April Gratitude

Another month has passed astonishingly fast, and it’s that time again – a monthly gratitude post.

Not going to lie, April has been super hard, and so finding things to be grateful about has been trickier than usual.  I haven’t really had any spectacular lows, but it’s felt like I’ve been in a constant slump.  I’ve had a number of sick days, and had a really bad experience with my last Prostap injection (a painful infection at the injection site and ongoing struggles with the side-effects).  The ongoing pressure of the adenomyosis and the general malaise and lack of hope that comes with chronic pain has been exceptionally hard to deal with.

However, I made a commitment to be more grateful and positive this year, and these posts force me to consider the good things in my life, so let’s go.

1)  Easter

Close-up Photo of Bunny Plush Toy
Image description: a grey felted rabbit holding a pink felted egg with white spots.  It is standing on a next on a wooden board and there are some white flowers next to it.  

I wrote about what Easter means to me as a chronically ill Christian, so I hope I’m not cheating by mentioning it again.  There are plenty of reasons to be grateful for it, though.  A four-day weekend (followed shortly by ANZAC Day), lots of chocolate, and, of course, the celebration of Jesus’ sacrifice that means an afterlife in paradise.  That’s always good.

2)  Girl’s night

I got a chance to spend the evening with my four best girls.  We are a diverse group in both personalities and backgrounds, but we still have plenty in common – enough that we have stayed friends for ten years during the most turbulent times of our lives.  Perhaps our greatest commonality is our love of great food, which we ate at tonne of.  One of this fabulous group is from Bangladesh, and boy, does her mum create the most amazing feasts ever.  I could LIVE off her dahl.  Her spinach is mind-blowingly good.  She is single-handedly responsible for making me like cauliflower.

Sure, it was incredibly high FODMAP and I was in agony the next day, and I accidentally ate a chilli, but it was entirely worth it.  And now I’m craving her spinach.  Damn it.

Also, the chance to see my four wonderful best friends is always so good.  Everyone should have that friend or group of friends that they love and trust and always feel incredibly happy to see, even when life is hard or you don’t want to socialise.  This is that group.  There is no feeling in the world like spending time with my girls.

3)  ANZAC Day

Red Petaled Flower in Macro Photography
Image Description: a red poppy on a field of grey grass.

I may be pretty anti-violence, but I am not against people standing up to invaders.  I can also appreciate the courage, heroism and comradeship displayed by the ANZACS and the other soldiers of WW1.  Can you imagine how terrifying it would be to suddenly see a tank coming over the horizon in a war where cavalry with swords were still in common usage?  Can you imagine the mud, the blood, the terror, the cold in winter and the searing heat in summer, the disease, the privation and the utter uncertainty?  I don’t think war is something to celebrate, but the qualities of the soldiers who fought are, and their deaths should be remembered and commemorated.  I am grateful for what they did to ensure that we won the war.

4) An income

In the last month I’ve seen a lot of articles and the like on the difficulties of people with chronic illnesses who also have to deal with a low income or poverty.  This one in particular tugged at my heartstrings.  Australia has a good social security system compared to some countries, but as a lawyer I heard a lot of stories about people struggling with bureaucracy and a lack of understanding of the nuances of their condition.  I am incredibly grateful that I don’t have to battle for Centrelink, or try and live on the amount dispensed.  A stable income, having enough left in your pay after the necessities to save or give to charity – these are privileges that cannot be underestimated.

5)  Changing leaves

Landscape Photography of Trees
Image description: a tree with golden and green leaves shades a green field to the left and a brown path to the right.  The path has red and gold trees on the right that form a sort of tunnel.  Glimpses of bright blue sky are visible at the top of the image.  

As I wrote last month, I love autumn.  I’m enjoying the cooler weather still, although I’m not thrilled with some of the very cold mornings.  What I am loving this month is the beautiful autumn colours as the leaves change from green to shades of gold and red.  Some of the older suburbs with the European trees are just incredibly beautiful in autumn.  It was a particularly big shock for me when I took a week off sick at work to go from driving down the street my office is on and seeing it go from a green tunnel to suddenly almost bare, with the road covered in golden drifts of leaves.  I also really love the smell of autumn leaves as they break down.  It’s so earthy and rich.

6) Fitness 

During April I took advantage of a Fernwood sale and bought myself a membership with some personal training.  My PT, Emily, is really fun and works me within my limits, but doesn’t let me slack off.  I’m really exciting to be getting my fitness back on track, and have been taking on some additional exercise as well (I swam a kilometre for fun the other day!).  I’m doing almost an hour of warm-up before my sessions, and it is really, really relaxing for the brain.  I can just focus on my body and making it work.  It’s great mindfulness.

I also really enjoy feeling exhausted and sore for a good reason, as opposed to just feeling exhausted and sore because disease.  It’s satisfying and makes me feel proud of my achievements.  I’m not losing any obvious weight (thanks menopause!) but I am feeling my muscles harden up and I have a little bitty line on my biceps that looks like it could be a muscle.

7) Vegan smoked salmon

Since going vegan, people often ask me if I miss meat.   Generally speaking, no.  Sure, I enjoyed bacon and rissoles, but I never really got excited about steaks or chicken.  I genuinely do enjoy the taste and texture of fake meats better in 99% of cases.  However, I loved fish.  I definitely didn’t give up eating fish because I hated the taste.  Gardein Fishless Fillets filled a big gap for me, but I really, really missed smoked salmon.  Thankfully, the Cruelty Free Shop has started carrying Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Smoked Salmon.  It’s not a perfect replica but it is very close and soooo tasty.  I had so many slices of toast with Tofutti cream cheese and some chives.  Heaven.  Happy little vegan.

8) Macaron adventures

Three Assorted Flavor Breads
Image description: three macarons in a pile.  The bottom is cream, the middle is pink and the top is brown.  

Disclaimer: the macarons in the picture above are not mine.  Mine only vaguely resembled macarons.

Image may contain: food
Image description: macarons with the insides exploded out.
Image may contain: food
Image description: a slightly less exploded macaron.  

 

Pictured above: attempts one and two.  They tasted fine.  I’ve never tasted macarons before, vegan or otherwise, so I have no point of reference, but these were nice, with a light marzipan flavour.  I definitely need to have another crack and try and get them better, but I think eventually I’ll get it.

I baked them with my sister and it was a bit of a giggle.  It took us HOURS and she managed to turn our sugar syrup into a solid rock, but I enjoyed it, even if it was incredibly frustrating to put in all that work and just get explosions.

This is the recipe I used.  On my second batch I turned the oven down to 250F and it worked much better.  I’ll keep playing and let you know if I ever manage it.

9) Love Nikki

Image result for love nikki
Image description: a pink-haired anime girl with flowers.  She has pale skin and brown eyes and is smiling.  She is the titular character in the game Love Nikki,  

If you play mobile games with pop-up ads you have probably seen some for Love Nikki.  It’s basically like Pokemon but for fashion.  Your character, Nikki, is inexplicably transported to another world with her cat, Momo, and ends up in a bunch of styling contests.  The game has a bunch of content and paying players definitely have a big advantage, but even my cheap self who just plays the free version can get heaps out of it.

It may seem like a silly thing to be grateful for, but it’s another thing I can do for fun when I’m really sick and stuck in bed.  Apps are great for the chronically ill.  Plus, I really like anime and pretty clothes, so this ticks all the boxes.  Let me know in the comments if you’d like a more in-depth review.

10) Sex Education

Image result for sex education

I don’t mean the school lessons – mine were patchy and weird at best.  Highlights included being told repeatedly to just “keep your pants on!” in a strong US accent, and pictures of diseased genitalia.  That’s a Christian school vs a public school for you, I suppose.  Both freakish and not particular useful, just in very different ways.

What I am actually referring to is the Netflix show, Sex Education, starring Asa Butterfield (you may recognise him as the titular character of Ender’s Game).  Whilst this show does have more sex scenes than I really want to see (probably unsurprising, given the name), it also deals really, really well with some very real issues – poverty, abandonment, over-protective parents, divorce, sexual trauma, abortion, vaginismus, slut-shaming, parental pressure, revenge porn, stigma against virginity, stalking, drugs, homosexuality (both repressed and flambouyant) and the attendant prejudice and danger, and a raft of others.  The characters are engaging – some are deeply loveable, some are deeply tragic, and it is just incredibly well-written.  If you don’t mind a whole bunch of nudity and want a show that really tugs the heart-strings, this is a good one for you.  I was hooked.  I am not kidding when I say I laughed, I cried, and I determined to teach my hypothetical future children strong lessons about their self-worth and ensure that they get proper sex education.

Exercising with Endo

It is very hard for people with endometriosis to build up a consistent fitness regime, which is the one thing everybody tells us is necessary to be fit and healthy.  I want to discuss a couple of low-impact exercises that are good options for people with endo.  I’m not going to talk about yoga, because I’ve gone into it here and here, but it is 100% on the list.

Swimming

person-sport-swimmer-711187.jpgSwimming is probably the best exercise I have found for endometriosis.  You are stretched out, long and lean, you are supported by the water, and you aren’t bouncing up and down (which is particularly nice for those of us who get breast pain in a flare-up).  All you have to do is push those muscles through the water.  It is a really good way to build muscle, improve strength, and increase your cardio-vascular fitness.

If you are a beginner, don’t be scared to take a couple of lessons to help with your technique.  You may not think you need to worry about that unless you want to be a professional swimmer, but good technique will help you move faster and cover more distance more efficiently, as well as avoid injury.

You can do different things with swimming.  You’ve got the option to just do laps in one stroke at a steady pace.  You can try different combinations of strokes over your laps – butterfly, backstroke, breast-stroke, freestyle and side-stroke are all options.  You can try drills focused on just your arms or just your legs to improve technique and build strength in specific spots.  Whatever you do, though, move at your own pace and check in with yourself.  You may not realise how exhausted you are until you turn to climb out of the pool and discover that it was the water holding you up, not your legs.  Also stay hydrated.  You may be in water, but you’re still sweating fluids right back out.

If you want to get into swimming, I recommend at least a good swimsuit and a pair of googles.  You want your swimsuit to be comfy (no chafing, no bits that might slide off if you push off the wall hard, not too short in the body).  A one-piece is best for training as it is all streamlined, but go with what you feel good in.  Goggles are good because they let you see where you are going (no crashing into other swimmers) without exposing your eyes to chlorinated water.  Make sure they are not too tight, don’t get foggy and don’t leak.  Once you find a pair that works, stock up.

If you want to take things to the next level, get a swimming cap to streamline your head, a kickboard so you can work on those legs, and a pull-boy.  A pull-buoy goes between the thighs, knee or ankles to keep your legs bouyant and let you work on just your arms.  You can also get a pair of fins, if you like.  However, none of these are necessary if you don’t fancy them.

Cycling

bicycle-cloud-clouds-258045.jpgCycling can be another good option, again because it is low-impact.  It is a great workout for the legs and surprisingly tough on the rest of the body too.  However, because you are sitting down, more or less, it isn’t as hard as running on our poor abused uteruses.

There’s really four options with cycling.  First is just having an ordinary bike that you use to get from point A to point B.  This is good gentle exercise that can slot into your day easily, but because it is transport it doesn’t feel like a workout.  You still get some benefit, although not as much as if you were training hard, but sometimes that’s all you want.  Of course, you run the risk that you will get to the shops, have a flare-up, and then have to cycle home through the pain.  On the plus side, you have something to lean on as you hobble home.

The second option, which is more likely to involve a racing bike, is to cycle purely for exercise, Tour de France style.  This can involve training for speed, hill climbs, or distance, or a combination of all of them.  Each type exercises a different muscle group.  This is a hard cardio exercise as well as being amazing for the legs and bottom.  It may be a little beyond your average person, particularly your average person with chronic pain, but on days you can do, do.

The third option is mountain-biking, which requires a sturdy bike with thicker, off-road tires.  It is a whole-body workout that generally involves going up and down hills and manoeuvring around or over obstacles.  Done professionally it is super impressive.  It carries a big risk of falling off, which isn’t great, but it is super fun.  It is tough on the muscles, though, and incredibly hard to do through a flare-up.

Option four is a static workout bike at home or in the gym.  This is a great option if you have the room at home or money for a gym membership.  You can cycle whilst watching tv, you don’t have to worry about getting hit by a car, and if pain strikes, the couch or floor is close by.  Whilst the least adventurous of the options, it may be the most practical for us.  Adrian K over at Live Healthy and Well has a great post on the benefits of static cycling.

Walking

Ok, so it may not sound exciting, but walking can be great exercise.  I often find that while I’m in motion, my symptoms are reduced (although I generally get hit by a little extra pain when I stop).  It burns a surprising amount of calories, can get the heart-rate gently elevated, and gets you out into that lovely vitamin-D-filled sunshine.  It’s good for the legs and bottom.  You get to see pretty things, and being outside and in nature can help reduce your stress levels.  I don’t have a whole lot more to say on the topic of walking except: wear good shoes, apply sunscreen, and drink water.

Pilates

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Pilates is an absolutely killer workout for many muscles, particularly the core.  It involves a series of exercises such as leg raises, planks, side-crunches and sit-ups.  I would recommend caution, though – intense ab workouts can trigger a flare-up.  Take things slowly and gently and let the teacher know what is up.  Avoid sit-ups and crunches (although side-crunches may be fine).

Weights

My sister-in-law does power-lifting, and she is incredibly strong and fit.  It’s envy-inducing in a big way.  Weight-lifting generally is a great way to improve muscle tone and strength all over the body, without having to do crunches and sit-ups for core strength.  I would strongly advise working with a trainer for this, though – it’s way too easy to injure yourself doing something wrong.

Always remember that, in addition to wonderful gym classes, there are heaps of free workouts on youtube, or you can buy some fantastic workouts on DVD to do in your own home.  I really like Prevention Fitness DVDs, particularly the 3-2-1 Workout.  They offer different impact and fitness levels within each workout so you can just do what you are comfortable with.

If there is something to take away from all this, let it be these points:-

  • Low-impact exercises are the easiest on our bodies;
  • It is still possible to get a good workout with low-impact exercise;
  • Listen to your body – if your endo is flaring don’t let anyone, including yourself, guilt you into just pushing through it because you will make it worse by doing so;
  • Do everything safely and properly to avoid injury.

What is your favourite exercise?  How do you find it impacts your endo?