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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

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Helen's Health, In the news

7 REASONS WHY I’M GLAD I FACED MY FEARS

Facing my fears

Fear. It’s a horrible thing that can so easily take over your life. I know. Last year I was consumed by it when my health went haywire.

I was anxious because doctors were unable to tell me why my tongue was spontaneously swelling almost every day. I was worried because specialists could not explain why my right foot mysteriously stopped functioning or why I was experiencing numbness in my face and hands and stabbing pains all over my body.

My stress levels were through the roof and I grieved for the sporty life – ironically tennis and gym classes were huge stress-relievers for me – I once lived. I was exhausted. I felt isolated. And I feared for the future. By December 2016 – one year after the first lip and tongue swelling episode that landed me in the resuscitation unit of the local hospital – I was enormously fed up.

So I made a decision…to launch a blog. The hope was to find an answer to my health problems, help others experiencing similar issues and focus my mind on ways to relax and cope with everything life seemed intent on chucking my way. Except – that all-too-familiar knot in the pit of my stomach – a.k.a fear – was never far away.

I was worried I’d fail. I was worried I’d become a laughing stock or criticised for oversharing. I was worried I wasn’t skilled or technical enough. I mean, what the heck did I know about launching a blog? Indecision hung over me. But then I had another nasty tongue swelling episode. I couldn’t go on like this. I needed an answer. The blog would help me get there. The plan was back on.

Helen Gilbert seeks diagnosis for baffling condition

So I bought a whiteboard and set myself some goals. I outlined why I was launching my blog, what I wanted to achieve from it and then put in the hard graft to make it happen.

Every evening and weekend for six months, in between the day job and hospital appointments, I’d write posts, sketch out designs, take and edit pictures, learn about SEO, social media, content creation as well as the technical aspects of running a blog. It was daunting. I felt way out of my comfort zone. And I was shattered. The goal was to launch in May 2017. Somehow I did it.

At times it was (and still is) hugely frustrating – I’m ridiculously impatient when it comes to learning about anything technical and monumentally dislike not being immediately competent at anything. And on more than one occasion I’ve questioned whether I’m GOOD enough and have certainly been tempted to throw in the towel.

Fortunately, a quick glance my whiteboard reminds me exactly why I’m doing this and points me back on the right track. Yes, blogging is hard work but ultimately it’s a passion. So far the journey has been an exciting, educational, enjoyable, cathartic and, for the most part, a happy one. I’m hopeful that I’m one step closer to finding a diagnosis (see below).

Here, I’ve rounded up 10 reasons why I’m glad I pushed through the fear and launched my blog in the hope it will inspire others to go after their dreams.

7 reasons I'm glad I faced my fear

NAMED TOP 10 UK MENTAL HEALTH BLOG
I’ve always criticised myself for not being good enough and too long in the tooth to start a blog and there were so many times when I wanted to jack it all in for an easier life. So, you can imagine my surprise when I received an email from industry experts Vuelio UK last week stating that Relax Ya Self To health had been named one of its Top 10 UK Mental Health blogs of 2017. I was flabbergasted – especially as this time last year I hadn’t even decided on a name! Throughout the process, I’ve berated myself but what I’ve come to realise throughout this journey is that it’s OK to give yourself a break and not be so hard on yourself.

I’M CLOSER TO A DIAGNOSIS
I was lucky enough to interview former CNN journalist Yasmina Ykelenstam during the course of research for an article. This inspirational lady has put histamine intolerance and mast cell issues on the map thanks to sharing her own personal journey on her blog healinghistamine.com.
Astonishingly, it took Yasmina almost 30 years and 68 doctors to get a histamine intolerance diagnosis and a further three years and two doctors to be told she had a mast cell activation disorder. Since then I’ve been in touch with support group UKMasto.org to discuss my symptoms and my GP has referred me to a mast cell specialist. I am hugely grateful for the awareness-raising work Yasmina has done and find comfort in her fantastic content and am hopeful the consultant will be able to shed further light on my complex medical history when I see him in January.

I’VE MADE SOME SUPER FRIENDS ALONG THE WAY
I’ve worked as a freelance journalist for 18 years but blogging is a whole new world. So I was delighted when Rachel Spencer, a fellow journo contacted me about a story I was writing for a newspaper and told me she was also launching a pet blog The Paw Post in May. We hit it off instantly and have been supporting one another ever since with regular natters on the phone and words of encouragement.

I’VE HAD FUN
Yes. This is the best bit. I’ve experienced all sorts of things I mightn’t have tried in the past from a Hypnotherapy Mind Massage to a Pranic Healing session and E-biking up Box Hill. I’ve also interviewed well-known faces with inspiring health stories including Jonny Wilkinson, Katie Piper and Gail Porter.

IT’S MADE ME SLOW DOWN
Before I started the blog I was hugely anxious. I had no sense of control over the weird goings-on in my body and I was too scared to eat because of the reactions. And then I launched Relax Ya Self To Health. Life was even more hectic and stressful because I had double the workload (the blog on top of the day job). However, since May I’ve learnt that stress, alongside food, a lack of sleep and a rise in body temperature, is a huge trigger. Training myself to relax has not been easy but I realise now it’s essential if I want to get my health back.

I’VE FOUND A COMMUNITY THAT GETS IT
Yep. That’s right. Over on Instagram, I’ve discovered a supportive community of chronic illness sufferers who totally understand what it’s like to live with nasty reactions, bizarre pains, autoimmune problems and a restricted diet. It’s a huge help to discover that you’re not alone.

IT’S GIVEN ME (AND OTHERS) HOPE
Writing *stuff* down has been incredibly cathartic. It’s afforded a sense of control and I’ve rediscovered a sense of hope. And although I’m not in this for the thanks, whenever I receive a kind message from a reader it makes my heart sing.  One lady recently wrote this on my ‘How to travel with allergies’ post. “My husband has an allergy due to which he didn’t use to come with me for a trip. Your article was a great help for me. I shared this article with him and now we go for a regular outing remembering all your tips shared in this article. Thank you for sharing!”

Those words made me light up inside and realise that breaking through my fear was most certainly worth it.

Are you thinking about launching a blog? Do you have hopes and dreams or is fear holding you back? I’d love to hear from you.

Please comment below (your email address won’t be shared) or over on Facebook, Twitter on Instagram.

If you think this post might help someone else, please feel free to share. 

Helen's Health

REVIEW: WHY I TRIED PRANIC HEALING

Why I tried pranic healing

Have you ever heard of the term pranic healing? I certainly hadn’t until I went to a Christmas Fayre held at my sister’s gym last year. We’d gone for a nose around the stalls in the hope of stumbling across some inspirational gifts and hadn’t planned to stay late as my health was playing up at the time and I felt permanently exhausted.

But then our eyes fell upon an elegant lady performing what looked to be a bizarre mid-air finger flicking exercise. Intrigued, we edged a little closer only to spot another woman doing exactly the same thing. Seated in front of the pair of them were two visitors with their eyes closed.

Perplexed, my sister and I looked at each other. What on earth was going on? “There’s a sign over there,” I whispered behind my hand. “It’s something called pranic healing. It sounds a little woo-woo but maybe, I should give it a go?”

Now, I’ve always been an open-minded person. I am well aware that alternative therapies such as reflexology and acupuncture work for some people and not others. It’s unsurprising. We’re all unique. And I say ‘good for you’ if you manage to find an alternative or conventional medicine or treatment that makes you feel better. At the time my health was spectacularly misbehaving, read the night it all began here, so I was suitably intrigued.

The lady who’d been performing the odd-looking hand movements smiled and politely introduced herself as Angela Rigby. For 14 years she’d run a business in the fire and flood restoration industry so was used to dealing with people overcome by stress and a sudden change of circumstance. However, in 2007 she was introduced to this form of no-touch energy healing and was so impressed that she decided to train in it a couple of years later under the Institute of Pranic Healing UK and Ireland and has been using the method ever since.

The complementary therapy, which has won praise from author and philanthropist Tony Robbins, was founded about 30 years ago by the late Master Choa Kok Sui, an internationally acclaimed author, healer, chemical engineer, businessman, spiritual teacher and humanitarian.

Stress, grief or trauma can cause blockages

His belief was that physical ailments first appear as energetic disruptions in the aura – the invisible bio-electromagnetic field around us – before manifesting as problems in the body. According to Angela, pranic healing, which is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘prana’ for energy, aims to free up blockages in the aura and increase and circulate this “life energy” around the physical body so that it can rebalance and in turn focus on repairing and healing itself.

Apparently, stress, grief or any kind of trauma can cause blockages disrupting the flow of energy between the 11 chakras – whirling energy centres – which can then result in physical problems.

“We need to keep the energy body clean in the same way we keep the physical body clean,” Angela explains. “It can become congested with our stress energies. For instance, if you’re the type of person that dwells on something negative, you can end up becoming quite overwhelmed.

“Your emotions like anger, frustration and irritation, can just take over and you become bogged down. You can’t think straight and your energy flow is disrupted. It’s similar to a blocked drain but then you unplug it and the water flows. Pranic healing techniques can help keep your energy system clear and help with physical, mental or emotional issues.”

My tummy was making loud gurgling noises

At the time Angela invited me to The Anise Wellness & Skincare Retreat in Reigate, Surrey for a session but I was here, there and everywhere with hospital appointments. Nonetheless, I recently took her up on the offer of an hour-long session with the hope that it might aid the healing process in my body and help get my bizarre tongue swelling and throat closing reactions under control.

So, what happened once the door was closed?

I was asked to lie down on my back with my eyes closed while Angela did her thing. She was working on my aura, so refrained from physically touching me. Even so, Angela warned that I might experience unusual bodily sensations. She wasn’t wrong. One minute I was hot, the next I was cold and much to my horror my tummy was making loud gurgling noises. Apparently, this is perfectly normal and a sign of energy shifts within the body. Bizarrely, I was overcome with a fit of giggles halfway through. Talk about embarrassing. I apologised profusely but Angela calmly explained that these things happen.

VERDICT:
Lying on a massage bed without being pushed, pulled or pummelled was surreal but I wasn’t there for that. The experience was relaxing in as much as I did absolutely nothing for an hour, which is most unlike me. Unbelievably, that evening I had an ENTIRE night of uninterrupted sleep – usually, I toss, turn and wake up at least three or four times. Needless to say, I was brimming with energy the following day.

Although the treatment did not reduce the frequency of my tongue swelling reactions in the weeks that followed, Angela did explain that a course of sessions is generally needed rather than a one-off. Regardless, I’d slept like a log so was thrilled.

Angela also encouraged me to look at the way I respond to situations and to become more aware of negative emotions and feelings that may not be serving me. I’ve since begun to notice patterns in the way I react to things and am working on becoming far more mindful.

For more information visit: http://www.ukpranichealing.co.uk/angela-rigby/

Relax Ya Self to Health was invited to try this session in exchange for a review

**Pranic healing is not intended to replace orthodox medicine but rather to complement it. Pranic healers are not medical doctors. They should not medically diagnose clients, prescribe medications and/or medical treatments or interfere with prescribed medical treatments.  

 

Helen's Health, Wellness

Review: Gazelli House Hypnotherapy Mind Massage

Gazelli House, South Kensington

“I’m sorry, he’s not here today. He never works on a Friday,” the hospital receptionist briskly informed me. “Sorry, what? I checked with the secretary a couple of days ago. She said I’d definitely be seeing him,” I replied. “No, she must have misunderstood. You’ll be seeing a nurse,” came the answer.

This was the situation that greeted me the week before last when I trekked from West Sussex to a hospital in the Capital. The referral letter to see a leading hospital consultant had landed on my doormat some months prior. Excitedly, I’d pinned all my hopes on this specialist drawing up the dots and telling me why my body had been behaving in such as bizarre manner for the for the best part of two years.

And so I hauled myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to catch a packed, peak hour train – paying an eye-watering sum for the privilege of standing up most of the way – to ensure I made the appointment in good time. To say I was disappointed at the way the morning unfolded was an understatement and I walked away feeling low and upset.

Fortunately, Gazelli House was on hand to turn those emotions around.

As luck would have it, I’d been invited to try a Hypnotherapy Mind Massage at this upmarket South Kensington spa on the same afternoon.  Founded by genetic scientist Dr Hamzayeva, the stylish Walton Street establishment is an oasis of calm in the Capital that provides an array of targeted face and body treatments. Cleverly, the charming three-storey Georgian building also doubles up as a members’ club and serves as relaxing space for people to work or hang out.

On arrival, I resembled a sweaty, flustered mess but the warm nature of my wonderful therapist Alexandra Lisiecka instantly put me at ease. She was about to perform a holistic massage tailor-made for those suffering from chronic stress, emotional imbalance, insomnia, chronic aches and pains, and migraines.

 

Gazelli House, London

Alexis Hamilton

 

Alexandra patiently listened as I droned on about the events of the morning before leading me into a stunning flower-tiled room, which would become my sanctuary for the 90-minute session. Following a thorough consultation, which took account of my physical and emotional wellbeing as well as my long list of allergies, I voiced my concerns about the ‘hypnotherapy’ element. A) I’d never been hypnotised and had no idea what to expect and B) the thought of being out of control was distinctly unappealing.

Gazelli House, South Kensington

As it turned out, I had the wrong end of the stick. Alexandra explained that a transcript recorded by life coach, hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner Rachel Coffey would be simultaneously played throughout the massage.  The idea is to help people switch off the chatter of everyday thoughts, encourage the subconscious mind to let go of anxieties, emotional blocks and tensions and help the body along on its healing journey – something I’ve desperately been trying to attain since my health started playing up. 

“We take you on this beautiful holistic experience,” Alexandra said smiling. “This is a fusion treatment that truly takes care of mind, body and soul. The massage releases muscle tension, but it’s mostly about bringing awareness to certain areas and letting go, moving on and feeling as relaxed and empowered as possible. It leaves you feeling very grounded. Don’t worry if your mind starts to wander, your subconscious mind will take what it’s ready to absorb.”

Now, regular readers will know that my mind flits –  it’s here, there and everywhere. I often find 10-minute guided meditation apps difficult to follow let alone 90 minutes but when I fleetingly manage to let go – even for 30 seconds – and find that ultimate point of relaxation, a state of pure bliss consumes me and I feel as though I’m floating in a warm, safe space of white light. Yes,  I’m aware that this sounds utterly bizarre but there’s no other way to describe it. It’s a delicious feeling and one I was hoping to rediscover again.

Gazelli House, London

Alexis Hamilton

Cocooned by Rachel’s soothing words, I melted into the bed underneath Alexandra’s firm hands and hot stones which moved in time with the rhythm of the recording. At one point, I was guided to breathe out to release uncomfortable, negative feelings as my therapist simultaneously pressed down on my body as if to help them on their way.

At the end of the massage, I was invited to select an affirmation. Mine was “Trust myself, to be myself and the very best of myself.” This was handwritten on a pretty pink card for me to pop into my purse to keep close at hand if I ever started to doubt myself. It was a lovely, uplifting way to end the session.

VERDICT: This treatment was like nothing I’d ever experienced and the 90 minutes passed by in a flash. I loved the holistic mind, body, and soul approach and floated out feeling wonderfully revitalised yet relaxed and balanced. Plus, I was far happier than when I walked in. It was as though my emotional baggage had been unpacked.  If you appreciate guided meditation and massages, this session is most definitely for you. In fact, Gazelli House is so welcoming I’d seriously consider moving in!

The Gazelli House Hypnotherapy Mind Massage costs £185.00 for 90 minutes
For further information visit: www.gazelli.com

Relax Ya Self to Health was invited to try this treatment in exchange for a review

 

Helen's Health, Wellness

WHY IT’S OK TO SAY NO

Lean how to say no

It’s official. I’m a giver. I like to help people and can never say no.  It’s the way I’ve always been. Except I hadn’t quite realised how much I take on until this week. It took the words of my friend’s aunt with whom I’m staying in North Devon for me to sit up and take note. “You’re like a sponge Helen,” she said shaking her head. “You absorb everyone else’s problems. You’re forever trying to help people and investing all of your energy in them. When are you going to stop and help yourself?”

Auntie Chris blurted out the words after I received two texts and one email within the space of ten minutes. Each message was from a different person and each asked me to sort out a situation they couldn’t handle. AC, as I fondly call her, disapprovingly shook her head. The night before my tongue had spontaneously started to swell in front of her eyes.

You’re like a sponge

Hours earlier she’d seen me battle through an extremely stressful day work-wise. I’ve always thrived on the adrenaline of deadlines and juggling numerous pieces but the last minute demands on this particular day were off the scale. So the plan that night was to chill in bed with a book but my throat began to tighten within five minutes of settling down. “I can’t be having a reaction,” I muttered to myself. “Just have a glass of water, breathe deeply. It’ll be OK in a minute.”

Except the situation quickly worsened and when I checked the mirror my tongue was three times its usual size. I necked my medication. And swore. This is why:

  • I’d made my dinner from scratch and hadn’t eaten any trigger foods
  • I hadn’t exercised
  • I wasn’t hot
  • I wasn’t sweating

All of the above can set off a reaction – something I’ve painstakingly discovered over the past 18 months. So why the bloody hell was I reacting just as I’d hit the sack? I acted swiftly. And the meds stopped my tongue swelling any further – although it would remain grossly enlarged for the next 48 hours.

The next day AC ​sat me down in the dining room of her beautiful ​200-year-old farmhouse and gave me a stern talking to. “I think stress is a factor,” she said with a beady look in her eye. “You had a nightmare of a day yesterday workwise. I’ve been watching you since you arrived. You’re supposed to be having a break but you don’t help yourself at all. You start work at the crack of dawn. Some days you don’t eat breakfast or lunch and you’ll be sat at your desk for between eight and ten hours. That’s not good.”

Learn how to say no

“But I can barely eat anything at the moment because of my reactions,” I retaliated. “It’s not good enough Helen. Your job, by its very nature, is stressful. You’re working for lots of different publications which place numerous demands on you at short notice, you’re constantly firefighting plus you’re working on your blog until the early hours of the morning. You put loads of pressure on yourself. It’s not healthy.”

I was lost for words (unusual for me). I knew I worked hard but maybe she had a point. Then my phone vibrated. “Who’s that?” she enquired. “My cousin,” I answered. AC noticed the worried expression that fell over my face. “I need to sort this out.”  The very next minute I received an email from a work colleague who was asking for help. By this point Auntie C was ready to explode.

“You really cannot take on the world’s problems. It’s nice that you want to help people but you’ve got enough on your plate. Your body wants to heal but doesn’t know how to respond because it’s being bombarded by stress in all directions. Of course you can still help people but for the time being you need to invest time and energy in yourself, not others. You really need to learn to say no.”

Her words echoed around my head. Then I remembered something my dad always said: “Helen Gilbert. Other peoples’ messes cleared up by appointment.” At that moment everything started to sink in.

“Turn off your phone now,” AC ordered. Reluctantly, I agreed and although I went to check it three times in the hour that followed, I did not turn it back on.

Then I switched my out of office on before heading to Saunton Sands for an evening in front of the surf. I sat contemplating on that beach for 2.5 hours. And I left with a plan of action. For the rest of my time in Devon I’ll open the emails just once in the morning and once in the evening. Likewise, the mobile shall only be checked three times a day maximum.

Learn how to say no

 

Going forward, I’ll start prioritising and saying no to people *eek*.  It won’t be easy. H​ow the heck do you do this when it’s in your nature to help and worry about others? It feels bizarrely selfish. But being pulled in all directions is just not sustainable with the way my health is right now.

I’ll let you know how I get on and whether I​ experience fewer reactions as a result  of simplifying my life. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you find that you spend a lot of your time sorting out the problems of others? Do people constantly offload on you but disappear when everything is going well in their life? How have you learned to say no and look after yourself?

Please do comment below or on Facebook , Instagram or Twitter. 

 

Health, Helen's Health, Wellness

A plea for help: Get me a diagnosis

Helen Gilbert seeks diagnosis for baffling condition

Do you remember that time my tongue started to swell up on a long-haul flight? Well, it happened again. Only, this time I was on my way back from Austria. “Would you like anything to eat?” the air hostess politely asked as we departed Innsbruck for London Gatwick. Ordinarily, I’d decline but didn’t on this occasion.

I’ve previously written about the need to be prepared if you’re travelling with allergies or, in my case, suffer from bizarre reactions that cause your airway to close up. Usually, I’m well-organised but I’d been on a press trip with a jam-packed itinerary and ran out of time on the last day.

Unlike my companions, I couldn’t eat at the airport because every option contained a trigger food. And by the time I’d settled into my plane seat, I was absolutely famished. So, I did something I would never usually do while cruising thousands of feet above the ground – I bought a packet of crisps. I quickly scanned the ingredients list; potato, sunflower oil, and salt and figured I’d be safe.

Uncomfortable sensations in body

“I’ll be fine with this,” I smiled, before quickly working my way through the bag and drifting off into the land of nod. Shortly afterwards, I awoke with a start. “We’re circling because there was a bird strike involving another plane and the runway’s being cleared,” our friendly host explained.

Being an animal lover, I’d usually feel for the deceased flock in a situation like this but my mind was distracted by the uncomfortable sensations in my body. “I don’t feel right,” I blurted out as beads of sweat trickled down my forehead. “Oh no, in what way?” the PR replied. “My throat feels sticky. It’s hard to swallow.”

Now, our host was well versed in the trials and tribulations of my baffling condition. Fortunately, I’d only had one reaction on the three-day press trip; that wasn’t particularly nasty so she immediately knew what to do. “Let me see your tongue,” she demanded. Her eyes widened. “It’s enormous,” she screamed before running off to get more water from the back of the plane.

Airway affected every time

As some of you know, my peculiar tongue swelling and throat closing reactions first took hold 20 months ago and doctors remain perplexed as to why they occur. Histamine intolerance – the body’s inability to metabolise the chemical histamine found in certain foods– is one possible theory. Symptoms mimic an allergic reaction – in many people these present in the form of a rashes or itching – but my airway is affected every time, which means I must carry an emergency kit of antihistamines, steroids and adrenaline pens wherever I go.

Trigger foods include lemons, limes, oranges, mature cheese, Marmite, alcohol, anything aged or fermented. Oh, and vinegar, which is in everything – from condiments and pickles to salad dressing and makes eating out and buying lunch almost impossible.  What’s more baffling is that my symptoms also occur when I get hot (which, incidentally also happened on the flight) or do any form of cardio, so I’m constantly walking on eggshells.

Yes, I was hungry on the plane but, with hindsight, I was immensely stupid buying those crisps. Vinegar may not have been listed as an ingredient, but the production belt at the factory could easily have been contaminated. According to my immunologist, antihistamines must be taken at the onset of a reaction to halt the swelling, which can become too difficult to control once set in yet I’d unwittingly wasted valuable time in the ten minutes I’d been asleep.

Vicious circle

“Here, drink this,” the PR instructed as I scrambled for my meds. I shovelled the pills down my throat before being ushered off the plane. The reaction was pretty horrendous – my tongue remained swollen for three days, the medication wiped me out and I suffered from severe brain fog and writer’s block – not ideal for the day job.

Despite being super careful with my diet since – the reactions are now happening again almost EVERY DAY. This requires more antihistamine to control the swelling which – in itself creates a vicious circle – as it can inhibit production of the diamine oxidase (DAO) enzyme in the gut that’s responsible for breaking down the histamine in food.

Over the past year and eight months, I have deduced that certain foods, heat and exercise – even dancing – can set off a reaction but, astonishingly, nobody can explain why and my immunologist admits he has never seen anything like it in his life. He has now prescribed stronger daily antihistamine in the hope it will break the cycle of swelling, which he says is very unusual especially as it is always symmetrical.

I’m determined to try and carry on as normal but am equally desperate to raise awareness, find a reason and gain some sort of control. I’ll let you know how I get on but in the meantime, if you’re going through a similar experience or know someone who is, please do get in touch, share or comment on my post.

Someone somewhere must know the answer.

 

 

 

 

Health, Helen's Health

TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK

Helen at Wimbledon

Don’t you just love a bank holiday weekend? Especially when the weather is fabulously warm and sunny. There was no lie-in for me on Saturday morning.  I sprung out of bed like a jack-in-the-box, stupidly excited, not wanting to waste a minute of the glorious sunshine.

Aside from the excitement I felt at the prospect of taking my first weekend off in almost two months, I’d woken up brimming with energy for the first time in yonks. This could only mean one thing. Tennis. A sport, I so dearly loved and missed.

Before my health took a turn for the worse, most of my Saturdays were spent at the tennis club so it felt incredibly reassuring and ‘normal’ to pull on my Serena-style dress.

Butterflies filled my stomach as I bent down to lace up my tennis shoes, and by the time I walked out of the door, racquet-bag over my shoulder, I was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat. I WAS OFF TO PLAY TENNIS.

Before I left the house I’d called my friend to let her know I was on my way. “The court’s booked for an hour,” she said excitedly. “See you soon.”

Arriving at the club, I spotted a league match in progress. It was a fixture I would, ordinarily, play but given the circumstances ‘Sick Note Gilbert’ was, of course, required to sit it out.

“Stepping out on court felt ridiculously good”

“Good to see you back,” the team captain said with a smile on her face. “Hopefully you’ll get on OK and can join us again soon.”  “I hope so,” I replied, glowing on the inside. “I’m feeling much better.”

Stepping out on court felt ridiculously good. My friend opened a new tin of balls to celebrate. Usually, we hit with used ones but this was a special occasion, after all.

We set about warming up the ground strokes before moving on to volleys and serves. My body felt fine. There were no aches and pains. And although my game was a little rusty , I was thrilled to be hitting once again. The endorphins were working their magic. I felt so HAPPY.

Moreover, the sun was still shining brightly so I was getting my Vitamin D hit at the same time.

Life. Was. Good.

And we were enjoying some hard hitting rallies.

“I became aware of an uncomfortable yet annoyingly familiar sensation”

Nonetheless, 25 minutes after the first ball had been struck, I became aware of an uncomfortable yet annoyingly familiar sensation at the back of my throat.

I’d barely had anything to drink and optimistically assumed I was dehydrated. So I quickly swigged some water before resuming my position at the back of the court.

A little thirst was not going to stop me playing after all this time. But my mouth was growing increasingly dry.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Karen three minutes later, “I need to drink again.” “Go for it,” she said. So I knocked back the water and returned to the baseline. Only it didn’t quench my thirst and swallowing was becoming troublesome.

Thoughts began spinning inside my head. “Surely, I’m not having a reaction?”  I hadn’t eaten any high-histamine food – which usually sets off a reaction – and the spontaneous tongue swelling (idiopathic angioedema) had been behaving itself for a good few weeks.

I ran to the net and stuck my tongue out. “Does it look normal?” I desperately asked my friend. “Um, I don’t know what it usually looks like but it’s rather wide and fat,” she said.

“I quickly took a selfie of my outstretched tongue”

I rummaged around for my mobile and quickly took a selfie of my outstretched tongue.

There were people on the court next to me. I didn’t care.

Over the past 18 months, the pictures on my phone have proven to be a handy a log for my immunologist, especially as each one carries the date and time. Yet again, there was another hugely unflattering image to add to the collection.

“Let’s stop,”  Karen said. “I feel bad about letting you down and cutting short the session,” I replied. “Your health is more important, come on,” she insisted. So we trundled off the clubhouse for some iced water and I dug out my medication.

“It’s bizarre,” I sighed. “I’ve not eaten anything I shouldn’t have.”

I tried to piece things together. The reaction took hold half an hour after I started playing.  I was extremely hot – sweating profusely in fact – which is most unusual for me.

“Could it be that the exercise had triggered the tongue swelling?”

I then remembered that the same thing had happened on a couple of scorching summer mornings last year. On both occasions, I hadn’t eaten. On both occasions, I was in a very hot car.

Could it be that the lack of food or exercise had triggered the tongue swelling? The heat? Or all three?

An hour later I left the club and as soon as I got home I made a note of what had happened.

I guess one way to test out the theory would be to hit the courts again in hot weather, although I obviously won’t be doing that until I’ve sought medical advice.

I’m due to see my immunologist in July so I’ll report back then.

The only concrete thing I know is that I’ll have to count myself out of a return to tennis matches for the time being.

Helen's Health, Tennis