An interview with me on the key to happiness and being present
Since coming out about my illness (M.E) and working with the M.E organisation, doing a couple of interviews and trying to answer all of your questions on it, I thought I would pile together some of the important and life changing questions from you and answer them in this post. I wanted this post to be about happiness, clarity and well-being, finding an internal strength and calmness even through the struggles and that’s something that I am on my way to achieving in full. I was sent these questions by most of you as readers, but the lovely Lindsey McKeon (who I interviewed before) asked me a few too and you can see those three first. I put them first as I think that’s fitting for the order and because she always asks such thoughtful and inspirational questions, which gets me started off well, but the rest of the questions are just as important and help give the interview depth.
So why am I doing this interview? That old saying about when life gives you lemons, I see it as you have three possible options.
1 – You accept the lemons, you eat them, you go about your business. Sometimes slicing them a little or sprinkling them on your food, but the general rule is that you eat them.
2 – You complain about the lemons, you wanted oranges instead. You sit there and watch them go mouldy, getting angry at having the wrong fruit.
3 – You make lemonade. I know this is the usual answer, but it’s the toughest one. Making the lemonade requires a lot of juicing, knowledge, other ingredients and patience. It’s the toughest one of the options, but it’s worth the most.
The general rule here is that you can get upset about life’s obstacles and situations, or you can accept them and not do anything to change them, or you can pluck up the courage and change your situation. It will require a lot of effort on your part, but it’s doable. Don’t let life’s lemons leave a bitter taste in your mouth, take control and be the juicer as you are the one in charge. I wanted to show you how I took charge of my illness and how I don’t let it get me down anymore. I hope it’s helpful!
What was your experience when you were first diagnosed (with M.E)? Your biggest fear? And how has that altered now?
It was a mixture of emotions actually. It was kind of a relief to finally know what was wrong with me after a year of back and forth with the doctors, but at the same time it was overwhelming to know it was something that couldn’t be fixed. It was quite daunting and I suppose my biggest fear was actually the fear of unknown with the illness. It effects people differently and you never know from one day to the next just how it’s going to be. M.E is really hard to explain to others, especially when they ask you your symptoms or what exactly is wrong with you because it’s everything. You can’t just narrow it down.
Another fear I had with the diagnosis was knowing that it’s a form of brain damage. A certain part of my brain that controls functions and movements and a lot of other parts got damaged from swelling. The swelling was caused when I was 14 by the virus that I had, so there’s damage to my brain now from that. This frightened me as I didn’t know what to expect or how serious it was. As everything we do is controlled by the brain, it’s not easy to do daily activities. My brain doesn’t compute things correctly and if I walk for about 10 minutes, my brain can think I have ran a marathon and confuse itself with that. Sometimes I can wake up after having slept and my brain thinks its ran that marathon again or has been run over by a truck, so I feel paralysed. It can decide to not recognise my legs are attached to me anymore and if I try to move them, I can’t because they are unresponsive. Some days I can’t remember anything, I can’t speak properly and I can’t understand anything that someone is saying to me because my brain doesn’t function right, but the damage from the swelling is very temperamental as varying pressure and changes happen, so some days it can be ok, I don’t notice much going on, then other days it’s horrendous. This was a huge factor in fear for me.
As I have got older and had to learn to cope with it over the years, it’s got a lot easier. I don’t feel like I have any fears regarding my M.E now as I have experienced everything I think there is to experience with it. I wouldn’t class it as a fear as such, but I guess not knowing my future and knowing how things are going to turn out for me or go in the coming years is daunting, but I’m not scared of it. It’s definitely changed me as a person and my outlook on life though.
What are the benefits of your passion towards fashion blogging, how does it help feed your soul/spirit on a daily basis?
I would say the benefits for me are endless. Being a fashion blogger led me to be able to have a social life online, a purpose, something to do and something that would inspire me. After years of not being able to work, not being able to go out and socialise or really enjoy life, it was a much needed escape for me. It allows me to be creative which is something that’s incredibly important for me as it helps feed that creative part of my brain, which in turn gives me happiness and satisfaction. It’s been a true life saver and to know that I have a whole little community out there now through my blog is amazing. I can’t say what I would be doing without it, but as I’m not able to hold down a full time job or a job that I go to due to the illness, it’s let me live as much of a normal life as I possibly can. I’m now self employed through blogging and writing so it’s a part of me now.
Do these two major parts of your life have similarities in what you learn from them or are they in complete opposition?
That’s a very good question. I would like to say they are completely separate, but at the same time there are traits of each that follow into one another. For example, my mental state was quite bruised years ago from basically being a hermit, so fashion blogging has opened those doors for me to be able to push my limits and grow stronger mentally. It’s given me opportunities that I otherwise might not have been able to get and it’s also allowed me to understand people a lot more, know how self centered quite a lot of them can be, but finding those gems in the rough who I now have as really close friends. They do counteract each other sometimes though as there have been many opportunities I have been given, including hosting events, fashion week invites etc, some really good things, but I haven’t been able to go ahead with them due to the M.E but I try to make the best of these situations. Having the M.E creates barriers and blocks, but being in this industry forces me to try and break through those issues.
What’s your biggest physical obstacle you deal with everyday?
If I were to put this vaguely, it would be my body. That’s the biggest physical obstacle I have as it often gets in my way of doing things through its temperamental state. Planning things quite far in advance like holidays or events can be tough because of how unpredictable things can be. I might be ok, but I also might not be. I don’t remember what it’s like to have a normal body, but it would also be nice to be able to go to a restaurant and try anything on the menu without worrying about my allergies and intolerance’s too. So truthfully, just the not knowing from one day to the next is my biggest physical obstacle.
Is your diet affected by your health struggles?
Yeah. I briefly mentioned it above, but it definitely is. When I was younger and full of health, I could eat anything I wanted to and when I started to get ill, all of that changed. I didn’t know at first what was going on and I would get really, really ill after eating certain foods, but I didn’t connect the two together for some time and kept getting ill. I became lactose intolerant so any type of dairy product was out of the question, and still is most days for me (however I can handle some chocolate now).
I also became intolerant and semi allergic to cornflour and this one is the worst. They put cornflour in everything as it’s a thickening agent, so it can be in sauces, soups, biscuits, sweets… Literally anything. If I eat cornflour, within 10 minutes I get shakes, sickness, stomach upset, sweats, dizziness and have to go to the bathroom many, many times. The pain is horrible and the nausea is awful. The worst thing about it is that it lasts for many hours and then for weeks after my stomach is aggravated and I have to stick to an extremely bland diet. There was a point when I was about 17-18 that I lost so much weight from not even being able to eat bread, pasta, pretty much anything due to it making me ill and those were really bad times. I was fitting size 24 jeans and became quite skinny. As I’ve got better over the years though, I have more of a normal diet but I can’t eat milk, wet cheese, cream, yoghurt or cornflour still.
What limitations do you have on working out?
Many. For a while earlier this year I was able to do light workouts with weights a couple of times a week, but I can’t exert myself at all due to the M.E. Anything that sets my pulse racing can be full of consequences for me, as can lifting or carrying anything slightly heavy. Even standing too long can cause me problems, so I have a lot of limitations with trying to keep fit. It’s a catch 22 for me as I need to keep my joints strong by building muscles around them due to having Ehlers Danlos and my joints often dislocate and ache, but when I’m not doing too well, that becomes really hard. I try to do what I can, but it’s not easy. I’d love to have a proper fitness routine, but I make the most of what I can.
Do you sleep well? If not, what helps?
Yes and no. Sometimes my brain will race and not let me shut off and go to sleep, but quite a lot of the time now I do sleep ok. I generally get about 6-8 hours, depending on how the night has gone, but I am a very light sleeper so I wake up constantly. I know they say you should stay away from electronics at night, but the only thing that helps me is playing low key games on my phone until I fall asleep. It distracts my brain enough to make it go to sleep and that does help.
How do you try to stay calm and relaxed so you don’t stress yourself out?
For me it’s a combination of a few things. Deep breathing, remembering it’s an outside issue and if I can’t personally fix it myself, to try and not attach myself to it. Stopping for a while and thinking how lucky I am to have a family, friends, my blog, a house, food, water etc when some people don’t have any of this. Stopping to look outside and appreciate life and the miracle that the world is. Watching TV shows, movies or reading books to escape negative thought patterns and not allowing myself to have any self pity or use the word ‘I’ too often in a selfish way.
What have you been trying to practice lately in order to achieve happiness?
I like to take a minute and go outside into nature. I have always been an outdoor person and I grew up living outside with nature basically, except when I had to come inside to sleep. Animals, trees, plants, insects are all a part of me and being surrounded by them really helps ground me. I try to just sit there and look around me, appreciating everything for what it is and how important it is in life. Nature often reminds me of how important it is to keep growing and carrying on. Even weeds can make an appearance through concrete and pavements, finding a way to get to light and grow, so humans can too. I have a happy place where I love to go and sit and it has a view of so many gorgeous fields (just below). It’s secluded and nobody else has ever been there when I have been there, so it’s the ideal place to appreciate and enjoy the worlds beauty. Too many times people get wrapped up in their struggles and in life, they forget to even look around them and they miss everything. The biggest thing I try to practice is being present and living in the now.
Can you elaborate more on your happy place?
Isn’t it pretty? I’m lucky enough to live in the countryside so I am surrounded by nature everyday, but when I immerse myself in it like this and just sit there, looking at the birds, the rabbits, the little bugs that might have decided to sit on me, the sky, the clouds, the trees, every blade of grass… I get an overwhelming feeling of stillness and clarity. I am an empath as well, which means I often pick up on the emotions and feelings of other people, so taking myself out of places, away from people and only tuning into the emotions and feelings of nature is a nice feeling. Everything is so calm in the Summertime and so peaceful, I just love to explore everything and take it in. It washes away any negativity that may have been building up inside me and it lets me stay calm, happy and connected. Living in the present.
Would you class what you describe as an enlightenment? What books have you read that helped?
I would and I wouldn’t. I would say it’s well on its way to enlightenment and I have read Siddhartha and The Power of Now (recommended by Chris Evans) to help me with understanding fully, however I have learned that it’s my own journey that I need to take to get me to the happy places of freedom in my mind. For me, it’s about trying to get out of my own head and to stop stressing over everything all the time. To quote Anne Hathaway as Princess Mia in The Princess Diaries ‘And then I realised, how many stupid times a day I say the word I’ and this couldn’t be more true. Too many times the word ‘I’ is used and it’s just feeding the negative side of my brain which only leads to stress and disappointment, so the enlightenment is kind of like feeling free and calm in your own brain. Trying to just concentrate on breathing, meditating etc can really help. It’s not easy at all, especially when you have an overactive brain, but it’s worth doing for sanity sake.
You have had M.E and health issues for 14 years now, is it really that easy to put the problems aside and try and stay happy?
Not at all. The keywords in your question are ‘for 14 years’ which means I’ve been working at it for over a decade. It’s not something that you all of a sudden wake up from and achieve right away, it’s a learning, training and ongoing process which is for life, I think. The more you work at trying to stay grounded, trying to live in the present and appreciate everything you have and what’s around you, the easier it becomes.
At first it’s always hard to drift away from your own negative thought patterns as I remember thinking to myself all the time about negative things to do with the change or just because I got a bit off track, I’d beat myself up about it, but that’s not what it’s about. I’ve had a few moments of true clarity and enlightenment and that was beautiful. One was when I was in the back of the car on a long drive back from Birmingham and I was looking around at all the fields and I could feel and see every blade of grass, the sunset reflection off of leaves, the haze, the scent of the air on the fields and I have never forgotten that moment. It was like pure bliss and I was just allowing myself to be in the moment and the moment only. There was no room then to think about the past or the future. Only look and see what was around me and I loved it.
How do you try and practice calmness, strength and clarity when you are feeling weak and everything is going wrong?
For me, it’s about taking a step back from the situation and trying to understand why I am feeling that way. More often than not it’s because I’m picking up on the negativity of people around me or I’m extremely tired and weak from having a bad health day. So I try to fix the situation. Take myself out from being around negative people or try to make sure that I rest and tell myself tomorrow might be better. It’s very easy to get caught up in a negative spiral because you feel weak. Even some of the strongest people end up crying and having a mini breakdown if they are ill, haven’t eaten to keep their strength up and are being pushed to the limits, so it’s important to try and stand up and take action. Notice the spiral happening and take yourself out of it. Almost step outside your body, look in on what’s going on, and try and stay calm once you understand the situation.
And how are you doing now? What’s your thoughts?
I’m doing ok. I’m actually going through a bit of a relapse at the moment and I’m having many more bad days than good days, my legs are sore a lot of the time, my nerve endings are inflamed so my hair follicles are raw, my stomach is quite upset, but I’m ok. There are always bad days and there are good days, I know my limits and I know I need to rest, so I work around it. I truly try to make the best situation that I can from everything and not have negative thoughts. Like I said, I’ve had 14 years of M.E to help me get to this place and I’m ok. I’m happy with who I am. Thank you for sending me all these questions as well, and of course if you have anymore, just leave them in the comments below.