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.

Fibromyalgia advice column

Long serving and loyal readers will know that once a month I write for New Life Outlook (NLO), a health website that provides advice to readers on coping with chronic pain. I’ve recently decided to stop writing for them because, after publishing 50 articles in the last two years, I feel like I’ve achieved my goal and come to the end of my journey with them.

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A photo of a train station. Geddit? Trains, journeys… *ba-boom*

My blog has always been a space for talking through the many elements of chronic pain, sometimes coping and sometimes struggling. It’s also a place I like to be a little sarcastic and a bit reflective. My articles for NLO by contrast (at the request of the NLO team)  are about giving advice on the wide range of challenges that fibromyalgia sufferers face. Happily (or sadly?) nothing dies in the world of the internet, so my articles will no doubt float around and continue to haunt me.

For now, I thought I’d celebrate my time with NLO by posting some links to some of the most popular articles I’ve written.

  1. Managing migraine is hard enough without coping with fibromyalgia as well. Here I share tips for coping with chronic migraine.

  2. Fibro sufferers often ignore new pain, brushing it off as ‘just another symptom’. This article explains why you shouldn’t.

  3. Apparently lots of fibro sufferers struggle to manage their medication and side effects, so I gave some advice on what I’ve learnt in the last eight years.

  4. If you’re a new fibromyalgia sufferer, this one’s for you. This article gives you advice on understanding your tender points and how they’re used in diagnosis

  5. This one is a simple tip to the fibro-sceptics: 10 things you shouldn’t say to fibromyalgia sufferers.

  6. Fibro sufferers are told by medics that our condition is not degenerative or progressive, but sometimes it’s hard to agree. Here I discussed the possibility and how to cope with the issue.

  7. Fibro fog is a symptom I don’t discuss very often on this blog, mainly because it’s the one that worries me the most. Cognitive issues associated with fibromyalgia can be tough to cope with, so I wrote this post on how to cope.

  8. Ever wondered if you’ve been misdiagnosed? I think I’ve considered that about 1,450 times since 2008, so I wrote this post on how to cope with that doubt.

Enjoy!

The good in 2016

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you 2016 has been a terrible year. It all kicked off with the death of David Bowie on 10 January, shortly followed by the deaths of Prince and Alan Rickman. Jo Cox’s death shook the political world in June and shortly afterwards Brexit happened, and then Trump. It has all been a lot to take, and many are hurrying on the end of the year so that 2017 can be the start of happier things.

But this year has not all been doom and gloom. In fact, it’s included some pretty wonderful moments.

I started my new job in January and discovered a true love of the railway. In fact, for the first time ever I realised what it really felt like to love your job.

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In February we moved in to our very first country cottage, and I got to experience slow living at its very best. The pond, the greenhouse, the garden… it was all part of our dream home and it’s definitely living up to expectation.

In March we decided to get married and surprised all our friends with invitations in April having spent a couple of weekends making all the arrangements in secret.

We went glamping in April and I walked eight miles in the South Downs. Eight miles!

In May one of my best friends got married, closely followed by another in September, and in between that my Godson was born in August.

I survived festival season in June when I popped over to Porto for Primavera, and we also spent a couple of days in Florence at the end of a beautiful Italian wedding.

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Sadly September, October and November were destroyed by an aggressive flare up, but through that I discovered that my new GP is very excellent and he encourages quick telephone calls when advice is needed but an appointment isn’t necessary. If that’s not good I don’t know what is.

Soon it will be December, which means Christmas dinners and party nights out, days spent out in the cold and nights spent warm by the fire. My sister comes over from Australia and my brother-in-law comes over from America, and our friends and family will join us at the end of the year to celebrate our wedding.

I have to say that despite the sadness and the stress and the many lows, 2016 has been a pretty good year full of some incredible highs. In fact, it’s one I’ll treasure forever.

I’ve got chronic pain and a wedding to dance at

The blog’s been a little quiet lately, for which I can only apologise. A long flare-up often leads to periods of quiet because, quite frankly, who wants to write about (or read about, for that matter) pain and sadness for a solid nine weeks?

Last week I decided I’d forget about the pain and write about whatever was going on in the world instead. Sadly, Trump happened and that was another pile of pain I couldn’t bring myself to write about. Instead I just cried and scrolled through a range of devastated posts online. I didn’t feel the need to add to the outpouring of emotion; everyone was already articulating my thoughts – and that in itself was somewhat comforting.

So how did I decide to fill the blog void? I decided to write about weddings! Hurrah! Because quite honestly, if wedding chat doesn’t cheer us up in times like this, what will?

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Image via Love My Dress

That’s how I feel about weddings. Even as a non-religious, non-traditional, non-bride, I believe nothing beats a good wedding. A few months ago I wrote this post about our un-wedding coming up next month, and at just seven weeks away it’s getting very exciting. For the past seven months we’ve been planning on Friday nights with takeaway, wine and the next thing on the to-do list. It’s involved nights of tasting wines, cheese, lemon tarts and chocolate tortes, and listening to our favourite tunes on repeat. Seriously, if this is wedding planning, I may have to do this again. (I joke. Kinda.)

There have only been two moments I haven’t adored; one where I decided my dress didn’t suit me about 413 times, and one where I couldn’t decide how to style my hair for six months. Then I reminded myself that things like dresses and hair styles were exactly why I didn’t want a wedding at all, and I promised myself at the beginning that these wouldn’t be the things I would worry about. I refused to become overtaken by cakes and flowers and dresses and hair styles – things that I just don’t really care about. I just wanted it to be simple and fun and so far, it seems to be going to plan. So after taking more selfies than any sane person should, I’ve just decided I look awesome in my dress and I will have excellent hair and who cares if I don’t. Not me. (Repeating that mantra whenever I start to doubt myself.)

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Image via Love My Dress

The Friday night planning continues and we surround ourselves by all the right people and all the good things, and it all feels pretty marvellous. But whilst one part of me is planning to make sure it’s the best party we ever have, the other part of me is planning to make sure I can be well enough to enjoy that party.

As a chronic pain patient of eight years, I’m well practised. Behind every day is a well-tested plan. I live each day knowing what to eat and when, what to wear, what to do and what not to do, and how many tablets to take and when. I pride myself on sticking to that plan – most of the time.

Even so, planning or not, wedding days are long. They’re emotionally and physically draining and I know that to last until the end of the night it’s going to take some small miracle. I’ll take a medicine bag with me containing all my essential pills and potions, and I’ve got lots of little things planned to help me out throughout the day. I guess beyond that, all I can do is hope for the best and pace myself. And I will. I really will.

Okay, I’ll try.


Fancy reading this later? Pinnable image just for you.

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The other side of chronic pain

I write about pain a lot. I wouldn’t be much of a chronic illness blogger if I didn’t. But in the last nine weeks, my body has been through the worst flare I have ever experienced. I have spent 74 days stunned to silence by the amount of pain in my body, whilst similarly marvelling at the amount I’ve been able to carry on as normal, despite everything being so much more difficult.

When my chronic pain symptoms flare, I often turn to the blog and write about all the feelings. I talk about sharp pains and dull aches, numbness and hypersensitivity, migraine and vomiting, but I rarely focus on all the other things that accompany physical pain. Now I feel like adjusting the spotlight and writing about the other side. Sadly, pain tends to dominate everything and so I haven’t been able to write for about two weeks – and this post has taken me about a week to put together.

When you’re living in a world of pain, there are certain things you do to get by. You cut corners wherever possible to make the day that little bit more manageable, and you indulge in the things you know will help. Over the past two months I’ve spent obscene amounts of money on taxi fares to avoid unnecessary walking or public transport; I’ve bought thermal leggings and long sleeve tops to try and protect my skin from rough textures and keep my bones warm; and I’ve had two aromatherapy massages to give my body a little TLC in dark times. In short, a flare up is expensive. I dread to think how much harder it must be for those who can’t afford a taxi or an indulgent massage.

In the last two months I’ve also drunk more wine and bought more comfort food, I’ve stopped any small amount of exercise I was previously managing, and all the things I know I should do have gone straight out the window as I just stick to the basics to get by. I’ve gained some weight and my skin’s deteriorated; I feel like it’s glaringly obvious that I am unwell by the lack of colour in face, the lack of effort I can be bothered to put in to my appearance and the nervousness with which I carry myself – prepared for a painful nudge by a stranger or over-enthusiastic hug from a friend. But, from what I hear, no one has been able to notice anything different. From the outside, everything is the same.

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I’m currently switching between three different medications, none of which are doing anything good. They’ve been responsible for my vomiting during a work meeting and vomiting on the underground (a new chronic pain life low), cancelling plans with friends and a full day in bed when I should have been eating roast dinner with my in-laws. At no point does this hellish concoction of meds dent the pain, but the ever-popular ‘let’s wait and see’ approach is advised by my GP.

I count myself incredibly lucky that I don’t suffer from depression alongside my flare ups. I feel slightly anxious about everything, but only in a slightly melodramatic sense – I worry a long day at work might result in my death. Something like that. It mainly makes me want to stay inside, wrapped up in a warm room of cotton wool balls until I feel strong enough to go outside again. Of course, that’s how I feel but it’s not what I do. What I do is get busier than usual, working in a different city one day to the next and making extra plans with friends every other day. Apparently I’m even more of a moron than usual when I’m in a flare.

Above the cost and the anxiety and the time spent with my GP, all of this is just exhausting and frustrating. Deep down, I know I’m not approaching it in the right way. Flares are a common part of the fibro cycle and as chronic pain patients, we’re used to them. Even so, grinning and bearing it and hoping it will pass is not the answer. We all know that. So today marks the start of a new approach; I will eat healthily, I will exercise mildly, and I will rest. I will rest at every given opportunity until my pain levels are manageable once again. If the meds happen to do their job during that time then, bonus.

Let’s wish me luck.

The alternative halloween

Staying in is the new going out. Didn’t you know? I’m a big fan of reminding myself (and others) that getting involved in the fun and celebrating the holidays doesn’t have to mean going out and putting your body through strain. Staying in can be just as good.

When it comes to halloween my usual approach is to stay in, turn out the lights and when the trick or treaters come knocking, I do the sensible thing and pretend I’m not home. Young kids in Scream masks are frickin’ scary.

But, when HMV gave me the opportunity to collaborate on a post for the perfect halloween night in, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to get involved without leaving my sofa.

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Skull bunting and candles to get in to the halloween mood

My halloween-themed treats had me perfectly prepared a spooky night in. I gathered blankets, popcorn, skull candles and bunting and hours of viewing with two DVDs. Perfect.

There’s something good about creating a fuss. You get caught up in excitement by creating an atmosphere, getting friends involved and making an event. It’s what takes your evening from ‘lonely girl watching TV’ to ‘awesome halloween night in’.

I figured if I’m going all out with skulls and mood lighting, I might as well add a pumpkin to the mix too. Before I knew it, I had a house full of on-theme decor and a window that said, “come on trick-or-treaters, this is a house that welcomes halloween fun”. (It’s probably worth saying, the pumpkin stayed in the window long enough for me to take this photo. After that I removed it; I didn’t want the neighbours thinking it was okay to trick or treat. I may have taken a small step towards embracing the horror, but spiders and witches and fancy dress are still too creepy.)

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My perfect pumpkin

The best thing about staying in is you get to rest that body whilst spending time with the people you want to surround yourself by. You can drink cocktails and eat in your pyjamas and make your night as wild or as tame as you want. You set the rules.

What’s not to love? Plus, it’s a great way to start the ‘best horror film’ debate. As a total wuss I can tell you our two films were a good mix – Hocus Pocus was a hit whilst The Exorcist required a bit less attention. What would be your choice? Happy Halloween!

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Cocktails, films, and brain sweets. Obviously.

Thanks to HMV for reminding me that staying in with a good film is a great way to have fun.

Floating for fibromyalgia: A review of Floatworks

Have you ever floated before? I hadn’t, until last weekend when I made my way to Vauxhall at the ungodly hour of 5:15am to spend an hour in a float tank, courtesy of the new Floatworks centre.

For those who haven’t come across floating before, it really is as simple as it sounds. You spend an hour in a private tank, floating in the water with nothing but your thoughts. It’s believed that floating reduces stress, enhances your mood and relieves pain. In fact, fibromyalgia is actually referred to on the Floatworks website so I figured if I was going to float anywhere, this was the place to start.

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The float tank in my very own private float room

Before I tell you about the float, I really need to tell you the lead up to the float and the insane levels of customer service I received from the Floatworks team. I am someone who gets frustrated by poor customer service and, even worse, poorly organised service, and so I am a loyal customer to companies whose attitudes and values reflect my own. But let me tell you, Floatworks have taken it up a notch. Or fifty notches.

I changed my appointment with them an embarrassing four times, and not once was I made to feel like an inconvenience. In fact, on arrival I was made to feel like an old friend – and not in a forced, annoying, creepy way like the people that greet you when you walk in to clothing stores. I received confirmation of my appointment via email, as well as a clear list of things to be aware of before the appointment. They explained that the session includes a private room with your float tank and shower, fluffy white towels, ear plugs, cold water, shampoo, conditioner and shower gel, as well as access to hairdryers, straighteners and the chill out room which offers a variety of herbal teas. I was sent a reminder two days before the appointment, and clear directions offering me a range of ways to access the venue. Honestly, for someone like me, this is admin heaven.

But I’m guessing that, unless you’re as over the top about organisation as I am, you’re probably more interested in the float than the pre-float emails. So did it live up to expectation?

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The view from inside the tank

Yes and no. After a quick shower to start the session, I dried my face and climbed inside the tank, pulling the lid down over my head. There was beautiful, soothing music and the surrounding blue lighting meant I entered the tank feeling relaxed and calm. The water was warm and even if I wanted to, the balance of salts in the water (or whatever it is, I’m not a scientist) meant I couldn’t sink below the water level. I popped in my ear plugs and lay back to a feeling I can’t describe. It was strangely liberating. I felt lighter than air and it was everything I hoped it would be.

For the claustrophobics among us, please, fear not. The tank is spacious and you are in complete control, so if you decide you need to prop the tank open with a towel or open it completely, that’s absolutely fine. At one point I stretched out like a starfish to see how big the tank is; I’m 5′ 7″ (170cm) and if I stretched my hands and toes I could just reach all sides of the tank. I certainly didn’t feel cramped and I had enough room to bob about from side to side, feeling quite content.

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The very glam facilities in the Hollywood room

So up to this point, it’s all going pretty well. The problem is that it lasted about 15 minutes. The plinky-plonk music fades away after 10 minutes so you’re left with nothing but your thoughts. For the experienced meditators in the tank that’s no problem at all, but for the likes of me – the woman who makes lists in her head in her spare time – it was a challenge. A challenge that I took head on and felt was going pretty well, until I realised I was basically writing this blog post in my head whilst lying in the tank. Once I’d written the blog post I started thinking about all the things I had to do that day, that week, that month. I also started to write my wedding speech, so not entirely relaxing.

Soon after realising I wasn’t a model floater, I tried to get back in the zone by bobbing about and enjoying the feel of the water. But again, bobbing isn’t floating and I made a bit of a splash, got some salt water in my eye and it all became a bit stressful. I had to remind myself I was not a toddler in a bath tub, but it seemed too late.

By the time the soothing music came back on to signal the end of the session, I had lost it. I’d lost whatever calm I’d felt 50 minutes previously, and I’d lost the desire to be in the tank because you know what? An hour is a long time. I was starting to feel a bit breathless and, dare I say it, a bit stressed. I felt relieved to step out of the tank, and welcomed the cooling shower. I then sat in the chill out room for 20 minutes with a cup of herbal tea – green tea, jasmine and rose with gingko biloba – and a book on artists’ impressions of the human body. Because, why not?

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Positivitea tea is worth buying if only for the excellent pun, surely?

The visitors’ book was an interesting read too, and showed that many people had experienced something quite incredible during their hour in the tank. One person had left the page entirely blank except for writing, “I can feel again.” Another wrote a long passage about the meaning of life and his place in the universe, so it appears this floating malarkey has a pretty profound effect on people.

On the way out, I spoke to a member of staff about my experience. He smiled, but didn’t seem too surprised. He said some people find it very easy to float, whilst others find it takes practice. Some feel an instant change to their mental or physical wellbeing, whilst others need a few sessions to feel the difference. I had hoped I’d fit into the former category, but it was always going to be unlikely considering I never find these things easy. It took me about a year to feel enjoyment from Pilates. I did say that I found it much easier to relax when the music was playing, and he said he’d add a note to my file so that next time they don’t turn it off. I liked that.

Will there be a next time? Yes, without a doubt. I don’t feel like it was a waste of time and I feel like now that I know what to expect, I should find it easier to deal with. Plus, I know so many fibro sufferers who have felt the benefits of floating that I owe it to my body to give it another go. My mind will just have to get on board. Two days later, I haven’t felt any dramatic changes to my pain but I’m still in a flare so it’s tough to know anything at times like this.

If you fancy giving it a try and you’re in the UK, I strongly urge you to visit Floatworks. This isn’t a sponsored post, I’m not secretly floating in their bribery money, but I truly believe that when a company is as thoughtful and caring as they appear to be, they should be recommended. So check them out, the experience is nothing if not fascinating and I look forward to hearing how you get on. You can book online and they have an introductory offer of three floats for £100 which is pretty good. Other price plans and offers are available on their website.

Also, just so you’re aware, Brunswick House restaurant is just around the corner and it’s a great place for a post-float breakfast. Get involved.

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Brunswick House yoghurt, granola and berries

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The 3 things to do in a flare up

Day-to-day chronic pain is hard to deal with, so it’s comforting to know that a lot of sufferers spend time sharing coping strategies through wellness blogs and social media, which hopefully help to keep some of the pains at bay.

But when a flare hits, everything is so different. We don’t have the energy or ability to put those strategies in to practice because everything is so hard, so painful. A flare in chronic pain symptoms often means a spike in hypersensitivity. Sitting up hurts, wearing clothes hurts, working and walking  and being hurts.

I wrote these posts to explain what a flare up feels like and how I know when it’s on its way and, if I can just take a moment for self-congratulation, I think the images in both posts are the perfect depiction of a chronic pain flare – because I really hate the weak-looking people holding their head in their hands.

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Image via Vivian Young

So, when all our symptoms are heightened and we still  have to function, what are we going to do about it? When all feels lost, here are the three things I’m doing to get through it. (Six weeks and counting folks, six whole weeks.)

#1 – Up your level of self-care 

I wrote this post about self-care last week and I can’t stress the importance of putting everything else on hold and just looking after yourself. During a flare we spend so much time trying to balance everything and continue as normal but now is not the time. Now is the time that it’s okay to say no, okay to stay in bed and tuck yourself away. Have warm baths, surround yourself with the things and people that make you happy, and pull out all the stops to make yourself feel looked after. Now is the time to up your game when it comes to rest and self-care.

#2 – Wrap up warm 

When every part of your body hurts and the seasons are changing, now is the time to wrap up warm. Buy good thermal clothing, arthritis gloves, scarves and hats – and don’t be embarrassed that you seem to have got a little over-excited about the forthcoming winter weather. Last week, a woman approached me at Paddington station. I was wearing a coat, a scarf, my gloves and a winter hat. There’s a chance I’d overdone it, but I was feeling chilly and sore and wanted to replace it with warmth and protection. A woman came up to me; she was wearing a black sleeveless dress and carried a light blazer over her arm. She said, “this is so funny – you’re dressed for winter and I’m dressed for summer but I think it’s actually somewhere in between.” I laughed and clocked my reflection in a shop window. I looked ridiculous. Warm, but ridiculous.

#3 – Spread the word 

Let’s be honest, chronic pain is always a bit shit. But if we’re going to help people understand just how shit it is, then we’re going to have to talk about it. My friends understand my fibro, they know I’m in pain but they know I can cope. When I’m in a flare, I don’t feel like I can cope. I don’t feel anything but mind-numbing pain and it is quite genuinely all I can think about. People don’t see that, and they don’t realise your flare is anything different. So use the word, tell people what it means when your symptoms flare and – most importantly – use this as the time to ask for help.

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via Pudendal Nerve

Who would think that moderate levels of pain would be something we’d crave?! Right now I can’t wait for the other side of this flare. I remember ‘normal pain’ and I miss it. So I’m taking deep breaths, sticking to the basics and hoping that I’m out the other side before I know it.

The season of self-care for fibromyalgia

There’s something so wonderful about October – and it’s not just because it’s my birthday. It’s because it’s the start of autumn; the mornings are darker, the air is cooler and I’m finally reunited with all my chunky knits. It’s a love like no other.

But also, it’s because it’s my birthday. (High five October babies! Here’s to you.)

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It’s not just my birthday and the chunky knits though; there’s something else happening this month. This month is the first time in a very long time that I can honestly say I’m resting. I’m saying no, I’m clearing the diary, and I’m booking in time for self-care.

The internet is obsessed with self-care and hygge at the moment and quite frankly, there are worst things for us all to be obsessed with. Hygge is a Danish term for which we have no direct translation – although, we’re talking about it so much in the UK that I’m not sure it needs a translation. For those who have yet to be gently hit over the head by cosy words and imagery, Hygge is the name given to creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you. Simples.

For my season of self-care, I launched into October by booking a spa day with two of my favourite girls, a luxury manicure and pedicure with my mum, and a full body aromatherpy massage at my local therapy centre. I also booked an hour in a float tank which I am giddy with excitement about – and will review later this month – and I got my hair cut and coloured by a stylist so good I practically flew out of the salon feeling lighter than air. It feels so good to look after myself and invest in myself. I so often whittle my money away on things that end up in a charity shop nine months later (seriously, I’m pretty sure I single-handedly kept the Red Cross shop in south east London afloat) so spending on moments of happiness feels like a good move. Massages, manicures, brunch, cake… what’s not to love?

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As the weather gets colder, the food gets warmer. Stews, pies, roast dinners – the things I utterly adore. Delicious smells fill the house, there’s a warm glow from the roaring fire and I feel so relaxed and content curled up with my little family and a good book or, more likely, the latest Netflix series. This scene is everything that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

All that plus birthday fun! Did I mention that? At 32 years old I still get a childlike excitement in my belly about turning another year older. I don’t know why, but I start counting down in June and it’s all I can do not to talk to anyone and everyone about birthday magic for weeks and weeks. There’s no doubt about it; October is my dream month. This year my birthday falls on a Saturday which means no work and lots of indulgence. And by indulgence, yes, I mean food. Birthday breakfast is one of my favourite traditions and kicks off the day in spectacular style. This year I’m planning nothing but lie ins, lots of food and cocktails with friends in the evening. Perfect.

Hygge means different things to different people – it’s one of the reasons I like it so much. It forces me to think about the things, the foods, the smells, the people that make me feel warm and blessed. To me, it means saying no to the people and things that require effort and, instead, surrounding myself with things and people that make me feel protected – even if I’m the one doing the protecting. I feel proud and excited about the months ahead and whilst self-care may end up sounding a little selfish, you know what… I’m okay with that.

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N:rem mattress for chronic pain

Aaaah, sleep. Sweet sweet sleep. That wonderful place of rest and calm where we the world stops spinning and we dream of bunnies and fairies. No? Me neither. Sleep for fibromyalgia sufferers is so bittersweet; I’m so exhausted and sore that I can’t wait to climb in to bed, only to find I’m so sore and uncomfortable that I can’t get to sleep. And when the meds kick in and I finally get there, sleeping through the night is often interrupted by nightmares and hot sweats. When I wake in the morning I have such intense pain that I can’t wait to get up bbt as stressful as all that sounds, as soon as I’m awake I just want to get back to sleep.

I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

When I was asked to review the N:rem mattress – or “sleep system” – I jumped at the chance. Who doesn’t want an opportunity to test a bed that claims to be “ideal for chronic pain sufferers [providing] comfort for painful areas and support where needed.”

Some quick background for those who haven’t heard of N:rem: they provide mattresses that come with individual foam panels inside, which can be put in any order to suit you and your pain. The idea is that you can arrange the panels in the comfort of your own home, with each side personally tailored so that you and your partner can have individual set-ups. The mattresses also come with built-in temperature control so, at this point, it’s all sounding pretty dreamy.

What I loved about N:rem, right from the beginning, is that they get it. “Everybody’s pain is different and in different places which is why your current mattress doesn’t provide you with the comfort you need and long for.” It made perfect sense.

Here are some of the combinations they suggest for common chronic pain sufferers.

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So eight weeks on, is it a mattress made in heaven? Well, yes and no…

The idea is genius. You swap your panels around depending on your pain and respond to the needs of your body. Simple. Except that if, like me, changing the duvet cover is so much effort that it makes you feel like you’ve just climbed Everest, you can imagine the nightmare that is changing foam panels inside a mattress. Bedding gets stripped off, mattress comes off, panels get moved, and so on…

I ended up sitting back and watching Robin as he climbed over bedding, moved panels around and cursed the day I agreed to “this nonsense”. I assume it’s a lot easier if you have a bedroom with floor space but in our small cottage, it was a bit of a faff. Or, a lot of a faff. And that’s when done by an able-bodied person. All I’m saying is, I recommend you get some help unless you have a nice spacious bedroom like this one.

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Image via N:rem

A week in to the sleep experiment and I was liking it. I ached less and I sweat less and it seemed to be doing the job. Sadly, however, the mattress was too big for our bed (no fault of N:rem, our bed is an annoying, unusual, awkward size) and so the mattress would tip if I slept too close to the edge. Not ideal. Plus, Robin found it a bit weird. As someone who doesn’t suffer from chronic pain, he preferred our simple, old, boring mattress. There’s no accounting for taste.

A couple of weeks in to my sleep experiment I went on a two week holiday and then came back to a three week flare up. It’s always pretty tricky to review chronic pain products because if our symptoms start to improve we can never know for sure whether it’s the product we’re using or the food we’re eating or the activities we’re doing – or not doing. And if a flare lasts longer than usual, is it because of the activities we’re doing or the food we’re eating, or is it that new mattress we’re sleeping on? Who knows.

In the last few weeks, we’ve moved the mattress – and ourselves – in to the spare room. The mattress fits the bed properly which means I can test it better. On the nights I don’t sleep well, I wonder if it’s just the newness of a different room or the fact we can hear the railway line from that side of the house, or again, is it that new mattress I’m sleeping on?

Well I’ll tell you one thing for sure; I sweat less and, most importantly, I wake in a lot less pain. I haven’t noticed a big difference in my sleep during the night but there are many other factors contributing to that, so I’m not sure N:rem can be held responsible. There’s definitely much less pain in my lower back when I wake, I don’t feel the need to get out and stretch, and I don’t want to go back to my old mattress. I think I may be well on my way to finding the thing we can search years for: a good night’s sleep.

Check out N:rem’s mattresses and more importantly, their excellent payment plans and 100 night trials. Just be prepared for some faffing with foam and potentially, the need to rearrange your furniture so you can sleep in your spare room for good.

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