A change in season, a change in pain

Is it possible to itch to death? I want to say yes. For the past few months it felt like I was holding my breath whilst I tried to get through Christmas, a wedding, and a particularly busy time at work. Now, as I start to exhale and adjust to the rhythm of daily life, I can feel my little quirks rearing their ugly heads.

Quirks. I prefer that word to ‘symptoms’ or ‘pains’ or ‘things that make me want to scream’.

My legs have been getting heavy, my neck’s been getting tight, I feel tired, and I am so itchy absolutely everywhere that I just want to stand under the shower for all of the hours in all of the days. The worst places are my armpits and my eyeballs. I wake in the night not sure which to itch first, so use one hand to itch my eye and one to itch under my arm – it’s like a disturbing version of that game where you pat your head and rub your belly at the same time, except I’m trying not to gauge my eyes out. All this when all I want to do is sleep.

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The change in season always marks a change in my pain, but this month it’s also having an effect on my ability to mentally focus.

I’m curled up on my sofa in my leggings and house cardi (a cardigan so comfortable but so old and ugly that it can never be worn in public), the fire is roaring and I have a toasted, buttery, hot cross bun on the plate beside me – my favourite seasonal snack. It’s the perfect picture of calm, relaxation, and rest – a hygge dream.

But in my mind, oh… my mind… it feels like there is so much to do. There are things to clean, buy, fix, paint, tidy, read. Everything needs something doing to it, none of it is actually that important and so all of it feels pointless and pressing in equal measure.

Lists are my friend and so I figure the best approach to this madness is to create three columns. 1) The jobs that need to be done like install the cat flap, get the cats micro-chipped, sort out my repeat prescriptions; 2) The jobs that I want to be done, like framing and hanging pictures, painting furniture, sorting through my wardrobe; and 3) The things that are not even necessary, but they’re taking up space by with that nagging feeling that makes me search for answers in the most ridiculous places, asking myself questions like, what should I do with my hair? Do I have the right clothes for my holiday? What am I reading after my current book?

None of these things are big things, obviously, but each thought – regardless of the column it sits in – takes up space in my mind. And when my mind feels like it’s getting smaller at the same time these things are multiplying, it makes for a challenging time.

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Last weekend we were out in the garden for the first time this year. The weather was mild and we were able to potter together as we pulled up weeds and cut back last year’s dead branches. This pop of colour was the first sign of Spring, and a good reminder that beautiful, simple things appear amongst the chaotic overgrowth.

I’m going to have an early night and try to work out what on earth I’m blogging about this year. I feel like it would be nice to have a bit of a plan for 2017, if only so that you could decide if it’s worth sticking around. So far I can tell you this corner of the internet will include a write-up of our three weeks in Canada, some thoughts and pictures from our wedding, coping tips for fibro flares, and no doubt a fair few activities for those looking to lead a life less physical. Hang on in there, the fog will clear and it will be Spring before we know it.


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Sharing the love – and why I struggle with Valentine’s Day

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Etsy: Heart garland

I will never understand Valentine’s day. I never have.

At school I hated it because all the cool kids got cards and the rest of us felt totally unloved and embarrassed. When anonymous cards were sent, it became an opportunity for the cool kids to make fun of all the losers who weren’t ‘man enough’ to put their name to their declarations, and I just found the whole concept very weird and uncomfortable.

When I was sixteen I moved to South Africa and went to a school which embraced Valentine’s day in a truly American-high-school style. Everyone in the all-girls school gathered in the hall at lunch time whilst the headteacher held a bucket of single roses; she then preceded to call out the names of every girl who had received a rose from the boys school round the corner. What utter lunacy.

I only wish I’d been a stronger character at school. I wish I’d rebelled and spoken out about the social isolation caused by these theatrical performances. And that’s all they are, because if you love someone you will tell them in your own way. You don’t need to publicly remind the popular girls that fourteen hormonal boys have a hard-on for them, and you don’t need to remind the girls lacking confidence that no one has noticed them. (Of course, it’s likely that they were very much noticed – but probably by the boy that didn’t have the confidence to buy a rose from the school office and send it to the school round the corner.) I’ll never understand why teachers thought this was a good idea.

When I went to University, fellow students found Valentine’s day depressing. It made them miserable, and I hated that this Hallmark Holiday had such a hold over people.

Today I drove to work and listened to the radio. People (largely women) were sending in examples of the most romantic things their partners’ had done to celebrate Valentine’s day. One woman said that she was so grateful to her “amazing husband” because he had brought her a cup of coffee in bed, and said she could have a lie in for twenty minutes whilst he got the kids ready for school because, Valentine’s Day. 

I’m sure there’s more to their relationship and family dynamic than the text message sent in to BBC Radio, but I couldn’t help but think it would be great if he shared that duty with her every day. But who knows, maybe he has other duties.

I channelled my v-day frustrations to R when I got home, and tried to work out what makes me so annoyed by it. Is it the constant display of all the love? Is it the public Facebook messages between couples who live together that makes it feel like we’re back in a school performance? Maybe, but that’s expected. We live in a world where we share everything all of the time, so surely displaying love is no different to publicly displaying food and friendship and parties on social media – of which, by the way, I am entirely guilty. So why shouldn’t we share love? Maybe it’s nice to give people a day to be mushy when the world feels like it’s building walls to separate us.

I think that perhaps, above everything, my difficulty with this day is that it doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like true romance; it feels forced and contrived. A guy at work asked me to remind him to buy roses (obviously) at lunch time because, Valentine’s Day. Is that romance? Doing it because everyone else is doing it? I guess romance means different things to each of us, and if this is real to you or you just welcome an opportunity to indulge in romance then that’s absolutely fine. But it’s still a day for just you and your significant other, right? We don’t need you to stand up in front of your peers and smugly say, ‘look how in love I am’. Because, on any other day, maybe that would be okay. Maybe your selfie in a love heart and PDA would be cute, but when thousands of people are doing it on one day in one go, it feels like we’re being bombarded. It loses it’s authenticity and it feels like we’re competing. It feels like we’re saying ‘Look! My partner’s better than yours!’

We are all very different, and if I’m allowed to rant about V-day in my corner of the web you are of course welcome to bask in the glory of love hearts in yours. So if you’re madly in love and this is a day you celebrate, then I hope you have had a wonderful day and that you got spoilt rotten. If it’s not your thing, I hope you have a day just like every other day, celebrating your love in your own way no matter how understated that may be. But if you’re not madly in love and this day gets you down in any way, all I’m saying is: don’t let it. Because to many of us (70% according to a survey on Twitter that I now can’t find to link to) it’s utter nonsense.

I don’t feel like I can end this post on a completely negative vibe – I got called grumpy and cynical twice at work today! – so I’m going to mark this year’s Valentine’s day by joining the #sharingthelove hashtag which I actually find quite lovely. It’s a chance to share nine pictures from the last 12 months that show how much I love the people around me. I figure if we’re going to publicly share love on this day, let’s share all different kinds of love with lots of very lovely people. (And yes, pizza deserves a spot because pizza is love.)

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Date weekend in London

I love date night. I’m never too bothered about how we spend it, but I love getting out of the house and doing something away from the daily routine to catch up with my S.O and really spend time together.

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that R and I attempted a mini-moon to Tallinn (Estonia’s capital city) last month, but it didn’t go too well. R got flu and we didn’t leave the apartment other than my trips to the supermarket and the pharmacy. Not quite the romantic post-wedding getaway we had planned.

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Last weekend we decided to try again – this time in our own capital city, which was massively helped by the fact that my sister’s wedding present to us was a night’s stay in the very beautiful High Road House boutique hotel in South West London.

We kicked off the weekend with Friday night cocktails and Stewart Lee’s Content Provider, a comedy tour I highly recommend if you enjoy dry satirical comedy with a strong focus on history and politics. I hardly ever see live stand-up these days but it’s something I wish I did more of; laughter really is the best medicine and I seriously need to up my dosage.

On Saturday we treated ourselves to lunch at Marcus Wareing’s restaurant at The Berkley – creatively named ‘Marcus‘.  We had cocktails (the theme of the weekend) and a three course set lunch menu with a matching wine list because why the hell not. Cheap it is not but, in the spirit of firmly sticking to my new year’s resolutions, it was one hell of an experience and one I definitely plan on repeating at some point.

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Feeling full and tipsy and ready for a snooze, I suggested we go and see the afternoon screening of La La Land. I wholeheartedly adore Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling but had a feeling the film had been over-rated by the critics and would probably a bit pretentious if not a little bit nauseating, so probably a good place to rest my eyes. Ladies and gents, I was wrong. So very wrong. It was WONDERFUL.

Being back in the big city reminded me how much I love London. It has pockets of utter glory and there’s nothing I love more than strolling through the back streets and wistfully admiring the colourful overpriced townhouses on my way to a cosy gastro pub. On Sunday we did just that, and found ourselves at The Smokehouse in Chiswick. I’m pretty critical of a pub roast dinner because it often doesn’t live up to the home-cooked version, but my oh my their roast beef with all the trimmings was absolutely perfect. They have a sister pub in Islington so if you find yourself in North or West London on a cold Sunday lunch time, do yourself a favour and get involved.

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As we headed over to High Road House Hotel, I had a bit of a spring in my step. I’m always so envious of people who stay in hotels just for the sake of it and we are not that couple. We have lived together for eight years and we stay in hotels – usually cheap ones – out of the necessity of needing a place to crash, not to indulge in a night of luxury. But High Road House is exactly the place to go to hide away from real life and curl up on a bed so comfortable and in sheets so soft you imagine you’ve died and gone to heaven on a cloud.

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We stayed in the Play Room (worth noting the lift doesn’t go all the way to the top floor, so you spoonies have one flight to cope with) and it just screams relaxation – or rather, whispers it in a soft, calming voice. The bath, surrounded by an array of Cowshed products, is just perfect for an evening soak, and the huge shower makes for a refreshing morning wake-up call.

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The stay reminded me of two very important things: one, there is quite possibly nothing better than a good mattress with crisp, clean, white bedding and two, it’s good to take time out and stay somewhere quiet for no reason other than to curl up and hide away. It’s heavenly, and in my mind it’s what date weekends are made of.

Now… time to start planning the next one.

How to be a morning person

I’ve never been a morning person. Not that I’m much of a night owl either. I tend to just bob around in some kind of permanently tired state, thinking of how good it would feel to curl up in my pyjamas, drink tea and eat cake in the middle of the day.

I don’t help myself though. I’m one of those people who sets the alarm 20 minutes before they need to get up and then hits the snooze button four times, just to make sure I’m reeeally irritated by the time I finally rise.

When Leesa got in touch with me and asked me if I’d blog about my morning routine, I thought it was probably the motivation I needed to actually get one. Falling asleep at midnight with my phone inches from my face, then waking to the alarm and hitting snooze for as long as I can, changing outfits three times until I’m running late then inhaling tea and toast whilst I blow-dry my hair doesn’t really scream ‘Morning Person’.

It’s so easy to make some very simple changes that will have a big impact on how you start the day, so I’ve decided that – on top of my very solid five new year’s resolutions  I will also commit to a healthier morning routine.

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Of the eight things on the list above, I can easily split them in to three categories: the ‘already doing this’, the ‘can do this from today’ and the ‘can achieve this by the end of the year’.

Already ticked:

I already spend my mornings being productive. I make to-do lists as I’m buzzing about, and I respond to emails (often the ones sent from the other side of the world whilst I’ve been asleep) over breakfast or on the train. Productivity was never the issue.

I absolutely never ever skip breakfast. I don’t drink enough water though, so I can (and will) rectify that immediately.

Need to start from today: 

I love the ‘do something positive’ box on this picture. For almost two years I’ve been promising to start my morning with a yoga stretch, and since then I haven’t done it. Not once.

I also don’t know why I don’t plan my outfit the night before. It’s the most simple thing, saves so much time and yet I never do it unless I have a big meeting or something important – and I always think, ‘I really should do this more often’.

About a year ago, we set a bedtime and went upstairs with enough time to read before bed. It forced us to put the screens down and really relax, and we often shared a book and took turns reading to each other. Somewhere along the way that stopped, so I plan on picking that up again.

By this time next year: 

I want a new bed. I’ve wanted a new bed for about five years. I keep saying that if you have chronic pain then a decent bed and mattress are investments worth making, yet every time I start looking at them, the cost makes me think I can probably cope with mine for a bit longer. By 2018 I will have upgraded my bed. Fact.

What do you do to ensure a happy morning?


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Image via University of Missouri

Traditional v complementary therapy for fibromyalgia

What a dreary start to 2017. It’s been cold and wet, and I just want to curl up on the sofa in my Christmas trousers (that’s right, I have Christmas trousers), watch films and eat everything in sight. In fact, that’s exactly how I’ve spent most of 2017 so far and I’m starting to wonder how much causal weight gain is acceptable before I have to start watching my carb intake.

As you can tell, I haven’t really got over December. A month that is usually full of Christmas parties, excessive eating and late-night socialising was spent wedding planning, dieting and trying to get as much sleep as possible. It was wonderful and I wouldn’t change it, I just think I should be allowed to start the year with a bit of Christmas carry-over.

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Me, my sister, and our excellent Christmas trousers.

For those not in the know, me and R tied the knot on New Years Eve in a simple but beautiful ceremony, then partied our way in to 2017 surrounded by friends and family. I’ll likely blog about it at some point but I thought I’d kick off 2017 by sharing some tales about weird health experiences. Bear in mind that when you’ve finished reading this story I’m going to ask you: what would you do?

Let’s start at the beginning. At the end of last year I had just come out of a long and painful flare and I was trying not to rock the boat before the wedding, but I developed some excruciating arm pains in the last few weeks of December and needed to do something – anything – to sort myself out. In a last ditch attempt to ‘fix’ myself before the wedding I searched online for a local physiotherapist, hoping that some last-minute treatment would do the trick.

The physio I ended up seeing was lovely. A middle-aged woman with a kind and caring manner, she welcomed me in to a treatment room based at my local GP surgery  and I instantly warmed to her. However, she quickly explained that whilst she is a qualified physio (and let’s remember that’s what I asked for) she also practices esoteric therapy and it is her belief that fibromyalgia can be cured through this emerging complementary therapy that links physical pain to our emotions.

She didn’t ask me very much. I told her about the wedding, about my job, and explained my understanding of fibromyalgia. I explained my need for some short-term pain relief that would help me get through the festive period, but acknowledged the need for a more long-term view of pain management. I told her my drugs weren’t working (her response: “that’s because the drugs are for physical issues, and you don’t have a physical issue”) and told her my arms were particularly bad (her response: “our arms are where we hold our anger and frustration, so I imagine there’s some feelings you’re keeping bottled up inside”.)

She asked me to lie down and rubbed my arm with a soothing ointment. She asked me to close my eyes and, for about half an hour, she talked me through mindfulness exercises interspersed with suggestions that I was holding back anger or frustration in relation to my wedding – likely because people were trying to take over and I wasn’t standing up for myself. An interesting approach to physiotherapy if you ask me.

I was clearly looking sceptical (when am I not?) because, at the end of the session, she told me that she may not have got everything right (apparently: “esoteric therapy is a bit like fortune telling, you have to guess your way through at the beginning”) but over time she was confident she could reduce and relieve my pain.

I told her three things. Firstly, that I do not hang on to anger and frustration. I am a communicator and if I was unhappy with things in relation to the wedding I’d be talking about it. Secondly, that I have attempted mindfulness many times and would like to keep attempting it as I do recognise the benefits, I’m just not very good at it. (She told me esoteric therapy wasn’t mindfulness but, from what I saw, I respectfully disagree.) And finally I told her that I wholeheartedly support complementary therapy and I completely agree more that you can’t separate the mental from the physical, I’m just not sure esoteric therapy is for me.

I left the session feeling mixed emotions. She told me – or I told her, I can’t remember – that my approach to coping with pain is to metaphorically hold my breath and rush around doing as much as I can, buzzing about and squeezing things in knowing I don’t have long before the next flare. I have known for eight years that this is not a sustainable way to cope with pain. But when you ask to see a physiotherapist and that person tells you you’re in pain because you won’t admit you don’t like the flowers your mum wants at the wedding, you start to feel aggrieved at paying that person £55.

But I couldn’t deny one thing. My arm felt better.

It’s very possible that my arm felt better because it was the first time in weeks I’d lay down and rested – with the added bonus of someone gently massaging my arm. But maybe there’s also something to be said for stopping all medication, focusing the mind and changing behaviours.

I truly believe the worst thing about fibromyalgia is the lack of medical support. I consider myself a well-informed chronic pain patient, and yet I have no idea how best to treat my condition. Every time I ask for help I’m told I’m doing the wrong thing and I should try something else, but it’s all down to individual opinion. It’s exhausting and confusing and quite frankly, my health and wellbeing shouldn’t be reliant on my trust and judgement of the people trying to sell me stuff. That’s not how healthcare should work.

So let’s go back to that original question; what would you do? I’m working on these three options:

  1. Make another appointment. She was a lovely lady and, even though her view of pain medication was somewhat dismissive, she may have a point about behaviours and emotions. It’s worth digging deeper.
  2. Don’t go back. It’s exhausting to try every single type of therapy that comes my way. She used her physio qualification to lure me in, only to flog me a story about anger being stored in my arms. That’s not what I asked for or paid for. But if not this, then what next?
  3. Esoteric therapy is the next big thing in chronic pain management. Definitely go back, this woman knows what she’s on about.

Is there a fourth option I’m missing? Thoughts appreciated folks; what would you do?


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New year resolutions for 2017

I wasn’t going to do this, but I can never ever get through January without thinking about what I want to stop, change or improve. I roll my eyes at myself for giving in to such a generic tradition, but I always end up coming back to the fact that resolutions are probably, fundamentally, a very good thing. There is nothing wrong with trying to be better, trying to be happier, and striving to get the most out of the year ahead so I figure why the hell not? Let’s do this.

Last year I stuck to three very simple resolutions: keep some weekends free, listen to more podcasts, and read more books. I figured if I achieved those things I’d be well rested and my mind and body would be enriched.

I read more books and loved it, but I listened to precisely zero podcasts which quite frankly is embarrassing. However, perhaps most importantly, I can confidently and proudly say that I kept many weekends free, and it was wonderful. I had the easy excuse of wedding planning which meant I didn’t have a lot of spare time, and meant the last quarter of the year was pretty much me and R at home chilling together. This year I don’t have that excuse but I’m determined to keep the same resolution because it did me the world of good.

(Note – so far, I’ve failed. January and February are fully booked and March is half way there. Probably need to burn my diary.)

2017

This year I’m going to jump up to five but I reckon they’re all very doable and very sensible and will obviously make me and my life super brilliant.

#1 – Spend money on experiences, not things. It’s the year of the honeymoon and it’s the year of clearing crap out of my house. I want to focus on travel and food and taking care of myself, rather than another basket of Asos stuff I don’t need.

#2 – Keep some weekends free. It’s time to go back to basics and start blocking out one weekend each month. One weekend for pyjamas and crap films, for massages and takeaway, for sleep and self-care. I’m excited about it already.

#3 – Stop watching Question Time. For those not in the know, Question Time is a BBC political discussion show and it drives me MAD. It’s on 22:45 so we normally watch it in bed, which means I get angrier and angrier watching lying politicians and bigoted audience members and by the time it ends I am too frustrated to sleep. So no more.

#4 – Send birthday cards. Stationery is my thing. I love notebooks and cards more than many other things, and I am always so touched when my dear friends make an effort to send me beautiful birthday cards – and yet I never remember to send them out. This is the year that all my friends will receive beautiful cards; it’s going to be great.

#5 -Sort out my health. Don’t worry, I’m not expecting to cure chronic pain this year, but I think it’s time for a new approach. Mine isn’t sustainable and as much as I like to think I’ve got it sorted, I know I haven’t. This year I plan on trying a few new things and being as healthy as can be.

What have you got planned for 2017?

Why I wish I’d never started my blog 

There are some things that, once you start, you can never stop. Like that car finance deal I signed up to which means I will be buying cars from the same garage for my entire life, or that one tattoo that led to two which I know will lead to three or four, or crystal meth, or blogging.

That’s right. I just compared blogging to being a crystal meth addict. I guess based on that it’s safe to say me and my blog are in a bit of a weird place at the moment.

When I started this blog, I was bored. I was bored and frustrated on a Saturday afternoon and I thought ‘blogging sounds fun, let’s give that a shot’. It was fun for a week or so, but then I thought it was a bit cringe and should probably stop writing it… but by then it was already too late. It was out there. People had seen it. How and why I hadn’t contemplated this sooner I’ll never know. People had seen it, and people could and would continue to see it. And not the people you want to see it, but people like that girl who hated you in high school who Googles you twenty years later and then laughs with all her mates that you’re still a nerd, or the trendy colleague at work who was just looking for your LinkedIn profile but has somehow found a play-by-play of your anxiety meltdown in 2009, or the person who knows you through a friend and wonders why you share photos of a walk down the canal like you think your David Attenborough. These people are seeing it.

And you can never go back from that. That tiny moment when you were bored and frustrated has led to a world of entrapment because you hit publish and now it’s live and there’s nothing you can do because, THE INTERNET.

I can’t delete my blog. Sure, I can stop writing it and delete the account but those published posts are still out there, so I guess if I can’t delete it then all I can do is improve it. All I can do is hope that by adding to it and reviewing it, I’m somehow making it better. And you know what? I think I am. This may not be the best thing you’ve ever read but trust me, it’s better than what I was saying three years ago. I know because I’ve reread those early posts and died inside, so you can trust me.

Oh but don’t worry, the irony is not lost on me. I know in three years time these are the posts I’ll be cringing about whilst I think the 2020 me is a genius. I know that, but  I’m stuck in the bloggersphere and I can’t get out.

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You’ll be delighted to know it’s not all anxiety and regret. In fact, if your new year’s resolution was to start a blog and I’ve just destroyed your dreams, you should know that it’s also one of the most wonderful things There are the comments from strangers who thank you for your strength and humour, the tweets from regular readers who are becoming friends, the private messages asking for advice and feedback, and the brands and companies who want to work with you because you speak their language. All of these things, all of you who engage with me every day, you are the people who make me grateful I hit publish that day. Grateful that I took a chance, didn’t over-think it and had the nerve to say what I wanted to say. You’re the people I blog for.

But on occasion, after a long week when I’m tired and weary and a little anxious, I stare at this blog and I’ve got to ask myself: what the hell was I thinking?

The 50 TV series you really should be binge-watching

Binge-watching is my thing. Surely it’s everyones thing, right?

For many years I thought I liked to spend hour after hour watching episode after episode of something because I am lazy – and that’s definitely part of it – but I recently watched a programme where a woman with a tumour on her spine talked about the importance of TV in coping with limited mobility.

It got me thinking. Whilst feeling emotionally attached to the lives on screen may seem sad to some, film and television play a huge role in the lives of the chronically ill, the elderly, the socially awkward, the physically challenged, and many others. The arts are important and I don’t feel like something has to be award winning, critically acclaimed or particularly profound for it to be enjoyable, supportive and meaningful. (This is me justifying my love of shit TV here. Can you tell?)

So I thought I’d kick off the new year by sharing my top 50 favourite TV series with you. It sounds like a lot, but this was surprisingly easy – which is either a massive achievement or a huge life failing on my part. Take it as you will. Some of these are what I call “good shit TV” whilst others are truly excellent; you can be the judge. In no particular order, here we go:

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The Sopranos – Image via E!

#1 The Sopranos. Follows family-man Tony Soprano managing his family and the mob. The final episode is one of the most frustrating finales I have ever watched.

#2 The Night Of. A Netflix original about a guy who’s arrested for committing murder. The evidence is clear, but he swears he didn’t do it. I was hooked in the first five minutes.

#3 Breaking Bad. Chemistry teacher turned crystal meth dealer. What’s not to love?

#4 The Fall. If only for Gillian Anderson. But also, a good BBC psychopath drama.

#5 Veronica Mars. If you love high school drama (who doesn’t?) then this is for you. School student turned private detective. Genius.

#6 Friday Night Lights. Again with the high school drama. American football, high school relationships, and the best power couple you’ll ever see on screen.

#7 Freaks and Geeks. Did I mention I love high school drama? This is all about the outcasts at an American high school, and the difficulty that is your teenage years.

#8 The Following. It’s not that great, but it’s got Kevin Bacon in (that’s a good thing guys) and follows FBI agents trying to catch a serial killer. It’s good shit TV, trust me.

#9 House of Cards. Another Netflix original. Great cast and perfect if you suspect every politician is completely corrupt, as I do.

#10 Pretty Little Liars. I got through seven series of this. It’s terrible and ridiculous (but completely addictive) and follows four high school girls looking for their friend’s killer.

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Greys Anatomy – Image via Wikipedia

#11 Greys Anatomy. Obviously. Because it’s Greys, and Greys is brilliant.

#12 The Wire. It took a while for me to get in to this but once I did, oh my. Five intense series following the police and drug scene in Baltimore.

#13 Arrested Development. Such brilliant comedy. This series follows the dysfunctional Bluth family and brings with it some incredible one-liners.

#14 Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes is obviously a classic, but with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman it is so very good.

#15 Friends. It never gets old.

#16 Sex and the City. Samantha, Charlotte, Miranda and Carrie got me through my university days.

#17 Orphan Black. Clones. And some great dry humour.

#18 Girls. The modern day Sex and the City but, some would argue, better.

#19 The Walking Dead. Zombies. Series 1-3 are great, but I gave up after that. There’s only so much running from zombies, killing zombies, hiding from zombies I can do.

#20 Fargo. I preferred the film, but still worth a watch.

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The Americans – Image via The Independent

#21 Dexter. Serial killer who only kills bad guys. It’s good shit TV except for the final episode which is RUBBISH.

#22 The Killing.  Danish series following a murder case day-by-day. They made an American version as well, which is also good. Watch the Danish one first though.

#23 The Americans. Oh I absolutely adore this. KGB spies fitting in to American society.

#24 Mad Men. One of the best. Follows the lives of advertising executives in the 1950s and 60s. Sustained its brilliance for an entire seven series.

#25 The Shield. Corrupt cops running the strike team in LAPD. Horrible and excellent.

#26 The Office. Brilliant British comedy with a good little love story to boot.

#27 The Missing. Follows the investigation of a child’s abduction. It’s good.

#28 Veep. Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President of America. Genius.

#29 Peaky Blinders. Gangster series set in Birmingham in the 1920s. Gross and brilliant.

#30 Happy Valley. British crime drama set in Yorkshire. Gritty, excellent and not at all happy.

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Happy Valley – Image via Radio Times

#31 Broadchurch. Olivia Coleman and David Tennant, two of my favourites. Police drama about the investigation of the murder of a young boy.

#32 Cold Feet. This will forever be one of my absolute favourites. If Desert Island Discs was about television, this would be one of mine.

#33 Jessica Jones. Comic book series, and the best one I’ve seen in a while.

#34 Stranger Things. Another Netflix original starring Winona Ryder, set in the 1980s and based on strange things that start happening when Winona’s son goes missing.

#35 Community. American comedy about an unlikely group of friends at a community college. Funny funny funny.

#36 The West Wing. Politics, dry comedy, Allison Janney and Rob Lowe. Thumbs up.

37 #The Returned. Set in a small town where people who previously died in a coach crash return after many years have passed.

#38 Parks and Recreation. I adore Amy Poehler and I adore this comedy series. Felt like I’d lost my friends when it ended, but that’s because I’m a bit sad.

#39 Line of Duty. A BBC police drama about the department that investigates corrupt officers.

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Parks and Recreation – Image via Huffington Post

#40 The IT Crowd. Three hilarious people who make up the IT department, based in the dark basement of the office block. Brilliant funny brilliant

#41 The Hour. The BBC launching a new cultural affairs programme in the 1950s. Strong cast, strong story line.

#42 Lost. Many people felt the Lost writers’ had lost their way by the end of series two but I remained loyal and loved it from beginning to end.

#43 W1A. Set at the BBC headquarters and follows a team who have been put together to redefine the values of the BBC. Hilarious – especially if you work in an office.

#44 Better Call Saul. A spin-off of Breaking Bad and so much better than I ever expected. I am wary of spin-offs but this was so worth it.

#45 Orange is the New Black. Set in a female prison and centered around a slightly annoying prisoner, Piper. But the other inmates make up for her frustrating qualities.

#46 Love Hate. Gruesome, gritty series about gang life in Ireland. Not one for the faint-hearted.

#47 Ally McBeal. Quirky series from the 90s about a group of unconventional lawyers. Made me fall in love with Barry White and yearn for unisex toilets to dance in.

#48 iZombie. A twenty-something girl is turned in to a zombie, gets a job at a morgue to secretly eat brains, but ends up ‘seeing’ how murder victims are killed. Outstanding!

#49 Search Party. A group of self-absorbed twenty-somethings start looking into the disappearance of someone they loosely knew at college. I like it a lot.

#50 The OA. Another Netflix original and the latest must-see series. Gripping and emotional and beautiful throughout. One of the best on this list.

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The OA – Image via Film

The end.

*Takes a bow*


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The fibro symptom that scares me most

If you suffer from chronic pain, you’re used to suffering from a myriad of symptoms. One day to the next, you experience something different to the day before and you adapt and respond as necessary.

Pain doesn’t scare me, fatigue doesn’t scare me. Numbness, heart palpitations, migraines and nausea don’t scare me. But one thing does. One fibromyalgia symptom makes me so uncomfortable and nervous that I feel scared and a little sad about my health. Even though I know that fibromyalgia isn’t a degenerative condition, there’s one thing that feels like it’s deteriorating. My driving.

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Image by Realizes Tumblr

I’ve been a driver since the age of 17. I always wanted to drive; as a kid I had a toy steering wheel which could be stuck to any wall or door in the house, I played bus driver all day long, and I remember sitting on my parents lap and holding the wheel as the car crawled down the driveway to a stop. When I turned 17 I got driving lessons for my birthday, and as soon as I passed my test I bought a car for £100 from one of my teachers at school. It was a heap of junk but I didn’t care. It was mine.

I’m now 32 and I just don’t understand people who can’t drive. I don’t care how good your public transport network is, why would you not want to drive?! I love the flexibility, the freedom, the options. I love nothing more than driving; it’s never a chore, it’s always a joy.

Last year my love of driving disappeared. It was becoming more and more painful and I eventually admitted defeated and accepted that after ten years of driving a manual, I could no longer cope with changing gear. My pain was too bad and I spent too many days unable to control my car. I gave in and bought an automatic, expecting to hate it, but it absolutely changed my life. I rediscovered my love of being in the car, and I went back to driving at any chance I got.

Then, last year, I was busy at work and doing a lot of driving. It was starting to take its toll and I had a series of scary moments where I fell asleep at the wheel; twice on the motorway and once on a country road. All three experiences scared me and after a while, I realised I could no longer commit to a three hour car journey. It happened a couple more times before I eventually accepted that an hour is my limit – any more and I just can’t be sure I’ll stay awake.

Recently I’ve been pretty proud of myself. Once a little girl racer I have slowed down my driving, I’ve stopped driving long-distance and I only ever drive automatics. I like to think I’ve worked with my illness, rather than against it.

But last week, I was driving at night and I felt a new level of fear. It was dark and raining and for third time in a month-or-so, I couldn’t focus on the lights around me. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, and I swerved as I thought a car was coming in to the side of me at high speed. It turned out to be nothing more than a reflection but for a moment my heart stopped.

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Image via liofirm

 

I thought nothing more of it until it happened a couple more times; once after a long, hard day and once in extreme rain and bad weather. I justified the confusion as exactly that – bad weather and fatigue, but deep down I feel like something just doesn’t feel right.

I wrote this article a few years ago which looked at whether or not fibromyalgia is a progressive, degenerative condition like Multiple Sclerosis. Science says it’s not, but sometimes it feels like things are getting worse. It feels like some of the symptoms are less manageable than they were, and that can be difficult to cope with.

Given the choice I’ll always choose to drive instead of drink. I’ll always volunteer to be the driver on group holidays, and I love driving in challenging conditions. The majority of the time things are absolutely fine and I’m still as confident as I always was, but I know I need to keep an eye on it. I need to be confident that it hasn’t got any worse.

I like to think I can cope with most things but of all the things that fibromyalgia can throw at me, I’m just hoping it doesn’t take away my independence.


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Homemade blackberry vodka – part two

A few weeks ago I told you I went blackberry picking so that we could make some bramble vodka. This week I thought I’d share the delightful, deep purple mess that we made and the recipe that will give us some delicious vodka treats on New Year’s Eve.

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You will need, roughly:
– 500g blackberries
– 120g white sugar
– 1l vodka

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Add all three ingredients to jar or bottle that can be tightly closed. Store in a cool, dark place for as long as you possibly can. We stored ours for three months.

Slowly turn the bottles/jars at least once a week, making sure that the blackberries are able to move around as you turn.

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As the weeks went by, the liquid turned a darker colour and the sugar fully dissolved.

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After three months, we took the vodka from the cupboard and prepared to serve it in to 50ml shot bottles ready for wedding favours.

We placed a sieve and a sheet of muslin cloth over a large bowl, and poured the vodka into the sieve.

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The liquid very slowly passed through the muslin, leaving us with a beautifully pure and sediment free blackberry vodka.

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Using a small jug and plastic funnel, we filled each of the shot bottles and wrote name tags for each guest, ready to tie around the bottle necks.

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The bottles look so cute, and I think they’re the perfect winter wedding favour. DIY weddings are bit daunting to a girl like me, who far prefers to throw money at a problem – money I don’t have, I hasten to add. But the work on these favours has been spread out over three months so is entirely manageable, the vodka tastes delicious and I’m really glad to be able to add a personal touch to our wedding.

Sadly (or gladly) we made far too much, so I thoroughly enjoyed curling up this evening with blackberry vodka on ice, accompanied by several puff pastry cheese straws and an evening in front of Home Alone. Adulting at its best.

If you didn’t see last year’s sloe gin recipe, check it out. It was equally delicious.