5 important things I learned in 2014


One of the best things about ageing for me is the way life uncovers little secrets with each passing year. Things I've learned this year have primarily been about taking better care of myself, even if that has meant pushing myself at times. Here's what I've learned.

1. Selfies are self care.
As I said on Instagram when I posted this selfie:

Selfies for me aren't about 'Oh look how great I look'. For me makeup is like a healing salve which temporarily erases all the shit - my depression, Fibromyalgia & CFSME. When I post a lot of selfies I'm saying to myself 'See, you're still in there somewhere girl.' In truth I feel shitty a LOT of the time (mentally and physically) and putting makeup on and taking photos captures a moment in time where I can forget how much has been robbed of me (career, earnings bla bla). Selfies are a snapshot in time where I don't feel dragged down by all that shit. I can look back at myself and kid myself all is well, just for a few seconds. For me selfies are a lifeline, a vital part of self care, and when people assume it's bigheadedness they don't know the half of it.

This year I embraced the selfie, and the holy restorative powers of makeup, not least because the front facing camera on my new phone carves about 3 stones off my face. ;)

Gratuitous excuse for ALL THE SELFIES! There is much wonk fringe in these photos.

Are you sick of my face yet?

2. Self care is WHATEVER works, no matter what it is.

3. Sometimes a bit of effort when I least feel like it is a REALLY good thing.

I have depression as most of you are likely aware, and I've had days crying to myself under the duvet because I can't face the day. I'll probably have more in the future too, but if I can persuade myself out of bed, get showered, dress nicely and do my makeup I will feel 1000% better. My problems will all still be there, but I will feel so much more able to cope with them. Likewise if I've got a bug or am having a bad spell with CFS, getting out for some fresh air will help me feel more human. When I'm having a Fibromyalgia flare up and feel like being lazy and not looking after myself, that's the worst thing I can do. It's an effort, but if I cram in loads more fruit and veg and drink more water it'll help. Being stubborn at times like these won't help me. It has taken me such a long time to work out I'm WORTH looking after. I'm not the sharpest knife in the block at all sometimes.

4. Learning not to give a shit is truly a gift.

Women are conditioned from birth to be perfect little balls of clay to be moulded for the benefit of other people. We are co-opted virtually as soon as we're out of the vagina. In my own childhood it was made clear to me constantly that I was too fat, too loud, too intelligent (what happened?!) in fact, too much in every respect. I wasn't a good, small, quiet malleable little bundle, and didn't people let me know it! As we grow up we're conditioned to change everything from our personalities to our bodies so as to be best appealing to men (whether or not we're sexually interested in them!) We're conditioned to compete for men rather than for achievements. We're conditioned to see our fellow women as rivals rather than allies. We're shamed in so many different ways - how we look, how we age, about how much sex we may or may not be having, about so many things. I could go on for a month about all the things women are SUPPOSED to care about which aren't for our own benefit. I am SO DONE with this shit. So done.

Because I had such a hard time as a child I have spent about the last 15 years or so (since my nan died and I got a wake up call about mortality) deliberately working on being more me and losing count of the fucks I'm supposed to give. I'm sick of hiding my shine. If people think I'm too fat, too loud or too anything else, I don't fucking care. I'm me! There's no one else like me. So much in life is boring and all the best old ladies are the ones who don't give a shit what anyone thinks about them, so I look forward to growing older and giving less shits. I think it's the best gift you can ever give yourself - to be truly, 100% you, no matter what people think of you. I admit and acknowledge my faults, and love myself regardless.

5. Gentle exercise actually helps my pain levels.

I could write you a book about the million ways that having pain and fatigue conditions messes with your head. When symptoms of Fibromyalgia and CFSME first appeared I busted a gut to prove there was nothing wrong with me and I hurt my health so much. (James didn't get it either so he was pushing me way past my limits also.) I spent whole weeks at a time shuffling lifelessly between the bed and the sofa sleeping all the time as I'd pushed myself too much.

Then came a stage of gently establishing new limits, and sticking to them, but occasionally testing them to see if I'm cured (nope!) and being painfully reminded of my new reality. Then fear of pain and fatigue became EVERYTHING. When you have cried sleepless nights as it feels like your whole body is on fire with pain or have passed out where you stand through sheer exhaustion, wanting to avoid things that cause that becomes a major deal. Limiting my movement or eking out activity became a life saver (I've always said there are 2 ways you can go with Fibro - attempt a normal life and dose yourself up to the eyeballs on painkillers, or limit your activity) but I accidentally discovered that if I have over done it, more exercise the next day actually helps. It's totally counter-intuitive which is why it took me so long to discover, but because so much of pain from Fibro is stiffness after exercise, going for a little walk the day after I've done too much actually eases the pain.

It might not sound much to you, but that meant far from exercise being this thing that hurts me all the time, I now see it as something which can help me and that change has been huge. Another thing to consider is because a 4 or 5 mile walk was my idea of fun before I got ill, transitioning to small amounts of exercise at a time felt pathetic to me. I'd constantly 'boom and bust' - do too much, end up in agony then spend weeks recovering. Now I finally get that little and often is the way to go for me. Exercise is no longer my enemy. It's my friend. It might not be the exercise I did before, but it has to be enough. And less pain is always good!

Did you come to any new realisations last year? If you want to share, have at it in the comments!

Thanks for reading.
Leah xoxo

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