began here. Over the past 2.5 years, I’ve seen various specialists, had numerous blood tests and spent a fortune along the way to little avail.

Time and time again my research has brought me back to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (an immunological condition which I’ve mentioned before) but this suggestion, for the most part,  has fallen upon deaf ears…until now.

Yes, this week a medical doctor at a top London hospital confirmed what I have suspected all along… MCAS as well as histamine intolerance.

I’ll write a proper post on what MCAS is and what my next steps will be at a later date but for now I’ve decided to share 6 things that made me happy this week because, after 2.5 years of feeling utterly lost, rubbish, fatigued, anxious and wishing it would all just go away, I finally feel as though I’m back in control of my life. I hope this post also gives hope to others going through similarly anxious times.

HAPPY POINT NO.1: RECEIVING A DIAGNOSIS

Words can’t express the joy of finding someone who understands and has lived through MCAS. It turns out my consultant’s daughter was dreadfully unwell for years and had similar symptoms until her diagnosis. This prompted my doctor to develop a special interest in the condition and histamine intolerance. We all have mast cells – they’re blood cells which live in our body tissue and form part of our defence system. They respond to threats like foreign bodies and injury by releasing a variety of chemical mediators, including histamine, to protect and heal the body. However, my mast cells are confused and excessively releasing histamine and other mediators which are setting off chronic reactions including the tongue and throat swellings . On the day I saw the doctor, my entire thigh was bruised black and blue. The previous night I’d been suffering from intolerable itching all over my body, scalp and thighs and couldn’t stop scratching.  Bruising and poor blood clotting are classic signs in MCAS patients, according to my doctor. I’m so thrilled to have found her and am now looking forward to getting a handle on this condition.

HAPPY POINT NO.2: BEING GIVEN NEW HOPE

A couple of months ago I bit the bullet and raided the savings pot again spending over £1,000 on a consultation with a nutritionist and some comprehensive gut and adrenal tests to give me a better picture of my health. The results came back this week and are fascinating. I’m talking parasites, salmonella and chronic inflammation among other things but I’ll share these findings at a later date once I’ve had my follow-up consultation. Let’s just say that between the new medical doctor and the nutritionist I believe I’m finally on the right path to healing.

HAPPY POINT NO.3: WORKING FOR NEW CLIENT

I’ve been a freelance journalist for 18 years and regularly contribute to newspapers, consumer and trade magazines but over the past few weeks I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone and started working for a couple of fantastic new titles. I’m so glad I made the leap and one of them resulted in No.4 below.

HAPPY POINT NO.4  MY FIRST TASTE OF LONDON EVENT

6 things that make me happy

I’ve never really been much of a ‘foodie’. Not only is eating out nigh on impossible with all my intolerances, I’m now six weeks into a gluten and dairy free diet which restricts things even further. However, as part of the day job I ended up at Taste of London in Regent’s Park, an event which celebrates London’s culinary scene. It was a lovely way to spend a summer’s evening and I was thrilled to discover a number of dairy and gluten-free products on site including Hippeas organic chickpea puffs,  Pip & Nut nut butters, Miiro a vegan ice cream, dairy alternative drink brand Califia Farms.  It wasn’t all about the food, drink, music and socialising either. I stumbled across some stunning flower displays thanks to Freddie’s Flowers, a pay as you go UK -wide fresh flower delivery service. The company cuts and packs to order only, therefore, reducing waste.  Speaking of Freddie, see No.5.

HAPPY POINT NO.5: MY BUNNY SURVIVING 

Freddie the house bunny

As some of you know I have a house bunny called Freddie who is a sickly but loving little thing. Approximately half an hour before I was due to leave for the Taste of London event I noticed he was a little off colour so I whizzed him over to the vet. He’d gone into slight gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, which can be deadly in rabbits but, fortunately, I’d spotted it in time. He was kept him in for the day, while I went to work. The bill wasn’t pretty but the bunny survived! Hooray!

HAPPY POINT NO.6: CUDDLES WITH BABY SEBASTIAN

6 things that make me happy

Lastly, one of my very good friends had a gorgeous little boy recently. I finally got the chance to have my first cuddle with him yesterday. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

 

What are the little things that have made you happy this week? Do you get through the hard times by focussing on the little things in life. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

 

 

Helen's Health

7 reformer pilates myths busted

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

“Reformer pilates? No way, it’s just not my kind of thing.” That was always my standard response whenever my lifelong osteopath Paul Morrissey suggested I give it a try.

The machines looked frightening – almost like an ancient torture device – complicated to operate and, as I’d always favoured fast-paced exercise like spin, running, tennis and boot camps, I automatically assumed I’d be bored.

Then two and a half years ago I became chronically ill – read the Night It All Began here. Alongside high histamine food, ANY sort of exercise that made me hot and sweaty would bring on tongue swelling and throat closing episodes. Overnight my sporty lifestyle, along with a big part of my identity, disappeared.

So when doctors suggested I reintroduce low impact exercise on the provision I have my adrenaline pen and antihistamines to hand, I decided the time was right to learn more about reformer pilates.

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

For those not in the know, pilates is a system of slow and controlled exercises performed on a mat or spring-assisted reformer. It’s designed to lengthen and strengthen muscles, improve posture, flexibility and agility, prevent injury and address structural imbalances in the body.

Pioneer Joseph Hubertus Pilates was said to have been a sickly child following his birth in 1883 so, in adulthood, he set about researching and developing a mind, body, spirit approach to exercise that would later transform him into a skier, diver, gymnast and boxer.

He also rigged springs to hospital beds to help bedridden patients exercise against resistance, which subsequently inspired the designs for much of the reformer pilates equipment we see today.

I popped along to the Osteopathic Clinic in Croydon for my very first reformer pilates session and busted the following myths:

REFORMER PILATES IS SCARY
No, it’s not, even though the equipment might seem so. It helped that Rhea Malkin (pictured), a triathlete, ironman competitor and STOTT Pilates Essential and Intermediate Reformer qualified instructor was on hand to guide me through my one-on-one session. Embarrassingly, I went to lie down at the wrong end of the bed-like contraption but she quickly pointed me in the right direction. I assumed my position on the ‘carriage’, which moves back and forth on wheels, and is attached to the reformer by a set of springs that provide differing levels of resistance. My feet rested on the bar at the bottom and I lay on the comfortable padded platform ready for my first move. Simple. What on earth had I been worrying about?

REFORMER PILATES IS BORING
Admittedly, I thought I’d be bored out of my brain by repeating movements in a slow and controlled manner but there’s a heck of a lot to remember, like engaging your core correctly when performing a move, which makes it far from dull and you feel the muscles instantly working.  I struggled with finding my neutral spine so Rhea suggested visualising a glass of water, which I did not want to spill, on my tummy. For the glutes, she urged me to think about gripping a credit card between my butt cheeks. We giggled but it worked! My muscles were activated and I’d yet to start work on the reformer pilates equipment!

REFORMER PILATES IS JUST ABOUT BUILDING A STRONG LEAN BODY
Nope. Your breathing is important too. The preparatory work before a move involves an inhalation, while any exertion requires an exhalation. The very mindful action of focussing on the breath as well as the move provided a delightful escape from the stresses of daily life and the thoughts that permanently whizz around my overactive mind. Of course, building a graceful, strong body is an obvious advantage too. Rhea, who regularly works out on a reformer pilates machine, is a testament to that!

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

REFORMER PILATES IS CHEATING
Think again. Yes, there’s no mat involved but just because you’re using equipment doesn’t mean that it’s any less of a workout or you’ve failed.  In fact, years ago I once tried a floor-based group pilates class. The next day my neck had locked up entirely which put me out of action for weeks. However, I managed a full 50 minutes on the reformer and successfully worked through the full repertoire of exercises which spanned the lower and upper body as well as stabilising core work.

REFORMER PILATES IS COMPLICATED
There’s definitely a lot to remember and if I’d been in a group class I think I may have struggled. But if you have an individual instructor talking you through each move it’s a breeze. Plus there’s the added advantage that he/she can correct you if you’re misaligned.

Helen Gilbert reformer pilates

REFORMER PILATES IS NOT AN ALL OVER BODY WORKOUT
Yes it is. You might not be drenched in sweat as you would from a HIIT class but the muscles in my back, inner thighs, arms and tummy back were still screaming at me three days later (in a good way).

REFORMER PILATES IS JUST NOT YOU
I held this view for YEARS. It wasn’t until my health packed up that I took note. I’m eager to get back to exercise but appreciate that the adrenaline-pumped classes I used to love no longer serve me or my health. This was such a fun alternative. I  was so enthused with the class – and the fact I didn’t have a tongue swelling or throat closing reaction during or afterwards– that I’m now contemplating buying a reformer pilates one for the house.

Visit the Osteopathic Clinic  for more information about their one-on-one reformer pilates sessions.

Relax Ya Self To Health was invited to try this session by the Osteopathic Clinic in exchange for a review.  As always, reviews are based on my honest opinion.

Disclaimer: This is a personal blog based on my own genuine experiences. My posts are for informational purposes only. I am under the care of a number of specialists for my chronic health issues. I am not a doctor, nutritionist, physio or sports therapist. If you have a health condition or injuries, always seek advice from a relevant medical professional before undertaking any activity.

 

Helen's Health, Wellness

#MySundayPhoto

Freddie the house bunny

So here it is… my maiden MySundayPhoto.

And here’s why. I’ve had a super a hectic but very productive weekend.

Yesterday I attended my first blogging conference hosted by the wonderful Scarlett Dixon who runs ScarlettLondon.com. A big shout out must also go to Ana of The She Approach whose presentations were so insightful and should hopefully help me schedule a little better and reduce my stress levels!

Although I’ve been a freelance journalist for 18 years, I often feel overwhelmed by the blogging world.

A) I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone
B) I’m a technophobe and ‘old’
C) I’m learning a heap of new skills
D) I’m doing all of this alongside the day job which means I feel as though I never switch off

On top of this, I am forever pushing myself even though I cannot remember the last time I felt even 60 per cent.

Yet, stress reduction is essential for chronic illness recovery and I’m determined to get my histamine intolerance under control and improve my general wellbeing.

With this in mind, I’ll be sharing a picture every Sunday that demonstrates how I’ve managed to relax either during the week or at the weekend.

It’s a small step, I know, but it’ll hold me accountable (I hope) and stop me operating at 150 miles per hour.

I’m kicking this off with a snap taken in the garden this evening after a morning spent indoors working. Can anyone spot the house bunny pretending to be a statue?!

I’d love to hear from anyone else who struggles to relax.  Are you trying to reduce stress in your life also? If so, why and is it working?
Please do let me know how you’re getting on in the comments below. 

Happy Sunday!

Helen x

Helen's Health

The North Devon ‘graveyard’ dining experience you MUST try

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

“Churchyard dining? In North Devon? You can’t be serious?” That was my first reaction when Auntie Chris told me she was heading out to a pop-up restaurant in the little village of Swimbridge, near Barnstaple with nine of her friends.

She was, in fact, referring to Hidden Heaven, a beautifully converted Baptist chapel dating back to 1837 which just happens to be the home of Geoffrey and Kirsty Everett-Brown and their three children. The couple bought the building, complete with the graveyard containing 70 deceased occupants, in 2000 and spent the best part of five years converting it into their dream property.

Now the friendly husband-and-wife team throw open their doors once a month to host informal and welcoming dining experiences for members of the public at a cost of £30 per head. It’s a fantastic concept.

 

Hidden Heaven. North Devon

Supper is made from locally sourced and seasonal ingredients and served in a light and airy open plan living and dining room that once housed the pews and pulpit (not the grounds of the churchyard – I was being a touch dramatic) but you do walk past the graves on the walk up the path to the former place of worship, which is a surreal experience in itself.

And there’s no shortage of characterful features to marvel at including the original arched windows – not one pane of glass is the same size – memorial plaques and a hymn board. Guests are required to bring their own alcohol and drinks but get to enjoy a chilled evening with friends and family while being waited on hand and foot in the comfort of a unique family home.

 

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

Even so, when Auntie Chris first invited me I instinctively said no.

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

As many of you know, I have histamine intolerance which means I have to avoid things like citrus fruit, grapes, alcohol, vinegar, anything aged or fermented otherwise my throat starts to close or my tongue swells. (I carry adrenaline pens, steroids and antihistamines at all times).
Dining out is troublesome at the best of times because these ingredients are usually prominent in vegetarian dishes (I’m pescatarian and have not eaten meat since the age of 13).

To make things more complicated my nutritionist recently started me on a strict (hopefully temporary) gluten-free, dairy-free programme in a bid to reset my gut. For the time being, dining out is not an option.

Yet, Geoffrey and Kirsty were so fantastically kind and accommodating. On hearing my situation they invited me along and said it was perfectly fine for me to take my own food so I didn’t miss out on the experience. I was thrilled especially as living with allergies and invisible illness can be so isolating at times.

Hidden Heaven, North Devon

In fact, I cursed my histamine intolerance when I saw the menu – there was so MUCH choice! We’re talking asparagus soufflé with a tarragon vinaigrette, roasted vegetable terrine with wild garlic pesto, fine beans and sugar snap peas with orange and hazelnuts, and desserts including white and dark chocolate mousse with macerated strawberries or Coeur a la crème with blueberry compote and hazelnut and lavender shortbread.

 

Helen Gilbert, Hidden Heaven

After dinner, we retired to the family’s lounge area for coffee and conversation. There poor Geoffrey had to field numerous graveyard-themed questions.

“Are people still allowed to visit their relatives in what is effectively your front garden?” (Yes). “Have there been any burials since you’ve lived there?” (Only the interment of ashes). “Do the graves get many visitors?” (Surprisingly, not). “Do you have ghosts?” (No).

With that, I turned to quick-witted Auntie Chris. “Have you enjoyed the evening?” “Thoroughly,” she enthused with a glint in her eye. “It’s been absolutely magnificent. Great company. Outstanding food. An enchanting setting. Oh, and I loved the desserts. They were to die for.”

I should have known that was coming!

For more information visit Hidden Heaven: http://www.hiddenheaven.co.uk/
Fancy exploring North Devon further? Check out Vist North Devon and Exmoor 

 

Helen's Health, Travel

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

10 ways to find your pzazz

Pzazz is one of my favourite words.

For those in the dark, it means ‘a new lease of life’ or ‘get up and go’.

But far too often we lose our pzazz as the trials and tribulations of daily life take over.

And while we all know the importance of keeping stress at bay it can be hard to take action when you’re firefighting one problem after another and, quite frankly, feel as though you’re wading through treacle.

Inevitably the obstacles become the focus and before you know it you’re struggling to recall the last time you laughed.

I was stuck in this rut for most of 2016 when my health went haywire, read the night it all began here. I struggled to see light at the end of the tunnel but recently something shifted.  I no longer mourn my old life and I’ve finally learned to accept what is happening and adjust.

In fact, I now believe that my body was simply screaming at me to slow down. I wasn’t listening. So it just stopped working properly to make me sit up and take note. Slowly but surely my pzazz is slowly returning so below, as part of Stress Awareness Month, I’ve rounded up some of the simple hacks that have helped me along the way.

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

TREAT YOURSELF
It’s so easy to forget that life is for living NOW when you’re being dealt nothing but lemons but now is the time to treat yourself. If you fancy a weekend away, book it. If a massage is calling your name, get one. Feel confident in a gorgeous outfit? Wear it. Fancy some fresh flowers to brighten up your home? Buy them. Whatever you do, make sure it lights you up inside.

BE INSPIRED
By a blog. By a person. By a podcast. I am currently reading three different books – yes, three. I dip in and out of each one depending on my mood. One is motivational. One is autobiographical and one is light reading. I’ve always enjoyed the escapism that reading brings and it’s my go-to method of relaxation. Oh, and the books are proper paperback jobbies. No worries about blue light interfering with sleep patterns this end.

INVEST IN YOUR HEALTH
It has taken me a long time to get my head around this. I think nothing of servicing my car or the annual boiler check. But when it comes to my wellbeing it’s as though I have a mental block. I used to pound my body at the gym or on the tennis court but would never fork out for a sports massage even though my muscles were begging for one. I simply viewed the spend as a waste of money. Not now. Next week I have an appointment booked with a London-based nutritionist. The consultation fee is eye-wateringly expensive, as are the tests, but I’ve been saving every penny. There’s only one of me and if I can finally get a handle on what is going on with my body and wake up feeling as though I’m not coming down with the flu I’ll be over the moon.  Plus, a healthier Helen will be far more useful to everyone.

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

TRY SOMETHING NEW
I often think back to 2016 when I was feeling desperately rotten and in and out of hospital. 2017, although not cured, was better. I had a management plan and was determined to start living my life again. So I pledged to try something new whenever my body would allow.  I gave e-biking a spin, which was great as the bike was equipped with a battery pack which gave me a little boost whenever I needed it! I also visited Austria and Tenerife for the first time and earlier this year I tried a yoga and meditation retreat. New experiences introduce you to new people and give you a different perspective on life. Most of all, they’re fun!

LEARN TO SAY NO
Friends, family, colleagues, PRs and even acquaintances know they can always call on me to let off steam, review pitch ideas and CVs, write letters (you wouldn’t believe how many letters I get asked to pen – from job proposals to letters of complaint). I never used to mind – helping people out is in my DNA. But at one point last year I realised I was being run ragged by others peoples’ demands and putting their needs before my own which left me feeling depleted especially as my health was in such a bad way. So last year I made a commitment to start saying no to certain things.  It instantly took the pressure off. The trouble is if you’re good-natured, you can end up feeling guilty. Here’s how I did it.

ALLOW AN EXTRA HALF AN HOUR
Although I’m a pretty punctual person, I’m always rushing from here to there and useless with early starts. The very thought of waking up at the crack of dawn results in me spending half the night lying awake in an anxious state. Now, one night a week I go to bed at 9pm.  Hardly, rock and roll but my body thanks me for it. It also means I wake earlier. It’s a fantastic feeling easing into the mornings rather than rushing around and I’m far more productive work-wise.

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

DON’T OVERSCHEDULE
I rarely have a day off. It’s the nature of freelance journalism. And if I’m not working the day job, I can be found creating content for the blog or unpacking boxes from the recent house move. (No wonder I’m single!)  However, I’ve recently given myself permission to have a day off at the weekend and catch up with friends. The result? I’m far more creative, happy and feel alive again!

DITCH YOUR PHONE
I don’t mean for good. But give yourself a mini-digital detox. I try to turn my off  my phone by 9pm during the week and make a conscious effort to leave my device at home if I’m out and about doing chores or popping to the shops. This stops me feeling ‘always on’ and is unbelievably liberating.

HAVE A BATH
It’s an oldie but a goodie. I wrote about how a bath helped me take control here. Just add Epsom salts, lavender oil, a bath pillow and feel the stress melt away.

REMEMBER THAT NOTHING STAYS THE SAME FOREVER
Whenever I have relapses or inevitable rough periods with my health or whatever I try and remind myself that this moment shall pass. After all, nothing good or bad in life stays the same forever. I also make a list of every tiny thing I’m grateful for (and remember that there is always someone far worse off).

Did you find these tips useful? Do you have any you’d like to add? How have you rediscovered your pzazz?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you found this article useful or feel it may help someone else please do share the post or tag them. 

Alternatively, if you’d like to read our celebrity interviews check our chats with Jonny Wilkinson, Katie Piper, Pat Cash, Gail Porter, Ryan Sidebottom, Andrew Barton and James Duigan.

 

Helen's Health

The one time it sucks to be single

The one time it sucks to be single

I’m single.

I’m not embarrassed by it.

Of course, I’ve had relationships – my longest lasting 8.5 years – but for the past four, I’ve been on my lonesome (three-month dalliances hardly count.)

I’ve always subscribed to the motto that I’d rather be single than in the wrong relationship. And while most of the uncouplings have ended amicably – I’m friends with nearly all of my ex-boyfriends – I have endured some dating disasters along the way much to the amusement of my friends.

“I usually go for trophy girlfriends but I’m trying to change my ways,” announced one chap within minutes of rocking up to our first date.

“Why can’t we go for a walk in the woods? I don’t believe you’re outdoorsy. Women always lie on their profile,” accused another on our first encounter.

In fact, my love life has been something of a hot topic among friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers over the years.

I’ve had everything levelled at me:

“Are you ridiculously fussy?” (Um, no.)

“Why are you single?” (Um, I’ve not met the right person yet.)

“You’ll be left on the shelf.” (Er, thanks for that.)

“You never give anyone a chance.” (Um, I do. I date. Heck, I even went on a second date with the walk in the woods guy!)

“You go for the wrong type.” (Not intentionally. I promise.)

You always put up barriers” (True. One of my exes called me ‘The Great Barrier Reef’. It’s something I’m addressing after discovering the Psyma app)

The one time it sucks to be single

“You need to get a move on if you want to have children.” (Don’t get me started on this one. It’s just insensitive on SO many levels.)

“You work too hard. You’ll never meet anyone at home sat behind your desk.” (True.)

“Is it hard being single at your age?” (Hmmm, let me think about that.)

Ordinarily, my stock answer would go something like this: “Why on earth would it be hard? I’m not defined by my marital status.”

Don’t get me wrong, of course it would be fan-bloody-tastic to meet a kindred spirit to make wonderful memories with, share special moments, look after and cherish. No-one can deny that blissful feeling of being in love. It’s the best.

But my philosophy has always been it will happen when it’s supposed to so. I’ve always channelled my energies into making the most of my life now, enjoying precious time with my friends and family rather than dwelling on what I don’t have.

Except, last night my thoughts turned to being single, most unusual for me.

Why?

Because my autoimmune symptoms have phenomenally flared up. It’s not easy when you’re battling an invisible chronic illness that makes you feel utterly dreadful and requires every ounce of energy just to make it through the day, especially as I naively assumed I was on the mend.

I’d been making SUPER progress and even went on a ski trip for work last month, something I would never have envisaged 2.5 years ago when my health started acting up (Read the night it all began here)

A•L•P•I•N•E L•I•V•I•N•G

A post shared by Helsy/Relax Ya Self To Health (@relaxyaself2h) on

Because I’d been feeling much better I pushed myself and, approximately two weeks ago, decided to go swimming (the type of activity I’d do on a ‘rest’ day when I was well). Except on the evening in question, my body wasn’t feeling quite right.

My legs felt heavy as I walked to the pool. But I ignored the signs.

I ADORE exercise. It’s something I’ve missed hugely since my health took a nosedive – activity and heat can set off my tongue swelling reactions – and I was thrilled to be doing something I enjoy.

I swam one length, then two. As many as 14 laps later, I hauled myself out of the water very much swept up in the delightful endorphin-triggered buzz that exercise brings.

Boy, did it turn out to be a mistake

Over the 12 hours that followed my body crashed. And for the past 14 days I’ve been hitting the hay around 7pm most evenings to try and get a grip on episcleritis (painful inflammation in the eye), stabbing pains, and dreadful fatigue consuming my body.

On the outside, I look normal. Somehow, I’ve been summoning up the energy to work news shifts but inside I’m permanently exhausted.

The one time it sucks to be single

I’d forgotten how awful it is to feel like this…to wake up from ten hours sleep, feeling utterly unrefreshed and as though you’ve only had two.

But what does this have to do with being single?

Well, so far I’ve mostly survived this 2.5 year journey on my own. The uncertainty, the gazillions of hospital appointments, and generally feeling like crap.

*Disclaimer* I’m very blessed in that I have a wonderfully supportive family and good friends around me but more often than not I hide how I’m really feeling because I’d hate to burden them any further.  I also appreciate that I’m one of the lucky ones – I can still function when many others can’t – plus I’ve also learnt a lot about myself along the way.

Nonetheless, this battle is exhausting. Sometimes you can’t put on a brave face. And sometimes you just need a big MAN hug.

So, as I lay in bed last night feeling thoroughly rotten, a thought popped into my mind for the first time in my life.

“Being single with an invisible illness really sucks.”

At that moment I just wanted someone to hold me close and say: “Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. You will feel better. Everything will work out I promise.”

Or, at the very least take the P out of me and make me laugh hysterically!

Of course, I’m in a much better frame of mind today. That out of character thought was fleeting.

But that’s the thing with chronic illness. It affects you in all sorts of ways you’d never think imaginable.

Can you relate? Are you single? What do you like/dislike about it? Do you have an invisible illness that you’re dealing with on your own? 

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.  

Please do share or tag someone in this article if you think it might help them. Thank you!

Helen's Health

What Christina taught me: a tribute

What Christina taught me

Why? It’s a question I’ve been asking over and over since the sudden and unexpected passing of fellow journalist, Christina Earle, aged just 31.

Christina was The Sun’s health editor who helped tens of thousands of people through her campaigning journalism. Over the past four years we worked closely together. She was committed, dedicated and thrived under the pressure of a busy newsroom environment.

She knew her stuff, questioned the hell out of everything (a quality, I hasten to add), was always to the point and had this remarkable knack of finding a solution to any problem no matter how large or small.

We shared many a laugh – in the canteen, over a coffee, at Christmas parties. There was even that time we flew to Glasgow in a day and back on a job that involved us doing a ridiculous number of exercise classes back to back.

We could barely walk by the end of it but it turned out to be such a hoot. She even asked me to give her a tennis lesson when we got back home. That was in 2015.

We never got around to it because later that year my own health began to deteriorate. Doctors were baffled by the weird goings on in my body – from the frequent tongue swelling episodes to the foot drop that came on out of the blue. Being in and out of hospital, I stopped working shifts in the London office.

Then, Christina became more than just a colleague.

Christina Earle

©The Sun

She was determined to help me find an answer. From day one she was convinced I had a mast cell issue –  her suggested diagnosis is still being investigated. Heck, she even drew me diagrams of cells and the way they should and shouldn’t behave. Her knowledge was incredible.

And it was Christina who brought a certain prescribed antihistamine medication – which I now take and one that remains instrumental in my management plan – to my attention. She left no stone unturned in her mission to help, a quality that also applied to her work.

I learned so much from her.

As former health editor Lynsey Hope wrote in her fantastic tribute to Christina here it is thanks to her The Sun gave away thousands of organ donor cards just over a year ago. And it is thanks to her the paper launched its first Who Cares Wins health awards celebrating the NHS and its staff, as well as its Smiles at Christmas campaign last December, which raised more than £130,000 for kids with cancer with CLIC Sargent.

Right now this is just so raw and I cannot even begin to imagine what Christina’s family and close friends and colleagues are going through.

Her untimely passing reminds us why we have to cherish every moment.

Tell your friends and family you love them.

Kiss them hello and goodbye every time.

Be kind.

And always care…just as Christina did.

Helen's Health, In the news

Could this psychology app improve your life?

Could this psychology app improve your life?

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is a phrase that pops up on countless Instagram feeds.

And while the intention – aimed at helping us through the tough times and encouraging a positive mindset – is all well and good, it’s not always that easy, is it?

According to the Health and Safety Executive, 12.5 million working days are lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

Children, too, are struggling. Recent research from children’s charity the NSPCC, revealed that the number of kids and young people receiving help for anxiety has climbed by an astonishing 59 per cent in two years. Its Childline service delivered the equivalent of 38 counselling sessions a day in 2016/17, amounting to 13,746 over the year.

And while we’re often reminded that it’s good to talk; that a problem shared is a problem halved, engaging in a conversation with our nearest and dearest mightn’t always be comfortable. In fact, it can be a daunting prospect for those who are just about struggling to make it through the day.

Could this psychology app improve your life?

When my physical health unexpectedly and spectacularly fell apart in 2015/2016 I was immensely frightened. Doctors couldn’t tell me why I was having life-threatening tongue swelling episodes almost every day or why my right foot stopped working.

Scared of setting off a reaction, I became afraid to eat. At the same time, I felt constantly fatigued with horrendous shooting pains all over my body. It took all of the little energy I had to work throughout the day to meet the mortgage payments before collapsing into bed at 7pm most evenings. My once sporty way of life disappeared in flash and I withdrew from social circles.

And while my friends worried about me, some just didn’t understand.

“Why don’t you just pay to see a doctor privately and get to the bottom of it?,” one suggested on a Whatsapp group. By this point, I was a good ten months in and had seen a number of different specialists who were none the wiser. Furthermore, this WAS an option I had previously investigated. After all, I’d been researching the hell out of it but various consultants explained the problem was so complicated it was unlikely I’d find a concrete answer.

“We haven’t seen you in ages,” commented another. “When can you drive over for a visit or come out for dinner?” At the time I was on really strong meds that caused drowsiness, my foot wasn’t working and I could only eat about eight ingredients. I hadn’t broadcasted this fact, though.

I couldn’t see the supposed silver lining

So I quietly withdrew from social media, group chats and life in general. As for talking to my family, I didn’t want to worry them. They were just as exhausted witnessing my reactions first hand. Despite the fact that I’m getting on a bit, my mum was worried sick when she saw me lying in the resuscitation ward connected to all sorts of tubes and drips with a lip the size of a golf ball.

She’d always viewed me as a strong, independent woman but as the months went on I began to crumble inside. Why couldn’t doctors tell me what was going on? Was I going to get better? At the time I couldn’t see the supposed silver lining that everyone talked about. I was worried things would continue on a downward trajectory.

One of my best friends sent a text. “I couldn’t deal with what you’ve been through. You’re coping so well, it’s amazing how much strength you have.” Those words were so very kind but I didn’t really believe them. Each night I’d weep into my pillow, more often than not waking at 3am with a pounding heart, unable to get back to sleep. I became fearful of the future and saw no way out of the deep, dark chasm that had swallowed me up.

Then I noticed a pattern. Every time I saw a hospital consultant they’d mention the word ‘anxiety’ in their notes to my GP. I’d never been anxious before. I just assumed that this was a normal reaction for anyone living with anaphylaxis-mimicking symptoms with no clear trigger. With hindsight being able to talk to an entirely independent health professional would have been an enormous support; even better if I could have done so from the comfort of my own home.

Dr Saeema Ghafur

It’s a need Dr Saeema Ghafur has been quick to identify. The psychologist spent ten years working for the NHS in secondary care, community-based adult mental health services.

During her time she recognised a gap in the market for psychological therapy offered through live video calls so last Autumn she founded Psyma, an award-winning mental health mobile app that gives users access to an array of vetted and highly qualified psychologist and psychiatrists specialising in areas including post-natal depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, panic, phobias and depression.

“I wanted to create a service that would help people overcome obstacles to accessing therapy and set up a flexible platform that would enable them to book a session with a therapist at a time that suited them,” Dr Ghafur explains.

The pay as you go Psyma service, which adheres to NICE guidelines and standards set out by regulatory bodies including the BPS and HCPC, is particularly suitable for mums without access to childcare who might be suffering from post-natal depression, those living in remote areas, busy professionals, people with mobility issues as well as those with mental health issues who simply cannot face leaving the house to make a face-to face-appointment with a therapist.

Could this psychology app change your life?

It’s very easy to use. Even a technophobe like me can operate it. You simply download the app, register your details and then scroll through the comprehensive bios of the psychologists or psychiatrists before making your selection.

You can then book a free initial 25-minute secure online video consultation with your favoured therapist. Booking is easy and the service is very flexible – in some cases, an appointment can be made within 24 hours.

Could this psychology app change your life?

There are no subscription fees or hidden costs. A 25-minute psychology session starts at £40, while 50 minutes is £75. Psychiatry services are priced at £60 for 25 minutes and £110 for 50 minutes. (The psychologists offer talking therapies to counsel patients, the psychiatrists prescribe medication).

According to Dr Ghafur, the telltale clues that you might need therapy are when things become difficult or start to impact on your quality of life and stop you doing the things you were able to do before. “Maybe you’re finding it difficult to sleep, or you no longer enjoy the things you used to,” she says. “Constant worry, increased negative thoughts, an inability to go to work and avoiding social situations are also signs.”

Interestingly, we are all well aware of the importance of taking care of our physical health through good diet and exercise but how often do we take a moment to check in with our brain?

Therapy is one way we can help care for the condition of our minds and is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

*Psyma collaborated with Relax Ya Self To Health on this post. 

For more information visit: https://www.psyma.co.uk/

Helen's Health, Wellness

Review: ‘Smile’ meditation at London’s Inhere Studio

Inhere meditation studio, London

It’s not every day you’re invited to try out a meditation session at Inhere, a boutique space in the capital to help busy Londoners chill out. So imagine the disappointment at missing your original appointment due to circumstances beyond your control. Yes. This is what happened to me on Thursday.

Despite the driving rain and howling winds, I’d woken up in good spirits as I was off to The Big Smoke to see a new specialist about the weird, sporadic allergy-like reactions that cause my tongue to swell up. The hospital appointment was at 10.20am, my meditation slot at 1.30pm. Plenty of time. Or so I thought.

We all know that travelling by train to London can be a fraught affair, especially when commuting from the South East, so I’d factored in an extra hour and a half’s travel time to cushion any delays. As soon as I arrived at the station, the blinking information screens suggested something was awry. “What’s happened?” I politely asked the man in the kiosk.  “Trains are delayed because of branches on the line,” he replied staring into the distance.

“Bloody brilliant,” I thought. My mind raced ahead. “I’m going to miss my connection. I need to plan an alternative route.” Travelling on the tube hadn’t been part of the plan although now it was increasingly looking like I might have to. “But what if there are delays on the network? I’ll be underground with no way to inform the hospital?” A tide of anxiety washed over me. To be on the safe side I emailed the medical secretary explaining the situation. I’d waited so long for this appointment – I couldn’t miss it now.

I needn’t have worried. As luck would have it a much earlier but heavily delayed train pulled up. It only stopped twice. I made the connection and arrived at the hospital with half an hour to spare.  Wahoo. I was back on course. After checking in I regained my composure and waited. And waited. And waited. An hour and a half ticked by. Still, I hadn’t been seen.

Now I’m not one to grumble – the NHS has been kind to me over the past two years and hanging around is something I’ve grown accustomed to – except today I had one eye on the clock because of my appointment in Monument at 1.30pm.  I watched as mothers, grandparents and children ambled in after me and left before. This was clearly an efficiently-run clinic. Why was I still sitting here like a lemon?

Inhere meditation studio, London

I tentatively approached the receptionist who assured me I’d be seen soon. When I eventually sat down with the consultant the miscommunication became clear. Apparently one of the other doctors would have seen me at 10.20am but because I’d mentioned the specialist’s name – which was on the original letter – the time of my appointment didn’t stand as he was the lead chap running the ENTIRE clinic. This hadn’t been explained to me.

Regardless, the wait was worth it. The consultant was thorough. He took down my complex medical history in astonishing detail. He examined me. Usually, when I see a new specialist for the first time I’m in and out in 20 minutes but this was a rather comprehensive affair. “You’ll need bloods taken in another part of the hospital,” he said.

“BLOODS?!”  I was dangerously close to missing my next appointment. Sensing my anxiety, the doctor suggested I call the meditation studio. Of course, this was far more important but I detest letting people down. “I’m really sorry,” I blurted out to Inhere founder Adiba Osmani. “I’m still in Westminster. There’s no way I’ll get there in time for the group session. “Don’t worry about it,” she replied reassuringly. “We have individual slots available, just get here when you get here.”

Adiba Osmani, Inhere founder

Despite her kinds words, I felt terrible. With a cotton wool ball taped to my arm, I bolted out of the hospital and legged it to the nearest tube. By the time I arrived at Inhere, I was a sweaty, frazzled mess – ironically a perfect candidate for what was about to follow. The teacher-free drop-in meditation studio, described by Osmani as London’s ‘first’, is designed to help busy professionals stop, unwind and hear themselves again.

“The City is one of the most stressful and demanding environments, whether you’re a trader in a bank of a waitress in the Folly,” Osmani declared. “And yet there is nowhere to go for even a few minutes respite, to breathe, unwind and regain a sense of calm.”

Until now. The former corporate management consultant was inspired to set up the concept following a one-week stay at a retreat in Thailand where she witnessed the benefits of meditation first hand. “I was flabbergasted at the change I could see in peoples’ eyes after two days,” she explained. “I wanted to help people in London. I took a year away from the corporate world and learned about the scientific benefits.

“Research shows that meditating, even just for a few minutes at a time, can help us cope and manage stress better. It enables us to think more clearly, sleep more deeply, work more efficiently and live in a calmer, more considered way.” I looked at her and laughed. “I need to move in.”

Helen Gilbert, Inhere meditation studio, London

 

Those seeking headspace can book online or drop in and wait for a slot on their way to work, in between meetings or if they’re looking to unwind before they head home. There’s no need to “make small talk” because the sessions are teacher-less.

I was led to the luxe basement setting – all draped curtains, mood lighting and ambient music. I’d been due to join some city workers for the 30-minute lunchtime session known as ‘Steady’, one of seven options on offer. This programme is said to help you stay on track, create a positive space in your mind and learn how to put unhelpful thoughts aside.

Others include ‘Focus’ to help improve your concentration, ‘Rest’, a deep immersion relaxation, visualisation, and yoga nidra-style session to help you leave the day behind and ‘Smile’ – one of the studio’s most popular choices – to reverse negative thinking and cultivate acceptance and compassion for yourself and others.

Because I’d missed the 1.30pm group class, I had the room to myself and opted for ‘Smile’. “Before we begin, would you like to sit in a chair or lie down?” Osmani asked smiling. “We recommend that you sit up so that you don’t fall asleep.”

Damn. I’d already spied the floor cushions and blankets, which proved far too irresistible to pass up. “Second option please,” I grinned. With that Osmani disappeared and the lighting dimmed.

Helen Gilbert, Inhere meditation studio, London

 

A soothing female voice filled the room and proceeded to guide me through the next 20 minutes. Among other things, I was encouraged to think of a kind deed a friend or family member had carried out on my behalf and urged to focus on the warm, uplifting feelings generated before applying them to different scenarios. I couldn’t believe it when the lights came up signalling the end. The experience passed by in what seemed a flash but I was ready for more.

Just two days prior to my Inhere visit I’d moved house – one of the most stressful things you can do so this was just the welcome pit stop I needed to recharge my batteries. And despite the frantic morning, I felt remarkably calm by the end of the session. I’ll certainly be back for more!

Prices start from as little as £5 plus multipack and new guest offers are available. For more information visit: www.inherestudio.com

*Relax Ya Self to Health was invited to try this meditation experience in exchange for a review

Helen's Health, Wellness

6 Christmassy traditions I’ll miss this year

6 Christmassy traditions I'll miss this year

Barely a day goes by without another Christmassy survey being released but I almost spat out my porridge when I read an article in The Times this week reporting that British Christmas traditions were being lost in favour of trends imported from the United States and Europe.

Apparently, a third of people no longer leave out stockings and a quarter have stopped watching the Queen’s Christmas message although turkey dinners and decorating Christmas trees remain popular.

Call me old-fashioned but I love settling down to watch the monarch’s annual broadcast at 3pm (just me?!), along with Top of The Pops – no matter how bad the songs.

Personally, not doing this would feel peculiar, just as spending Christmas in a hot country would feel odd.

Yet, despite my penchant for Christmassy customs, I’ll have to (reluctantly) break a few this year because of my ongoing health issues. Here are the ones I’ll miss the most…

KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE
Okay. This one’s a bit misleading. Although I’m single, I do NOT go around snogging guys willy-nilly BUT I do have to be careful when it comes to exchanging kisses. Personal experience has taught me that I cannot lock lips with someone who’s been drinking red wine. This happened very recently with a guy I was dating.

One minute I was enjoying the moment, the next I was frantically looking for my meds to combat the tongue swelling. Grapes – a relatively high histamine fruit  – tend to set me off so I avoid eating them but I never imagined I’d react after an innocent kiss. M’s eyes almost fell out of his head when I pulled out my medication bag packed with adrenaline pens, steroids and antihistamine. Talk about passion killer.

DANCING ALL NIGHT AT THE CHRISTMAS PARTY
Yes. The old me would have been making a fool of herself on the dancefloor for most of the evening. But because sweat, heat and exercise seem to set off my reactions, I now have to pace myself. The night before last I was at a work Christmas bash.

My coping mechanism involved dancing for three songs, then heading outside into the freezing cold for a minute or two to bring my body temperature down. But it seemed to do the trick and I didn’t have a reaction! *Yay* I’m due to see a mast cell specialist in January and am hoping he’ll be able to explain why my body is misbehaving in such a bizarre manner.

ENJOYING A BAILEYS
So I’ve never been a big drinker. One glass and I’m tipsy. But I do love a rum and coke on holiday or a cheeky Baileys Irish Cream or Amarula on the rocks at Christmas. However, anything aged or fermented (high histamine) sets off my reactions so I’ve not had an alcoholic drink in a year and a half.

Even so, I managed to last until 1am at the Christmas do…on sparkling water. The truth is I had enormous fun with my sloshed colleagues and was simply grateful for the fact that I was there and managed to remain reaction-free for the entire evening. Two years earlier I ended up hospitalised with my very first lip swelling incident and missed the party!

FEASTING ON CHEESE…
Yes. It’s not exactly healthy but being a non-meat eater, cheese used to form quite a substantial part of my diet. Wensleydale with apricot, French brie, mature cheddar, oh how I used to love a festive cheese board. Sadly, these are all medium to high histamine foods (along with the grapes) so I have to avoid them. Saying that, I can tolerate mozzarella so all is not lost!

…AND CHRISTMAS DINNER
I’m not talking turkey but my celery and rice roast! It’s really not as awful as it sounds. I used to love rustling this up for Christmas dinner but as one of the key ingredients is cheddar cheese it’s off the menu. Sadly, I’ve not found a low-histamine substitute that would make the dish work. The good thing is I’m a fan of sprouts, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, parsnips and sweet potatoes so I’ll still feast well regardless.

INDULGING IN TERRY’S CHOCOLATE ORANGE AND CLEMENTINES
As a child, I’d always find a clementine or two hiding in my stocking. These easy peelers are by far my favourite fruit and I dearly miss their intense juicy tanginess. However, all forms of citrus are high histamine so they’re off Santa’s shopping list along with Terry’s Chocolate Orange – my FAVOURITE Christmas chocolate.

I’m not complaining though. These Christmassy traditions may have disappeared for the time being but at least I now have a management plan for the reactions. I’m no longer fearful of the future and ridiculously excited for the festive season.

Can you relate to any of the above? Do you have any food intolerances or allergies that will change the way you approach the holiday period? What tips do you have for coping ? I’d love to hear from you.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

xx

If you enjoyed this post I’d love for you to like and share it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. You can also sign up for free to our newsletter here to ensure you don’t miss a post. Thanks for reading.

Helen's Health, In the news