Twenty-Seven Things I Learned at Twenty-Seven

 

1. You don’t have to be ready to make big life changes, especially if you won’t ever be ready

Having such unstable health has meant that every big decision I have made over the past few years I have felt somewhat unsure of, and completely unprepared for. I always struggled with the feeling of worrying about whether I was ready to make decisions and changes that would potentially have a big impact on my life, but I’m more and more coming to realise that the majority of people experience this, healthy or not, and that if you wait to be ready to make a big change you might be waiting forever.

2. Sometimes you have to get worse before you can get better

Not just a little bit worse, but a lot worse, and not just for a few days or weeks, but for months or even longer. I have been told this by numerous doctors since being diagnosed with Lyme Disease, but after being on & subsequently having to abandon a couple of treatments that just made me worse full stop, without any prospect of improvement on the horizon, I had become more than a little sceptical of anything that caused my symptoms to worsen. When I committed to getting Stem Cells I was explicitly warned that I would most likely be very sick after the procedure, and although I did my best to mentally prepare for this, it was still very scary to when I started to worsen a couple of weeks after treatment, and I had to dig really deep to keep committed in the tough months that followed. I had moments of wondering if I was completely crazy for continuing to be positive about something that was making me so sick, but when I emerged out the other side of the dip to see much brighter days it was more than worth it. Finding the strength and faith to keep believing in the process of healing has been one of the biggest lessons not just of this year, but of my life, and I hold it close to me every day as I continue to navigate the recovery journey.

3. You can have a meaningful life without a job

For such a long time so I felt so ashamed about not being in school or having a job. I always hated meeting people and being asked what I do, and every day I went to bed feeling that I had achieved nothing, and that I was a failure because of it. At the start of 2019 I started connecting more with others living with chronic illness, and I had a complete revelation that my life can still have purpose whilst I am unwell. Now I take pride in the things I can do, rather than focusing on what I can’t, and I enjoy my daily routine on the vast majority of days; writing this blog, treatment, walking when I can, journaling, speaking to friends, and the most important purpose of all – working towards healing.

4. Soulmates don’t just exist in the romantic sense

There is room for many different kinds of soulmates in your life, and friendship soulmates are the biggest blessing too. I like to call mine my forever people, and I have been grateful this year to have the continued support and love of some old forever friends, and to have found a couple of new ones who I now couldn’t imagine being without.

5. Friendship isn’t measured by who you’ve known the longest

Following on from my last point, the most important people in your life don’t necessarily have to be the ones who you have known forever. When I became unwell three years ago I largely stopped meeting new people, and figured that I wouldn’t be able to make any new friends going forwards. However, in the past twelve months I have been fortunate enough to have gained a few very close and special friends, with circumstances and fate bringing us together, and I feel some of them know me just as well as some who I’ve known for decades (who I am also extremely grateful for!)

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6. Life is better with human interaction

After spending so much time in California this year where everyone is so friendly, I was struck by how at home in London, lots of people go out of their way to not talk to people they encounter throughout the day. It’s such a British stereotype, but people really do not start conversation with strangers, and on the underground even eye-contact is to be avoided at all costs. However, personally over the past year I’ve realised how much better my daily life is when I actively engage with everyone I come across. The cashier at the supermarket, the old man walking a cute dog in the park, the girl sitting next to me in the IV clinic, they more than likely all have something interesting to say and this kind of human contact goes a long way to making me feel less alone when I don’t have the normal social interactions that people who are able to work or go to school have.

7. Gluten-free, vegan donuts – totally worth the hype

Following a restrictive diet is getting so much easier as more and more places are embracing the growing free-from market, and creating delicious alternatives to just about anything you can think of. Although the majority of my food allergies have developed from getting Lyme, I was already Coeliac before getting sick, and the difference in gluten-free options available in comparison to ten years ago is insane, and I’m excited to see how they further expand in the years to come. Which leads me onto my next point..

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8. There are places in the world where it’s more abnormal to actually eat gluten and dairy than to not

I have never felt more normal with all my food allergies than when I was in Los Angeles. Everywhere is so geared up to people needing or wanting more control over what is in their food, and eating out in restaurants was such a dream. London take note please!

9. Colour coding can make anything better

I’ve always loved stationary and hoarded pretty notebooks, but over the past year I’ve really committed to Bullet Journaling, using this method to organise and keep track of everything in my life, from medication charts, to symptom trackers, to what I’m going to eat this week. As my neurological function has improved I’ve really enjoyed journaling for pleasure, experimenting with calligraphy and drawing, and creating beautiful coloured spreads has firmly established itself as a highly therapeutic part of my routine. I’m also embarrassingly obsessed with my colour-coded pill boxes – life changing!

10. Sometimes you have to create your own silver linings

I used to think that whether or not silver linings appeared from difficult situations was down to chance. I always believed that good things could come out of bad circumstances, but this year I have learned that sometimes the silver linings aren’t always obvious, and that in fact sometimes you have to find or create them yourself. Just because it’s sometimes difficult to see the positives when faced with challenges or setbacks, it doesn’t mean that they are not there to be found and celebrated. I now try to always see an upside of any situation, even if it is the tiniest and most seemingly insignificant positive, shifting my attitude on this has really changed my life.

11.You can never own too many pairs of leggings.

Having spent so much of this year in treatment and hospitals I’ve finally embraced the fact that being comfy is more important than looking cute. In addition, not all leggings are made equal, and having nice quality and pretty ones goes a long way to making you feel better when you aren’t able to get dressed very often.

12. My soul is happiest when I’m by the water

It’s an age old cliché I know, but the beach has always been my happy place. After not being able to swim for most of the year, getting back in the sea in California in September was one of the highlights of being twenty-seven. I also moved apartments in London so I now live next to the river, and I’m convinced it has made me so much calmer, and so much more at peace and in balance within myself.

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13. You have to give people a chance to understand

Losing touch with certain friends was something I had to come to terms with over the last couple of years since getting sick, and it was definitely difficult to emotionally accept that some people just didn’t seem to really care. However, this year I’ve realised that some of the responsibility of this actually lay with me, and that some people from my old life who I assumed didn’t care, just didn’t understand, and I didn’t realise that I wasn’t giving them enough information to understand. As I’ve been more open in sharing what I’ve been through and am still going through, so many people I had lost touch with have been back in touch, and it’s reinforced my belief that it’s always better to think the best of people until they give you clear reason not to

14. Chemicals are in everything

I started my journey with shifting to chemical-free products after my London practitioner advised me to transition a year ago, and I was shocked to discover how many harmful chemicals are in products which pretty much every household uses. I made the switch to chemical-free cleaning products, soaps, toothpaste and deodorant, and it’s been a lot of trial and error to find brands which actually work as well as their chemical-full counterparts. After getting Stem Cells I did three months of completely chemical-free makeup and hair products, which was challenging but necessary after learning just how many harmful toxins I was putting on my skin. Now that I am out of the 100-day period I use some regular makeup products and perfumes on occasion, but have kept everything else chemical-free. I still have some learning to go, and am forever on the lookout for a good non-harmful shampoo for my long, curly and unruly hair!

15. Living toxin-free isn’t just limited to diet and products

With teaching and guidance from my wonderful team of doctors, practitioners and therapists I have learnt so much this year about cleaning up everything in my life, and getting rid of anything that is causing me harm or doesn’t serve me positively at this point. It’s not just food, household products and beauty items that can be harmful, it can be toxic people, a toxic job or toxic living situation that you need to address in order to be in a state that is conducive to healing, and it is just as important to recognise when you need to make these kind of changes, as it is to check food labels for additives and E numbers.

16. There are worse things in life than being stuck on the couch

Like being stuck in bed for months on end, unable to even lift my head up. This experience has taught me never to take for granted being able to rest on the couch and watch television. Never have I been so grateful to be able to watch Grey’s Anatomy in a semi-upright position.

17. It’s really difficult to keep plants alive

Discovering that there is such a thing as over-watering, and you have to get someone to ‘plant-sit’ when you go away. Is this what parenting feels like? It’s super stressful!

18. Self-care is about more than just massages

As I have continued with Lyme treatment and all the not so lovely side effects this causes, I have learned the true value of self-care and having a self-care routine that really works for me. When so much of my health is out of my control, building a toolbox of go-to things that are guaranteed to make me feel a little better has been game changing. I have also discovered that what each person considers to be self-care is such a personal thing, and whilst I do of course enjoy the physical and mental benefits I get from a massage, my definition of self-care is much broader. Taking Epsom salt baths, having hot tea in bed, hanging out with my cats, baking, listening to a crime podcast – all of these things help me switch off and relax, and I now wouldn’t be without them.

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 19. Sometimes you need to be selfish to do what is right for you

This is something that is a lesson in progress, as I still struggle with it but am slowly getting better. I used to feel so bad and get such anxiety around having to cancel on friends or family if I was too unwell to make something we had planned, and I would say yes to so many things I knew I wasn’t up to doing because I was in denial about my situation.  However, I have recently started saying no more, and trying to not worry so much about letting people down or being difficult or boring. As a very wise person said to me recently, ‘those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind’.

20. The magic of the online health and chronic-illness community

I always feared it would be a bit depressing and triggering to be immersed in others’ health struggles on top of my own, but as long as I’m mindful about how I access social media, it has been such a positive addition to my life. I can’t believe I waited so long to embrace it, but joining this amazing community has been one of the best things I’ve done this year and I look forwards to connecting with even more like-minded people going forwards

21. Cauliflower can actually taste good

It turns out there are other ways to cook it besides boiled or smothered with cheese, and with the right ingredients it is actually possible to make it pretty delicious – who would have thought?!

22. What is right for others not always right for you

When I first got into wellness and discovered some of my favourite health, food and yoga bloggers (many of whom I still follow and adore today), I took what they said and what they did as bible, and would get so confused and disheartened when something they preached the benefits of had exactly the opposite effect on me. Over the past year I have really focused on listening to my own body and intuition, of course taking inspiration and advice from others, but remembering that everyone is different and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for you. It doesn’t make you a failure because the paleo diet makes you feel weak and nauseous, or because you can’t do a high intensity workout because of POTS symptoms, and it’s so important to keep searching for those things that suit you and your body.

23. Your biggest weakness can also be your biggest strength

What you may perceive as weakness, others may see as strength, and that’s something that I have learned this year, from watching others go through the same health journey I am also navigating. It’s so easy to feel weak when you’re seriously ill and trying to get better, but it’s so important to realise the strength that comes from keeping fighting and not giving up.

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24. There are amazing Lyme Literate Doctors out there

I might have had to travel to the US to find her, but I am so grateful to have found a doctor who not only understands my condition and Lyme Disease better than I do, but who is also totally committed to getting me well, and has me on a treatment plan I 100% believe in and am on board with. I pray that one day this kind of treatment and medical expertise is also available to people in the UK, without them having to pay extortionate costs and leave the country.

25. That the hardest month would turn out to be one of the best experiences of my life

I’ve obviously written so much about my Stem Cell Treatment and experience at Infusio so I’ll save that for another day, but my treatment in May was life-changing on so many levels, and I will carry every moment of it and the incredible people I met there with me forever

26. My body is capable of healing

I’m nowhere near where I want to be, and I had some of my sickest days at twenty-seven, but I also saw improvements in my health I never thought were possible. This time last year I didn’t know if I would read or write ever again, or whether I would ever be able to eat more than five foods. It is truly humbling to acknowledge how far away from that reality I am now, and I am beyond blessed and grateful for my healing progress every single day.

27. I still love to travel

I  feared I might never be able to travel again, but in September I achieved a huge personal goal in flying to Australia for the wedding of two friends and this trip truly set my soul felt on fire again and reminded me just how much I love travelling. It showed me that I can still do the things I used to love to do, even if I have to make adjustments to consider my health, and I am now so excited at the prospect of future adventures.

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