Deepest relief

There’s a feeling that keeps sweeping over me this week and its like a ghost of a memory and a healing balm, all in one. Its been happening since the hot weather turned back to June’s usual cloud and rain yet the days are still comfortably mild; enough to keep fresh air moving freely through the house in a way that is distinctly “summer”, not least because of the tinge of honeysuckle on the air. With doors flung wide open, the dampness is like a welcome coolant on frayed nerves and I find I can only hold gaze with softened eyes, as though the whiteness of the sky is almost brighter than the constant sunshine they replace. Recently fledged birds chirrup in unison from trees where they take shelter between excitable reconnaissance dives upon the bird feeder yet there’s, otherwise, such a stillness in the air as though the thick cloud cover is made of cotton wool. I find I just want to surrender into cushions, to curl up wrapped around my own torso, to seek out books to read yet to fidget between options, to not fully pay attention, to close eyes, to drift-off, to just be. There is a sense of deep release, of profoundest relief like when a great weight has been suddenly lifted. Even though there are still various things trying to agitate me;  family things, life things, mini-dramas that irritate and make inevitable demands, my driving impulse is to keep finding this place and to lose myself to it whenever I can, for as long as I can….and the rest can wait.

It struck me as I returned to it this morning (family gone, doors flung open, house quiet…) that this place in time that I am “remembering” with all my senses is the summer when I was sixteen and had just finished my exams. These were probably the most demanding set of exams I ever undertook, from the sheer breadth of the dozen subjects I had been expected to know in such depth, my life taken up by piles of notes in every corner of my room for months. Crammed – don’t we use that expression; I was crammed full of “stuff” to the point of almost bursting and now…nothing, it was all over. The feeling, I recall, was quite sublime. No set books, no timetable, not even a school anymore, having left ready to move on to college and many of the people I had known for years said goodbye to once and for all (in some cases, another relief). No point in worrying, no need to plan. The soft wave coming in to carry me on its shoulders was one of, yes, sweet relief and I found myself suspended in the kind of void I don’t think I remember ever experiencing before that and have probably never got back to, not fully, since becoming an adult. Really, had it been 33 years since I was last there?

Honeysuckle.jpgSo, I recall in fleeting glimpses, like old sepia photos in my mind (though the feelings coming through are much stronger than the images) how I surrendered to just such a summer as I am being reminded of now. Warm and damp after the intense heat wave that (of course) had burned its way through all my exams; white skies were now the blank-canvas backdrop to a summer-verdant garden. The scent of moist honeysuckle growing up the wall beneath my bedroom window perfumed the air day and night, as though to remind me I had now entered the sacred garden of my own deepest tranquility. The overwhelming contrast of “nothing to be done”, no demands upon my time must have been stark against the weeks of relentless pressure, like nectar to the senses. The jar I had been held-captive in had smashed and I was free to enter the garden of life; that’s what it felt like, and all I wanted to do was to examine each moment like I was breathing in the scent of a flower. I gave myself over to a long summer of reading many novels (deep diving deep into DH Lawrence and Brontës – is that why my recent craving…?), of alternate sleeping – reading  – dozing again. I was waking at dawn, eating breakfast long before anyone else got up, going back to my bed, staying up past midnight, lying down on the grass, contemplating abstract thoughts, pursuing transitory ambitions that often “popped” before they developed, letting them go without a care. The scent of sweet rain and hot buttered toast and the ceaseless bird chirrup being enough, being everything, that stimulated the senses.

It’s not the event but the feeling of such a time that is wanting to rise up in me again; to remind me so that it can be experienced anew. For when do we ever let ourselves be like this once we become adults; do we ever? I mean, really surrendering into it, giving up the rhythms of time and allowing that now is all there is? Giving ourselves to it just as it is – void – without seeking to fill it up.

Tuning into your own most-treasured time of “void”, of a feeling you once stored-up for such a day as this, a distant memory of what it truly feels like to have nothing to do and nowhere to go can be such a gift to yourself. Especially if you can allow yourself to accept it as it is, on behalf of who you are right now, not making it about nostalgia as though you are trying to recapture some long-lost essence of your past when “life was better” or “you were more deserving of it”. The biggest challenge is to allow it, to really give yourself over to it and not seek to make it into another project by orchestrating it or making it conditional. How easy do we find it to be in void and not allow the mind to seek something to do, to worry about or a way to make the time more “useful” or “constructive” (as we tend to regard it when we constantly keep ourselves busy)? Yet empty space is anything but lacking in use; and it might be the very thing we are needing most, the refinding of which will be the missing jigsaw piece that makes all else suddenly fit together. Like the hidden portal  we couldn’t see for looking, it might be the doorway to exactly where we were trying so hard to get to with our minds…and there it was, all the time. For most of us, memories from childhood are like the eager guides waiting to take us there and I urge you to take whatever opportunity arises when you ask “when did I ever feel like that?” and just see where it takes you. Then, once you have it back, make an honoured place for this state of being in your life and watch it take on a new state of harmony; which is just an outward reflection of a far deeper state of harmony that has just found its space in you.

Itching to get there

Watching the birds at the feeder in my garden, the busy sparrows with their young family waiting in the nest, I got to pondering whether this was a good thing that we humans provide such easy food for them. Their lives have got so much easier since the need to forage for food has become less of a necessity to survive and thrive into the next generation. How far are we influencing them, their numbers and longevity? Or is it only right, as we thrive, that we share the vibe around; perhaps this is their time.

Whatever the aggravations and even irritants of modern life may be, I never cease being grateful for the advantages of living in a time when food is readily available and in which I have choices, endless choices, about what to eat and how to live my life. I see a long winding road ahead of me when, I know, many of my ancestors would have already left by this time of my life. As a soul, I feel this opportunity most profoundly too.

I awe myself with just thinking of the countless lifetimes that I amassed great wisdom, increasingly ripe for my senior years, only to succumb to disease, poverty or worse. So many lives cut short in our prime…we women are feeling that rising up in our DNA in these times. There is an itch that happens at menopause and it is all about wanting to take hold of the opportunity we have been waiting for across many lifetimes cut short or when circumstances were less ideal to be all we wanted to be. We are ripe once again to claim all that a mature woman is about; shedding responsibility and unnecessary ties in order to focus on her great gifts, all the accumulated wisdom of ages, which opens like a treasure trove as she lays down family responsibility to become her most empowered self.

Only the itch is real….very real; and it can drive you crazy. Not only do I become systemically dry as though all the moisture has been sucked out of me by a giant drinking straw but I HURT during the second halves of my cycle these days. Yes, I still have a cycle but it feels like it is running on empty. Of  course, this happens just as the increased sensitivity of those forthcoming “wisdom years” switch on and I feel more than ever, especially in those second two weeks of my month building to the full moon. The combination of subtle sensitivities that  seem to feel literally everything (and then some) with a nervous system that feels ragged and frayed is profound for me and, I suspect, many other women too. It can present as heat and flame, as irritation (internal…external, it’s all the same), as burning skin, as dryness, as itchy scalp, as straw-like hair, as inflammation, as all over pain, as joint aches and weakness, as electric nerves, as intercostal tightness, as back and neck pain, as spongy or spasming ligaments, as stomach soreness, as migraines, as optic nerves that make vision blurred and achy, as chronic dehydration and fizzing tongue, as over-reaction to environmental smells and noises, as constipation, as neuropathy, as dizziness and flashes of multi-dimensional insight that confuse, as bizarre food cravings or no appetite at all…these are just some of some of what I know from personal experience.

These are all versions of this metaphorical (you could even say, metaphysical) “itch” which – in physicality – presents as the chronic dryness that is generated when hormones are in transition. Really, its transformation underway…a metamophosis…and in making it mundane, by denying it or even making it seem like a problem, a curse, we fight back against what is really like a spreading of wings from the chrysalis; bewilderingly, disorientingly beautiful. Our culture has done terrible things to downplay the stage of her life that is all about female empowerment and there is a minefield of superstitious beliefs and misinformation around it; no wonder we hurt and struggle our way through it.

In its depths, it has sometimes made me wonder whether this dried-out, over-sensitivity and pain is what lies in stall every day for my body post-menopause but I don’t think that it is. I suspect that the body finds a new equilibrium once it stops trying to run an old cycle, all about reproduction, that is now a learned pattern but for which it no longer has the resources or the use. While reproductive organs continue to act as though there is an egg, it’s as though they dredge the bottom of the barrel each month to prepare “a nest” that is no longer needed in the womb. Once they catch up and realise that those days are over, I suspect they won’t have to work so hard at this monthly whip-around to gather resources that my body can’t provide any more, leaving cells and organs depleted of what they most need to run optimally. I won’t need to supplement so hard or to brace myself for two weeks of dipping into pain. In other words it will get easier once the decision has been made that menopause is here now…since, like any decision, it is the making of it that comes as relief, the hesitating that creates anxiety and friction.

Really, its nothing; just a phase we go through; all consuming though it can feel, like a mini-death to some. Just think what a caterpillar goes through as it digests itself inside the chrysalis, before emerging…with wings. To do this, it has to “imagine” itself on the other side, forming so-called imaginal cells in the soup of its own disintegration, which (as far as we can describe it) seem to hold the intention of the new butterfly-shape it is taking before it is even created and use the “food” of its old life to grow; and we do this every time we imagine all the good stuff that lies ahead of us in our lives, building upon all the experiences we have gathered.

ben-white-147268.jpgSo, as ever, I’m left knowing somehow that the more we embrace menopause, inviting and celebrating it, the easier it gets. When we cheer it in and are grateful for the forthcoming years that we always wanted, so that we can put concerns of the body on the shelf along with all those nurturing skills required of us during the child-rearing years, we can concentrate on ourselves and our own soul’s growth, for self-empowerment. Really, we make such a big deal about self-empowerment like we have to brace ourselves to conquer the world or go on a course to learn about it when, really, it’s all just about becoming our true selves, drawing to us all of the wisdom we have gathered from life and using it to spread our wings fully, in our own beautiful way (whatever that happens to be), guided by joy. We can get down to the business of stepping into ourselves like never before with no apologies, no compromises, no other demands on our free time than this. Quite literally, this is our time, the one we have been waiting for (both the culmination of this lifetime and many others…the combined wisdom of which we tune into more and more during these years) so the sooner we take hold of it with both hands, the easier the transition gets. When we really welcome in those years that lie ahead of us, without fear or the concerns of the past, the temporary discomfort of the transition feels incidental, almost worth it as a rite of passage through to another side, remembering that there is another side of our life to now claim.

Reclaiming our spirit – some thoughts on alcohol and self-love

I’ve been pondering humanity’s troubled relationship with alcohol more deeply than ever, this last 18 months, since I stopped consuming it myself. Partly because the clarity of hindsight has allowed me to newly appreciate, and own, how alcohol was the bane of my life for just so many years; really, its consumption underlay some of the very worst experiences (and behaviours) of my life. In fact all of my biggest traumas except those relating to loss of a loved one had their foundations on a rock bed of alcohol-induced behaviours including some monumentally poor decisions and mindsets that had very far-reaching effects. The most pervasive of these was as a result of how alcohol imparted a subtle yet deadly sense of self-loathing that became deeper, more innocuous, year-on-year; only to be remembered like a faintly ringing Pavlov’s bell each time I took another drink and thus snowballed into even more self-denigration with each occasion.

In amongst the many causes of such self-directed bitterness was the fact I knew, not so very deep down, that the drink I consumed (yes, even if it was now only a couple of glasses a week..) set my longed-for recovery back in yards and sometimes miles…Yet I still did this thing as though I couldn’t stop myself, as though it was beyond the reach of such logic or rules, stood on its own little platform of most guarded behaviour, the untouchable of all bad habits. I would give up almost anything but, no, not this. I made Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 10.54.46excuses for it, made it sound gentile and sociable, like a connoisseur ingredient or the great leveler of people. The havoc it wreaked on my otherwise patient and persistent attempts to achieve health equilibrium were not so gentile; I was chemically sensitive, intolerant to sugar and wheat yet prepared to imbibe this stuff packed full of sulphites and worse. Meanwhile, the more I felt somehow sullied by the habit, the more I felt compelled to pursue it…until the wake up of my consciousness allowed me to see some truths around this thing. It started to show me how drinking consistently marked the end of celebration, the down-turn in my evenings, the point where my tongue spoke free-wheeling gibberish instead of flowing inspiration, where my natural exuberance became conditional, weary or jaded and (not so ironically) my overflowing glass of life distorted to appear somewhat on the empty side until my head was allowed to clear once again.

It came as such a relief, one day, to quietly and without fanfare decide that I had had enough, that the effects simply weren’t worth it, that the show – for me – was over. Joined by my husband, we just as quietly ceased our subscription to a wine club, gave away all our glassware and offered our stash to our friends. There was that sense of relief you get when you send a bad boyfriend packing; long overdue and such a feeling of quiet empowerment washing in to fill that void. With a sigh, I am at last at liberty to speak out about just how unhealthy that relationship really was!

In fact, this many months along the line, quite aside from the fact my health feels so (so so so)  much better, more stable, without the weekly yo-yo in return for that large glass of red, I have never felt more resolved that this is a life-choice, not a passing whim. A sense of “missing out” when on holiday or in a restaurant has long since passed me by along with any sense that having a good time is not possible without it; in fact the opposite is true, I have never felt more relaxed in social settings.

It’s also a topic on my mind as my daughter (so far not a drinker) comes of age and starts to feel that societal push to do what everyone else does and join in the party. Thus far, and in fact in her own mind, she has no desire whatsoever to drink (a choice that long-predates my own decision to give up the bottle). Yet now that she approaches university age, she feels the tug to succumb to “the norm” as some sort of inevitability on the horizon like getting a job or learning to drive; almost like it is a necessity for social survival…and I hate that, loathe the cultural thumb screws that make any young person feel they must do as the herd do or be extricated. How has such behaviour got anything to do with pleasure and relaxation and why has a willingness to get inebriated got anything to do with acceptability or social prowess (or is it just that those who do can’t stand anyone else soberly watching as they make fools of themselves); yet our youngsters have never been under more pressure to conform to these social expectations if they want to avoid marginalisation and being deemed too uncool to have friends.

I have also been more interested than ever in the great mystery of “why” we drink alcohol  because it, to me, so clearly represents the Sixth Wave of our evolution, of which it is a master tool. If you are not familiar with what the Sixth Wave is (I refer you to the first of my various posts on the topic), in summary, it is the era that saw the left hemispheral viewpoint “take over” our world, distracting us from being spiritual beings aware that we are in direct communiqué with the divine towards the perspective of a world obsessed with logic, materialism and control. Early last year (shortly after giving up on drink myself), when I was deep-diving into our Fifth Wave ancestors by reading a series of essays about the nomadic tribes that followed the reindeer, I sat up and took note when I read one article describe just how deliberate that introduction of “drinks that inebriate” was as a means of disconnecting us from ourselves, causing us to forget who we truly were and making us so much more malleable at the hands of those who had designs on controlling that new invention set to take over our world – monetary wealth. Sure enough, as an instrument of controlling the masses whilst disengaging us from our most spiritual selves (and bringing out our worst side), alcohol has been second to none. Under its influence, we have been dumbed down and herded like cattle for six thousand years…so, now we are into a new age on the brink of an evolutionary leap, perhaps it is well overdue for a timely decline (though I’m sure its advertisers, and those behind its vast industry, will kick back with all they have). I know these things for sure – the path to recovery requires that you take back your personal power, your responsiblity for your own health and that you unconditionally love (and respect) yourself; none of which are consistent with what alcohol, voluntarily, does to the body each time we consume it.

In light of such ponderings, the article that I tripped upon today, which covers in much more detail many of the themes I refer to here, including the dubious beginnings of our relationship with alcohol, is an interesting read. With this quote to entice you to read on and, perhaps, shed a little circumspection on this very bizarre topic (why oh why do we give ourselves over to this stuff?), I will pass you on to the article by Zahra Sitta with the encouragement that it is well worth the read.

It is a known by many that ingesting alcohol depresses the nervous system, kills brain cells, is toxic to the liver, weakens the immune system, and has many other harmful effects. We are taught that long-term alcohol use can lead to unwanted weight gain, diseases of the liver, lowering of intelligence, and negative effects on hormones. Drinking alcohol while pregnant can lead to birth defects, mental retardation, and deformities in the developing fetus. Yet still, it is mass promoted and supported by our mainstream culture. Have you ever considered that alcohol is a slick tool of the supporters of the Matrix (global mind control and oppression program) to keep people on a path of disempowerment and sickness?

The word origin speaks volumes:

The word “Alcohol” comes from the Arabic “al-kuhl” which means “BODY EATING SPIRIT”, and gives root origins to the English term for “ghoul”. In Middle Eastern folklore, a “ghoul” is an evil demon thought to eat human bodies, either as stolen corpses or as children.

Al kol: Genie or spirit that takes on varied shapes or a supernatural creature in Arabic mythology.
Al kol: Any drug or substance that takes away the mind or covers it.”
The word alcohol is also linked to the fixed star in astronomy known as Algol- also known as “the Demon’s head.”
The current Arabic name for alcohol (ethanol) is الغول al-ġawl – properly meaning “spirit” or “demon”.

Extracts from Alcohol Consumption and Spirit Possession

Banner image created by Mrsiraphol –

Super-sensitive abroad

Travelling away from home can be an extra-challenge for those of us with health challenges and sensitivities of any kind because it takes us out of our routine. It’s not so much the distance but the upheaval that can be difficult to cope with (on top of the extra tiredness that comes with travel) when you probably have well-established survival tactics in place at home that enable you to cope pretty well with your health most of the time. Booking a holiday can feel a bit like planning to blow all that carefully created homeostasis to pieces in the name of having fun and there have been times when I wonder why I do it; is it even worth it (the answer, by the way, is yes). Changes in sleep arrangements and diet can throw health into disarray when maintaining that balance has become a finely tuned thing. So when I refer to travelling “abroad” here, I mean anywhere that is not home, though air travel brings its own particular challenges.

For me, this is a trade-off that I am prepared to accept in return for travel – which I am passionate about; but that’s not to say that it is always easy and its become a case of knowing what my limitations are and how to obtain the circumstances that best support me (without flinching at having to ask for them). Having been away from home three times this month (a week in the country, a night in a city hotel and four days overseas), this topic felt ripe for the picking. It felt like an opportunity to outline some of the common pitfalls and challenges and some of the ways I have learned to cope with them (to the best of my ability) to ensure that a holiday is a series of jolly-days, not something to be dreaded or recovered from.

I just want to add, at the start of this health journey I fared much less well with travel and would be crashed out exhausted and in additional pain for up to a month afterwards. In fact three trips in quick succession would have been out of the questions just a couple of years or more ago, which shows just how far I have come (or better I have got at adapting). I’ve also come a long way in how much I respect and understand what my body needs. Back then, a holiday was an excuse to go even more off the rails in terms of diet and so on than in my normal  life, letting it all hang out in the name of enjoying myself – which effectively meant I was letting it down just as I was asking even more of it than usual. I also knew next to nothing about electro-sensitivity, which is a prime consideration when away from home these days as it is impossible to maintain the same electro-stasis in a hotel that I’ve managed to create overnight at home (using an isolator switch installed just over a year ago). These days, an insistence upon great diet and an understanding of how EMFs profoundly affect my health are the two most important things that I pack in my suitcase!

So, blow by blow, I’m going to run through some of the typical scenarios that can be taxing and the way that I have learned to cope with them or to adapt the way I do things to make (in so many ways) a better experience of travel than I’ve ever had before.

Airports and flying – challenged before you even get there

An obvious one to start with is considering how you get there and, if flying comes into that equation, you have but two choices – to avoid travelling altogether or learn how to make the best of a challenging deal. Airports and planes are an electro-soup to swim through between home and destination and the effects of passing through can rock your health for days afterwards unless you take good care of yourself en route.

If electro-sensitivity is one of your things, you probably already know just how much going through those airports, being subjected to scans and flying in a hermetically sealed tin box at high-altitude is going to affect your equilibrium. As soon as I stepped into Heathrow airport last week, my whole biology was fizzing and that was before I got close to the security checks. On the return trip I was subjected to a body scan inside a closed booth and my head felt like it had been pumped full of tightly packed electrons for the next 15 minutes or more, the pressure, tingling and cascading effects were profound (interestingly, my husband commented on the same). Then, just walking those polished floors teeming with people carrying phones and gizmos underneath hot lights between all the eateries and shops sends electric shocks into the base of my feet, down arms to tingling fingers and flushing electricity through my face. Airports provide a relentless barrage of EMFs and, given the amount of time we are forced to stay in them before we even board a plane (shopping malls can feel the same but at least we have the choice to leave), there is really no avoiding it.

In fact, the flying part can be a welcome relief; the gentle flow of oxygen can make yo ufeel pleasantly lightheaded for short trips yet there is a drying and tightening effect to cells of being on board which can have repercussions as exacerbated nerve pain during or after the flight. With diabolical timing, this electro-environment combined with the stress of travel may have caused bowel and bladder issues to flare. Pressure headaches are a classic symptom of being in these kinds of environment and (unless luggage has been brilliantly thought-through), back and neck pains are common. One of the things I really noticed this time of flying was how tight my usually comfortable footwear (chosen because they were the best pair for spending hours walking in) became excruciatingly tight in this environment, almost like they weren’t my shoes, which confirms to me how the body’s first response to modern travel is inflammation. The feeling of profound dehydration that is also a classic side-effect of flying impacted me for at least 48 hours afterwards on both journeys. To avoid cascading into pain, boswellia as an anti-inflammatory can be a godsend and coconut water is a powerful antidote to dehydration (plus, of course, plenty of water). Even if you enjoy the occasional caffeinated drink (mine is green tea), I recommend avoiding it completely on the days that you travel since it will only worsen dehydration. If you think you will miss the theanine in the green tea (or if you would benefit from a calming effect), take an L-Theanine supplement, as I do, which can offer that calm feeling just before you fly. Healthy options that will boost, not deplete, include green juice or something like carrot and ginger (full of antioxidants); drinks which I was happy to find were more than readily available at both airports. In the “old days” I would have downed coffee and tea to keep myself going, not to mention sugary snacks and greasy food – no wonder I used to arrive on holiday feeling like the walking wounded.

Even with this kind of self-care, travel is exhausting and I almost always need an hour or so to recover on arrival. My top tip is to allow this! Try out your new bed for at least that first hour, even if you don’t manage to sleep, as it can make all the difference, allowing the body to recalibrate to its new surroundings. You can go for that first stroll around later, when you will be so grateful for the time you took to do nothing at all.

Back into the electro smog – coping with hotel accommodation

Hotels, of course, can be another trip wire for the electro-sensitive and I had diligently emailed ahead to alert mine that our room should not be anywhere near a wi-fi router or electrical fuseboard. When I arrived, we were very efficiently greeted by a hotel representative who walked us to our room to make sure everything met with my needs. She showed us how to turn off the mini-bar and called up a guy from maintenance to disengage the wire at the back of the fixed television on the wall which, otherwise, was stuck on permanent standby. Our room was lovely and quiet, well away from public areas and places with a high traffic of people using cellular technology. We made sure we had the same arrangement last year in Copenhagen, where our location in a dead-end corridor next to a cleaning cupboard meant we had no one anywhere near us with their phones. Another small boutique hotel we stayed in, last year, had a wi-fi router directly outside our door but allowed us to switch it off at the mains after 11 o’ clock at night (it was a small hotel and he made the other guests aware). Being an electro-sensitive himself, that hotel owner was more understanding than most but it is always worth sticking your neck out and asking anyway. Making sure you ask for these kinds of considerations to be taken when allocating rooms can make all the difference (and, believe me, I’ve experienced the opposite effect in rooms where I’ve paced the floor like a cat on a hot tin roof all night because the EMFs are almost unbearable).

thomas-brault-15523Even then, being used to sleeping in a “quiet” house where an electrical isolater switch has been installed (one flip of that switch and our house goes electrically quiet at night) means that any degree of electro pollution in a sleeping area feels profoundly different to what I am used to. Both my husband and daughter comment on this when they are away from home as they have also become accustomed to the benefits of our “quiet” house so we often have restless nights of communal floor-pacing as we settle in to a new place. In fact, this latest couple of trips has been  an interesting experiment to see how we fared in an “electrical” hotel bedroom, with close neighbours using their technology just the other side of a wall, after over a year of sleeping in a quiet zone. These observations are interesting enough to fuel a whole other article, which I will post soon.

One of the effects is that we notice how we get very hot at a “cellular level”; like having a constant hot flush, a deep inner heat that seems to rise up from within and which nothing adequately alleviates. Of course many hotel rooms have sealed windows and air-con for temperature control which only adds more EMFs into the environment; so I only use these in short bursts during the daytime hours and always seem to get to the point where I long to pummel my way out of that sealed window (an impulse that is much more than a reaction to the temperature…there is something fundamentally wrong-feeling about sleeping in a sealed room with absolutely no access to fresh air). We find that we sweat much more in this kind of environment and that the kind of body odour that is pleasantly absent in our lives at home (really, we seem to have stopped producing BO since we made so many changes to our diet and lifestyle…) is suddenly back like, well, a bad smell of old that catches us off guard since we don’t expect it anymore. We found that we would fall asleep exhausted but have disturbed sleep or wake up feeling tired or at least less-refreshed than normal, more groggy and bug-eyed (again, like the old days). Dreams are more frenetic, more human-oriented in their themes, like ridiculous soap opera plots, and less nourishing somehow. I noticed an increased level of irritability when I was in the hotel, especially during the hours that people in adjacent rooms are using their wi-fi and TVs (you could feel that energy pick up again from about 7 in the morning as those first sounds of channel flicking came through the walls); its like a fight-or-flight feeling that rises up in your cells for no reason. I get “electric tongue” which feels a lot like an acidic thirst but is actually a super-rapid tongue tingle. Head tones become super-shrill and I wake up with my hands shaking. Skin and hair becomes incredibly dry, gobbling up moisturizer and conditioner yet still feeling depleted. Fiery, irritated skin and unexpected muscle cramps and stiff necks speak of excess lactic acid production without exercising (a common symptom of electro-sensitivity noted in my earlier posts).  Eyes feel sore and tired, vision too blurred to read for long (some of these symptoms lessened markedly once we left the hotel and got out into fresh air). My nerves start to feel “brittle” and overstimulated; its a subtle and hard to describe thing but a feeling I know very well from places like shopping malls, airports and, yes, those days before we made our home into an electro quiet zone. Its like a constant low-level irritation to the whole nervous system that can be suddenly provoked to where it increases several notches without immediately obvious cause, coming in waves with the unseen onslaught of a highly electric environment. We both had upset stomachs that felt energetic in nature rather than food related and I had bouts of interstitial cystitis; as though it was all part of our bodies having to deal with being so over-stimulated, all of the time, including at night when they have become accustomed to going into deep and replenishing sleep.

So coping with all that was a case of doing more of the same from the airport – keeping fluid levels up; taking boswellia, l-theanine, taurine; keeping diet light and fresh. Which leads into the next part of the holiday survival plan:

Eating for the best experience – no compromises

As travelling vegetarians, we are used to hitting the challenge that we are different to the norm wherever we go unless we are self-catering (as we did on the first of our three trips this month; which makes things a whole lot easier). As a gluten-sensitive who also cannot cope with sulphites, yeast extract or sugar hidden in my food (all of these have a dire effect on pain levels), I now have more complications to deal with than ever. Last time we were in this location, we earmarked several really good vegetarian restaurants but that was two years ago, when I was in gluten-avoidance but still prepared to eat it “some of the time” to make for an easier life. All such compromise was given up last year when I found it was having to much of a impact on my pain levels, those unbearable headaches included (one slip into gluten, for instance, could set me back days or weeks) whereas I haven’t had a significant headache for over 6 months now, which is nothing short of a miracle by comparison. This was only the second time I had been overseas with this new-complicated set of food requirements so how would I fare?

toa-heftiba-195458As it turned out, our favourite veggie restaurant was right on the nail as everything was clearly marked for its gluten content (more so than I remember; or maybe I am just noticing more now it applies to me) and there was plenty to choose from so we had a lovely meal. At our other veggie favourite, which was less geared for gluten avoidance, we managed to have a great salad anyway so that was no issue in the middle of the day. Breakfast at the hotel was an extravagant affair and I was glad to see that all the granolas were gluten free though, not being a fan of soy milk (and soy is also on my “to avoid” list) I only had this once and was left relying on eggs, potatoes and cheese more than I would have liked, supplemented with some fairly basic fruit salad. I look forward to a time when restaurants start to diversify their alternative milks to include almond (my favourite) or rice as I don’t know anyone who doesn’t wrinkle up their nose at soy milk. They were able to offer me gluten free bread but one bite told me it had sugar in it (as so many of the alternative breads do, sadly). Other guests were loading up their plates with full cooked breakfasts and even cream-filled cakes and pastries which told us how worlds apart we are from the majority in our eating habits. For just a few days, the egg-fest at breakfast was tolerable and set us up for the day; it would have been less ideal for any longer than that and most hotels I have been in have a way to go with accommodating what I would call a healthy diet habit. We also boosted ourselves with juices from the many juice bars we found on our days out.

The one night we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant, I was disappointed by the waitress’s expression of hardly disguised annoyance when I explained my eating foibles. Having been assured by the reception staff – twice – that their kitchen were most accommodating and flexible when it came to food intolerance and that they would cheerfully invent something to meet pretty-much any dietary requests I had, I was taken aback as she told me that the chef would “come up with something for me” but it would be up to him to decide what he was prepared to do. He came up with a bed of chilli-flavoured quinoa the size of my fist with four or five teeny-tiny slithers of (just one of each) a miniature carrot, parsnip and leek laid criss-cross fashion on the top. This was attempting to be similar to one of the a la carte dishes though mine was minus the curry sauce (which had sugar in it) and everyone else was eating it with copious amounts of bread, preceded by a starter, finished by a desert; none of which I could have. In other words, we paid the same for a main course as everyone else and came away hungry. It was also irksome to notice the abrupt whipping away of the wine glasses (with a tight little smile) when we said “just water please”, which was very typical of the reaction our food choices often generate in the more traditional restaurant environments.

This had turned out to be one of those occasions when having “special dietary requirements” makes you feel maligned and marginalised but I refused to let it get me down (plus my super-sensitivity no longer extends to deeply caring what other people think of me at the expense of my own well-being). Again, I look forward to a time when more restaurants get on board with the ever-more common “foibles” of vegetarianism, gluten-free diet and a rejection  of sugar, alcohol or additives (sometimes all in the same person) since they are far less unusual than they used to be, in fact more commonplace everyday, and its time people with them were allowed to come out of the shadows to eat with everyone else. Had we felt up to it, we would have left that restaurant to eat somewhere else but tiredness and the fact we were feeling energetically under the weather made us put up with what was there. Our experience highlights the benefit of doing your homework about the ethos of the restaurant choices you have, in advance if possible, and homing in on the ones that share the same fundamental outlook as you do about what constitutes an “ideal diet” to suit your body (which only you will know so well).

Perhaps it is because they are so used to being on the fringes of “normal” eating but we do find that vegetarian restaurants are rather better at overlapping with organic ingredients, flexibility to meet customer requests and an understanding of food intolerances whilst offering decent and nutritious portions.

Speaking up for what you need (and making friends along the way)

By contrast with that experience, a light lunch at a museum, where only sandwiches were offered on the menu, took just one polite enquiry from me for the brilliant staff to put together an inventive gluten-free vegetarian salad using one of the more adventurous sandwich fillings and a few extra ingredients; all done with a smile. With each subsequent cup of tea (as we spent a couple of hours there, enjoying the garden) we were brought a complementary little dish of dates, figs or some big plump grapes to make up for the fact there were no gluten free snacks at the bar; in fact the girl in the kitchen made it a challenge to come up with something different each time.

My husband had been prepared to give up on lunch as soon as we saw the “official” menu so this experience is testament to the great outcomes that can result when you dare to speak up and ask for something that better suits your needs. Not only are you not (necessarily) deemed to be “awkward” and met with disdain but you are quite often treated really well by people who genuinely sympathise with how difficult it can be to eat-out with special dietary needs. Unlikely as it sounds, it can actually serve as oil to the wheels of human interaction when you open these kinds of discussion from a place of vulnerability and need, as opposed to just pointing at a menu and saying “that one”. The need to communicate a particular foible, placing yourself in someone’s hands and giving them the opportunity to help you makes people try harder to both ask (politely) for what they need, to listen to what each other has to say and to express gratitude. I’ve had some of my best interactions with people I only just met from the start point of “I don’t suppose you could just…”in a café or bar and this was such an occassion. By the end of the afternoon, we had struck up quite a rapport with the two girls in the café who, while other guests just came and went, invited us to stay a little longer after “closing time” while a music concert got underway which made for an afternoon we will never forget.

Keep on walking – the yin and yang of ideal footwear

Unless you are destined for a week in a chair by a pool, you are likely to be walking more on holiday than you normally do and this requires careful consideration of footwear. Back to those favourite shoes I mentioned feeling so tight on the plane, the same thing happened all weekend (a measure of how inflamed by body was still feeling, perhaps the effect of the hotel room) and I just couldn’t seem to get them on my feet. Luckily, I had brought alone a second pair that are much looser (and some blister-resisting socks from M&S). So I would say it is an absolute must to have footwear choice; don’t just rely on one favourite pair of shoes and assume they will do everything.

The other thing I have discovered is that, though I am a big fan of “barefoot” footwear on my walks in countryside, which allows me to ground and to receive feedback from the ground I am walking on (literally, like walking barefoot), my body prefers the exact opposite when I am in a city. I discovered this, to my detriment, a few weeks ago when I went on that city break and spent two days walking in city streets wearing my favourite and usually most comfortable Vivobarefoot slip-ons. Every single pavement and floor surface felt electric, especially in the museums and on the tube, and in between these venues my feet started to throb, burn and hurt with every step like never before. By the time I got home, they were in red hot agony, my legs were in severe pain and I haven’t put those shoes on since.

LOAFF_SPORTY_SLIPON_SNEAKER_CANVAS_SUPERNAVY_-B77097_AW16_3Q_sRGBThat was when I started to seriously consider that “feeling everything” isn’t always such a good idea – well, not where the ground is tingling with currents that come up through the soles of the feet. So I did my research and purchased two likely candidates for a more protective and supportive kind of footwear – a pair of Sketchers Go-Walk shoes and a pair of FitFlop sneakers (right, click image for video explaining the design technology). Both are incredibly comfortable, almost removing all pressure from the soles of the feet while working ergonomically with the body (especially the Fitflops, which I particularly love though they are a very snug fit that is not so good when my feet swell). This style of shoe – which is geared for modern living, protecting and cradling the foot whilst working with the mechanism of the human body, is very “yang” by design; it owns up to the kind of world we have created and mitigates the effects that can have on the body. By contrast, a shoe that wants to pretend there is no need for a shoe at all (offering a barefoot experience) is very “yin” in nature – and, as in all things, I have learned it is horses for courses. By swapping between these two, I seem to have found my ideal city-style footwear and will reserve the barefoot experience for walks in the countryside from now on.

Daily yoga…yes, especially on holiday

The other thing that kept me walking for more hours than I imagined I would was that I did yoga every day – even though I was forced to do a limited version of my usual routine, on top of the bed, through lack of floor space. Even then, the side stretches especially enabled me to recover from my nights in an “alien” bed and to prepare for long days on my feet carrying everything I needed for my day on my back. This was the third overseas trip that I had made yoga an absolute daily priority and it always makes all the difference.

Changing the tone

Chances are you already know how to zone out at home, whether that’s through meditation or other means, but in holiday accommodation it can be much harder to go into that deep place (more so if you’re electro-sensitive). One of the key tools that I use en route and at my destination is listening to audio, whether that is music, tones, guided meditation or spoken word; all of which can be pleasant distractions or ways of calming your energy. For anyone so sensitive that they struggle to switch down the dials on their central nervous system in “noisy” energetic places but who desperately need the deep nourishment and respite that comes from bailing out for a while, listening to something that takes you into void, on demand, can be incredibly powerful and restorative. For me, that (much more than) music is Jonathan Goldman’s “Holy Harmony” and nothing else comes close as far as winding me out of my body on a spiral of sound and winding me back in again ready to start my day; its like instant DNA repair via the ears. The one hour 12 minutes that this takes to run its course can feel like 8 hours of sleep and it has got me out of many dire-feeling mornings in rented bedrooms so that I can pick up my spirit and get going again just like I would at home – powerful stuff!

Put the kettle on

…its a very British thing to do and is a universally helpful practice, especially since just about every hotel room comes with one. My go-to for an overstimulated nervous system is skullcap tea, which I drink before bed every night and whenever I’m in nerve pain.  In fact, I recommend you get to know your teas as they are such a powerful healing tool and so straightford to make use of. Yet even if you don’t have a particular tea in your suitcase when you travel, most places have access to chamomile, which is such a powerful relaxant to the frayed nerves that have been put through their paces all day on a trip away from home. We found a couple of teabags of this left in our room everyday and one call to room service had them bringing us more “on the house”. It was such an easy thing to turn to after a day out walking or for a double-dose before bed to encourage a good night’s sleep – can’t recommend this tactic enough.

What to carry and how to carry it

The first thing I recommend is very obvious – take only what you need and carry light. This latest trip was the first one we have attempted with just hand luggage and I can highly recommend it; we will be doing it much more in future. Like most people, I never used to use half the stuff I took in my check-in luggage and I am getting better and better at strategizing what I really need. Of course, that includes zillions of supplements (which I always find myself worrying about in case airport security raise their eyebrows at so many capsules) but I try not to compromise on what I think I really can’t do without and I count them out into a weekly organiser rather than taking multiple pots (sometimes with a list describing what they are).

61psAfxKheL._SL1001_Another key thing is to consider what you are carrying when you walk around and how that attaches to your body. I tend to lug a camera and at least one spare lens around with me, I also like the room to carry clothing so I can put layers on and off, plus a water bottle is a must. On previous holidays, I have tended towards a cross-body bag or a typical girl-rucksack but last years bright yellow number (which looked great…) became so top heavy with my stuff in it, and such a problem for my back  due to ill-designed straps, that my husband ended up carrying it for me half the time! This year, I invested in an incredible new rucksack (made by Caden, found on Amazon) purpose-designed to carry a camera and lenses in an innovative way, in a slide-out compartment at the bottom (the same company design other bags for non-photographers but with other clever touches). This clever bag was a resounding success, being well balanced and supportive on the shoulders, with loads of pockets to accommodate everything I need while compact enough to be considered pretty modest in size not to mention stylish. I wore this bag, fully loaded, for four solid days and it gave me no back pain whatsoever (a first!), in fact it factually felt great to have on, like a counterpoise that kept me standing upright. Whatever bag you use, give it some thought and shop around as there are more and more innovative designs appearing on the internet.

Tuning-in to everything (and how to use that)

You know about this one already but do you take it into adequate account – in other words, do you use it in your favour – on you trips? As a super-sensitive, you are probably  tuning into people and places more than many of the people around you and it tells you things you may or may not want to bring to the surface though some can be really useful. For instance, when in a “foreign” place, and when you get a feeling not to go up a particular alleyway, listen to that; likewise, you can really make use of a second-sense about where to eat, what place feels good to go into and what doesn’t; you can actually read whether you would have a good time somewhere like you are prediciting the future or does it leave you in neutral. Places with a lot of “history” can jangle your senses in ways that feel good and not so comfortable; you might want to step away from people or places so listen to that. All of this can really add a vivid new dimension to your holiday experience if you invite it in and use it as opposed to interpreting it as bad vibes or a source of overwhelm. Of course you are going to be receiving a lot more energetic messages than normal, not just because you are in a new place but because you are, very likely, rubbing shoulders with many more people than you are used to doing. How often do you have other people sandwiched above and below you as well as left and right like you do at nighttime in a hotel (and I attribute part of my change in dream quality to this very factor since we can’t help but be affected by having such close proximity with others during our sleeping hours). When the very building you are staying in has a past; is, perhaps, several hundred years older than your own home, its very brickwork will hold an energetic pattern that you are very likely to tune into when you are awake and more so at night. I have long since stopped being the skeptic about such things and, instead, have learned to welcome this kind of knowledge into the broader spectrum of my experiences, which helps to enrich my experiences during my travels, though I also use this skill set to feel into particular places and accommodation options before I even book them (have, many times, changed my mind about somewhere my mind thought it wanted to go).

If a place feels “all wrong”, I am always prepared to turn around from the very door and just walk away. This preparedness to listen to intuitive advice is so important to the body’s ability to feel safe and to trust in the higher wisdom that it is playing host to. The more the body trusts that you are only likely to expose it to the most resonant experiences (whether we are talking about the food you decide to eat, the people you hang out with or the places you stay) the more it will relax into new experiences and deliver a better experience of those kinds of circumstance. At a very profound level, this intuitive approach to life can make or break a holiday (or any other) experience as even the most super-sensitive body can relax into an array of new experiences if it knows it can trust the person driving the course of events – you!

Slow right down for the best experience yet

I have also learned to take things slowly (not frenetically) when I am travelling, leaving room to breath into spaces and take things in at my own pace. This hasn’t always come naturally as I am a high-energy person who likes to get a lot of things done, to have a plan, to walk quickly from A to B….but I have learned (helped by my very chillaxed husband!) to live life at a far slower pace when abroad and it pays absolute dividends. I may seem to cover less ground but always pack in so many more experiences when I move slow enough to take the smaller details in and smell the roses (this also makes for far better photography). These days, we aim to be spontaneous as opposed to structured; no route marches or timetables. As above, intuition is allowed to make itself heard and is the very best tour guide I know, producing delectable experiences (that I could never have planned) through the activation of synchronicity or, should I say, serendipity; I tend to walk a golden path of many happy accidents on my travels abroad.

One of the very best experiences we had last week was because something told me to walk down a particular road to get to the museum where we were headed (one we had been to before), even though it was one road before our destination and logic would have dictated we take another turning. By this pure chance, we passed a completely different museum hosting an extremely appropriate exhibition for my personal interests and so we decided to go there instead…and it was the absolute highlight of our trip, we spent the whole afternoon there and really we loved it! This amply demonstrates how higher wisdom will take us to all the right places if we only use our supersensitivity as our best tour guide, surrendering to the adventure it has in mind for us through access to   environmental clues we would have missed if we weren’t so tuned in. Perhaps this is a good point to finish as it highlights that being sensitive doesn’t have to be this terrible hardship or burden that we sensitives drag along with us; rather, it can be used and welcomed as a set of enhanced tools that open up a whole other layer of experience that we might otherwise have missed and this is when travel enters a whole other dimension.


Knowing your sugar tolerance

It was a celebration meal so I let myself off the hook and succumbed to the kind of self-indulgent chocolate dessert that I seldom even consider these days; well, why shouldn’t I just this once? Not very deep beneath the surface, I knew what I was doing, which was a calculated risk; and so I wasn’t really surprised when my body reacted the way that it did, which was with massive heat and hyper-sensitivity. It didn’t spoil my day, not by a long shot; but it made me think very hard about doing it again any time soon. And it was a very interesting experiment for flagging up, with even more clarity than before, just what it is that processed sugar does to the nervous system and why it is that I knew I had to alter, almost cease, my relationship with it in order to repair my health.

Because it was the relationship I had with sugar that came under almost closest scrutiny of anything in my diet when I completely altered the way I ate over the last three to five years. Even before that, I wasn’t in possession of what you could call a particularly sweet tooth but I enjoyed the kind of carefree, don’t give it a second thought, consumption of “sweet things” (which, these days, includes commercial bread, salads, sauces, pizza…) that most people tend to practice. Gradually, I came to realise that sugar – above all things – exacerbated the excruciating pain I was experiencing in my tissue and nerves. The slightest amount seemed to turn up all the volume dials on my hyper-sensitivity; as though my nerve fibres were suddenly on red alert for every kind of sensory message that they could pick up on their radar from my environment and each one of those messages was screaming to my brain as though under attack. Teeth and facial nerves would feel brittle and painfully overstimulated, presenting like a toothache or lock-jaw, the kind of tension that feels like your lip wants to curl, your teeth are clenched or your face is being pulled into an involuntary grimace. Stomach nerves would flutter like a sea anemone and my innards would feel acidic, windy, my bladder and bowels a painful mess. I would feel hairs on my arms and legs registering everything going on around me…too much; every noise or smell (especially chemical ones, under arm sprays, cigarettes, alarms, raised voices…) would make me wince in the kind of agony that felt like I was being pulled inside myself in recoil, like a sock turning spontaneously inside-out. I would hide under the duvet from morning light, shrill noises and my husband’s aftershave wafting around the bedroom like I was being attacked by a barrage of glass shards and my unfounded irritability, my snapishness, with everyone would bespeak the “fight or flight” state that my body was dragging me into against my will. I would burn up like I had a fever or severe hangover and interstitial cystitis would have me doubled in pain, unable to go out.  Headaches were out of this world, brain fog came on and my vision would deteriorate into fuzz and terrible eyestrain. With every temporary sugar-lift came a crash so exhaustingly final that I would be flaked-out in the middle of the day and, of course, inflammation ran riot like a forest-fire in all of my body tissue so pain was literally everywhere.

sugarThese are the things that sugar triggered for me, so I all but completely gave it up and it had nothing to do with “dieting”, everything to do with self-preservation. The kind of reactions I already have to electricity, wi-fi and other sensory stimuli in my environment would become acutely heightened by it…and these are all things that temporarily switched back on for me yesterday after that dessert. Within a few minutes, I felt electric, blur-eyed, super-sensitive, hot, stomach sore and exhausted walking around shops and crowded public places after my lunch. It was as though a layer of skin had been removed and I was feeling everything in the raw. But here’s what is also so very interesting; these same reactions also switched on for my husband after that sweet dessert – a man who has none of my health issue but who has also been eating a next-to-no sugar diet for well over a year along with me. Almost before I did, he was complaining of experiencing weird electric tingles coursing through his legs and hands, blurred vision and near toxic feeling of sensory overwhelm inside the kind of security-wired and well-lit shops that have me feeling weak at the knees. He was running hot, had a fermenting and bloating kind of acid-burn going on in his stomach, not to mention the instantly recognisable sugar exhilaration followed by the wave of crashing exhaustion that I know so well. By mid afternoon, we were both yawning tears down our face and needing caffeine (something I normally avoid after lunch) just to keep ourselves upright. These are the commonplace effects that sugar has on our biology…yet most people hardly notice them apart from the weight-gain they lament, which is the body’s attempt to build up a barrage of protection to help cope with all the other toxic effects!

What this episode reminded me of was how these effects are the normal outcome of sugar consumption for all people; and that the variance isn’t in the biological effects but in how much they notice them or have adapted to shield themselves from, or absorb, the backlash (though the resultant health issues are seldom avoided so much as redirected into another form of expression; often a more severe health issue, further down the line…a long list that includes diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer). In fact, I have learned how to be really grateful for my heightened reaction to sugar since I suspect it has probably saved my life. Most people push on through the effects of sugar without really acknowledging that they are there; as I know I did, for years. The more we consume the crazy amount of sugar our modern diet makes almost compulsory and extremely (shockingly) normal, the more we become – ironically –  immune to it as the nervous system is pushed over the limit to where it has no choice but to turn down its own sensitivity to everything, even those things we want to experience, in order to cope; like a form of self-created paralysis. Its as though sugar only knows one setting – one that makes us receive more intense levels of sensation, delivered in the most abrasive way possible and it is more than our nervous system, which longs to experience many things but wants to be way more discerning than that about when, why and how, can cope with. We become over-stimulated…and so we break down or are forced to buffer ourselves like we are under constant attack and, of course, some of us stop feeling at all.

In other words, our overwhelmed senses turn down their own dials in order to survive the barrage of data that sugar seems to attract in such an over-stimulated way; and so we feel, generally, less and less of life’s experiences. The process is similar to how a smoker eventually stops tasting and smelling without really noticing what they are missing and so our world becomes bland and we only seek more and more of our sugar-fix in an attempt to feel something at all. Or we self-anaesthetise with other methods such as massive gluten consumption and alcohol, both of which cushion and dull the effects of sugar; though, another irony, alcohol is yet another major source of sugar in our diets, thus I gave that up too since it became one of the worst triggers of the symptoms I’ve already described. Once I realised all this, there had to be no compromise if I wanted to bring down my sensory over-reaction to my environment in order to get well again and the last year or so of doing this has allowed me to make huge strides in my health; but my diet looks very different to that of most people. I admit there are times – though they are infrequent now – when that is quite difficult to deal with, sat side by side with “normal” people in a restaurant and seeing what they are eating without a care in the world. For me, yesterday’s indulgence was a carefully deliberated one-off yet, all around me, giant desserts were being consumed without hesitation or thought and we see it everywhere; extraordinarily sweet things without nutritional value have become our comfort, our nostalgia, our way of celebrating, commiserating, being with others in the communal act of eating and so the list goes on… but at what cost to our long-term health?

For me, yesterday’s step back in time was more interesting than long-term detrimental though I am still burning through the heat, the sore stomach and the profoundly acidic feeling in my body a day later (and my energy equalibrium has yet to land on steady ground). Above all I still feel very…very…very deeply tired to my core (is it any wonder after all that over-stimulation) and will probably have to curl up for a nap after I publish this post; not like me at all. It feels somewhat like the hangovers of old and I am countering it with alkaline foods and green juices; and a resolve not to go there again for some time. Its a case of knowing where you are on the sugar dial and where it is that your body feels best; then living to that rule of thumb without compromise but many people are in denial or never even ask the question, such is the cultural drive towards sugar consumption wherever we turn. What I have learned in the last year or so is that it is perfectly possible to enjoy a sweet indulgence without resorting to cane sugar or manmade sweetners and that these alternatives are alright (like any food) in moderation. My sweet treats now consist of dairy and sugar free chocolates and ice cream made from coconut and agave or other natural sources of sweetness (products such as Booja Booja, which really are so delicious that you wouldn’t know the difference). I get sweetness from food such as beetroot, sweet potato or carrot, I eat honey in moderation, dried fruit, jams with no added sugar and also enjoy eating much more fresh fruit than I used to (though I even had to be cautious with this while my body was healing its way back to equilibrium).

All of this will become so much easier once restaurants and cafés are prepared to risk those initial popularity points by sidestepping towards the healthier options and the kind of portions that are far better for health; and consumer demand for these alternatives will be a driving force behind them catering for this new trend. Another trip wire is that shop-bought gluten free products seem to overcompensate for lack of wheat with even more sugar, caramel and other addatives than other food, which forces me to make all my own. Supermarkets are starting to catch on, which makes the home-eating of healthier alternatives easier by far than it was even five years ago, though you still have to be extremely vigilant for hidden sugars in all kinds of unlikely places.  While the market catches up (and we vote with our feet), the most important thing to remember is to take the time to get to know your own body and its limitations then stand by this without compromise so that only you get to choose what you put in your body, nobody else. Eat mindfully and knowingly (taking that all-important pause to consider what your intuition has to say on the matter), even those few times you might feel like saying “hell, just this once won’t hurt…”, and you will never go far wrong or do any long-term damage to your health.

Crowning glory

I first wrote on this topic a couple of years ago and am revisiting it because I have reached a milestone in the journey I embarked upon in Spring 2015. That topic is “hair colour” and, to the casual reader, it may seem like a completely trivial one…and yet to anyone dealing with health challenges or, indeed, the trials and tribulations of being a “maturing” woman in our present culture it really isn’t. When you have a lot of other things going on with your body, which is precisely when self-esteem becomes more important (yet harder to maintain) than ever, something as “trivial” as what you hair looks like can be a deal breaker.

Two years ago I reached a point when I knew I had enough with trying (often failing…) to presentably maintain my hair the way it was yet I had to do something as I felt a mess and lack of self-esteem was really undermining my recovery process. Conventional wisdom would have it that I should get a new cut, pick a vibrant colour and get myself down to a hairdressers on a regular basis again; to make sure I felt world-ready to cope with the next phase of my life. In other words, I needed to fake it so I could make out that I was back on the wagon of living an ordinary, sociable and publicly presentable life. Yet after a decade of Fibromyalgia, struggling to get myself on the straight and narrow of doing even the most ordinary little things on a semi-regular basis, a process that had led me to completely reassess what was really important to focus on in daily life, I knew I had also seen the light about the whole grind of that high maintenance way of being. I’d had enough of all the dye, the regrowth, the expense. My hair had taken a knock in more ways than one due to thinning and hair loss (handfulls of it!) when my health was at its worse and was now fragile and finer than ever. Then with all my back and nerve pain, I’d had enough of endless hours sat in a hairdresser’s chair or with my neck cranked backwards into a cold porcelain sink. I was particularly mindful of the toxic colourants being slathered onto my scalp since I was horrendously sensitive to anything “chemical” which meant there was always a trade-off of a few day’s health after any treatment. Eventually (like all the supposed cul-de-sacs of my health journey) the impasse started to lead me somewhere else…towards the consideration of “what’s so wrong with all the white hair coming through anyway??”

So, I walked into my local Aveda salon (hand-picked for the fact their products are, to a high percentage, naturally and organically derived) and, clutching a handful of the white that sprouts most startlingly from the top-front of my head, asked them “is there any way you can match this?” At the time, I was quite the talking point for even asking; in fact, I even got the impression that glances were passed from one hairdresser to another and only one seemed to give the subtle affirmative that she would take me on (and I’m so glad she did as she’s the best I’ve ever had). In fact I was the willing in-house entertainment as I regaled other clients with my views on my sense of frustration at a belief system that told me I had to hide-away what was patently wanting to come through on my head…yet I could sense other women were starting sit up and listen and some hugely liberating and exhilerating conversations ensued. After all, what’s so illogical about making  one of the very features that you already have in (ever-increasing )abundance into your best feature, your crowning glory; surely that’s what it’s there for since, like a cry from the heart, it is so clearly wanting to be expressed? Our hair could be regarded as yet another suppressed voice of the feminine since, on men, it is “allowed” (even encouraged as a symbol of maturity, reliability, respect) for the greys and whites to shine through but on a woman…well, that’s been a whole different ballgame for the longest time but who made it that way; did we do it or was that another “great” male idea? Was our hard-earned wisdom and experience being cut-off at the roots; only “allowed” out as the fashion accessory of the hardened, sexless old battle axes that our culture likes to belittle?

Because if white or grey hair is a trophy of life’s experiences then I’d certainly earned mine. The first badger-like shock of it (earning me my nickname to this day…) came through suddenly when I was 28, the summer my mother died of cancer. That front flash, about an inch or so in width, steadily increased in breadth through the tough years of my 30s and early 40s and with my deteriorating health until my whole crown had become a white-ish zone, the salt over-spilling the pepper along my parting and around my ears. There comes a point, once the 50% mark has been exceeded, that a commitment feels like it wants to be made though we are so practiced at ignoring or over-riding the signals. So what if the back of my head is a little slower at catching on; what if I wanted to go with the tide, work with Nature on my side (not against it). Perhaps my days of being the King Canute of the hair world were behind me now, a battle (one amongst many) I was happy to call the ceasefire on, to embrace an easier life of living in, and with, the flow of my maturity. What if maturing was only ever the tough domain we thought it was because we kicked up such a stink at the first signs of it coming?

So, at Aveda, they matched up my hair by depigmenting and toning down the darkest colour I still had or (more than anything) the peculiar shades that still persisted from a zillion other colouring-jobs. All that old pigment remaining in the lengths, from years of hairdressing cover-ups, were looking brassy and dirty against the new growth, bringing its purity down so that they were really the misfit more so than the white. The use of a toner (good old blue rinse…how we used to make fun of old ladies for that and now here I was, long before my fiftieth birthday) brightened everything up so that the white was now on the triumphing side. With each visit, as the lengths got trimmed away and the back regrowth brought into line with what Nature so clearly had in mind at the front, the job became easier, the hair colour more coherent, pure and dazzling. People complemented me; conversations were struck up out of the blue with women who observed I had real white (not platinum blonde) dominating my colour. “How beautiful” they observed; “if only I could do that…had the nerve…didn’t have random patches of colour and all those ends covered in dye…if only I wouldn’t have to go through years of messy transition to get where you are”. “You can do all of that if you get the right hairdresser on side, make a project of enhancing rather than hiding the new”, I pointed out, witnessing happy dances from women who had assumed they would be tied to their hair-colouring routine for the next couple of decades or longer. I couldn’t help observing that watching their elated reactions was like witnessing them being let out of a mental prison, a life sentence that had just been reprieved; and isn’t that what it is when you admit you were doing something – repeatedly – that you really didn’t want to be doing yet truely believed you couldn’t get out of. Its just like the powerful elephant that stands rooted to the spot because it thinks it is still tied to the tree it was attached to as a youngster. The mind plays powerful games with our sense of reality…and, often, people need the example of one to nudge them out of their fixed belief system.

It surprised me how few people had actively considered matching their colour to the white/grey rather than the other way around. Those that had seemed to have assumed they would be the laughing-stock of the hairdressing salon…but then, all it takes is more women asking for these things and it becomes the next big trend; and we are a voice they need to listen to since women over fifty with money to spend make up the biggest sub-set of consumers there is. There was never a better time for doing this since grey hair has been in vogue for a couple of years now (for young people!) meaning that the colour techniques have had to follow suit. On one of my visits to Aveda, they had just completed a training workshop on this very technique so my hairdresser was able to mix two shades of toner together to get an even more coherent shade across the whole mixed-bag of my hair. To me, this says clearly that we can both work with Nature (honouring the way she intended us to be) and embrace modern technology in a way that reconciles the two in perfect harmony…left and right hemispheres, head and heart, brought together…which is a theme I am fascinated with across all aspects of human life!

Hair whiteThe result of my own transition is that days of high maintenance hair colour are a thing of the past and, with my latest visit to the hairdressers, I am enjoying the purest and most coherent shade of white shining through my hair so far. I have no issues with dark roots showing through on the top of my head anymore; all I am left to tackle is the under-growth around the sides and a darker patch at the back. My husband absolutely loves it; he says he can always find me in a crowd as I shine-out in a sea of heads. I go for just one full head treatment per year and maybe a couple of T-section touch-ups at important times like before a holiday. The sense of Nature working with me, being on my side (or me on hers…) is tangible; after all, she’s only going to give me more and more of what I want as time goes on, isn’t she? In fact, it feels like a delightful collaboration, like we are giggling together behind our hands as we see just how white we can make me between both of our efforts. The blunt-ended hair cuts I’ve been having make a huge difference to the quality of my hair and to the speed with which the old brassy colours have fallen away. I would say it is almost essential to encourage hair to be as sleek, glossy and sharply cut with white or grey hair so that it looks deliberate and not like you have just let things slide into a sort of accidental sheep’s rug through lack of care and attention (again, a beautiful marriage of Nature and nurture). The one look I was really resistant to from the outset was that of the old hippy who has sworn off the hair dye to go back to barefoot living and life out in the elements at the expense of her outward appearance; like the inside is all that matters and to hell with the physical world. As an artist and someone who appreciates beauty in all things, appearance really matters to me…and I really don’t think that has to mean a conflict with my inner, least materialistic, values. Also, if there is one thing I’m really passionate about, its reclaiming the thing known as “cronehood” and dragging it away from the millstone word that’s been hung around its neck for so long: “ugly”. What does being a crone (mature woman, wise woman, respected woman, experienced woman, intuitive woman…) have to do with ugliness; this is a defunct and deeply undermining belief perpetuated in our culture

Judi Dench helps reinvent how we perceive what are potentially the most vibrant years of our lives

In my view, being the post-fifty woman is absolutely not about losing our looks but about claiming new ones that speak of accumulated wisdom and a life well spent. It should have nothing to do with giving up on ourselves and letting things slide so that people recoil from the way that we that look and shove us back into the margins of life again. Perhaps we have learned to use that self-claimed “ugliness” as a stand of defiance in a society that rejected us anyway. Well, we’ve done with all that and its time for a new era in which the mature women in our culture step into a time of self-realisation, confidence and respect…allowing deeply-cultivated inner beauty to self-express on the outside. Good health, longevity and self-worth rely on a feeling of – quite literally – being able to hold your head up high in all kinds of circumstances and its incredible (as I can testify) how different great hair can make you feel in this respect. It can utterly transform your self-perception and ability to take on whatever life throws at you when you know that you have wonderful hair as your crowning glory and this is something that older women need more than ever before. It’s also something that women who have been through serious trials and tribulations…such as a trauma that turns hair suddenly white, stress-induced hair loss and cancer…can use to reclaim themselves most powerfully in the aftermath; like saying “look at me, I’m altered inside and out but its all good, I embrace and offer forth the new me”. An assumption that making the most of our hair so we can take on our lives means having to make ourselves look younger than we really are feels like making a declaration of power and intention which lacks heart and substance, like we are putting on a brave front…which stops abruptly where it meets the roots since the two aspects are saying completely different things. If this non-compute between root and growth happened in Nature, the tree would fall down. When we allow our deeply embedded roots to grow up from our core and to show themselves as they are, declaring (not hiding) the story of all our lives, we claim the source-power that we are already generating from lifetimes worth of experience; and we bring that up and outwards to help fuel whatever projects we happen to be taking on now and going forwards, facing the world as our most authentic selves. This feels like an often un-tapped source of power for the mature woman (that is, being who you really are, the whole amalgam of your life’s experiences to date, and being prepared to show that to the world, operating from that place of grounded strength) and it heartens me every time I hear about yet another woman tapping into that by revealing her most natural self. This may only be hair we are talking about…but are we, really? From experience, it feels like there is so much more to it than that.

So, having just been for the annual touch-up of my hair in readiness to embark on my fiftieth year (which is a year that is already filling me with so much energy and excitement), I feel more-than-ever convinced that this topic is a power source just waiting to be tapped, perhaps most of all by the feminine aspect; after all, women have known all about the power of hair since the beginning of time, yet we have been the scissor-wielding Delilahs to ourselves for most of the recent era in that we have conspired with a culture that has had us dancing to the song of “we must stay young in order to keep our power intact”. No; as with the way of most things we have been told where the female is concerned, the very opposite is true and we only increase in wisdom and wellbeing potential as we grow older…its just that we forgot that important factor for such a very long time. The goddess is an ageless female archetype who well-and-truly resides inside of me, her presence getting stronger every day; and, on the outside, she has wonderful, tactile, glossy hair…which just happens to be dazzling white!

  • My original post on this topic Au Naturel was published exactly two years ago!

Out of this world

Fibromyalgia is a shorthand code for “not designed for this world”, a label for being a misfit at a very deep biological level; but not because we are faulty but because the world isn’t ready for us yet or, you could say, we arrived early. It’s a bucket title for those who are way too super-sensitive to cope with how things currently are, being calibrated to another time-space, and so we become systemically floored, like fish out of water gasping for breath. So, those of us fixated on recovery (and not all are, some give themselves up without a struggle) set about a long program of dealing with our sensitivities to get close to what feels more comfortable to us; tackling food, environment, all the minutiae of lifestyle, and we can get better…to a point. However, when we reach such a threshold, one where our biological reactions are so thoroughly under control that life is mostly tolerable and we know ourselves so well that we can philosophically cope with all the rest, we may also find ourselves smacked in the face with the realisation that we are never going to fully “recover” or fit in after all…not in this world, nor at this time, in the format it currently has. More than ever, we realise we are the jigsaw piece from another version of the puzzle; similar picture but not quite the same, like the contents of two boxes got mixed up in the cupboard. It’s as though we can overlay this version of reality with our own so that we seem to fill the space where we are meant to be but the edges never quite meet; and others notice this about us too, keeping their distance, entrenching us further as the detached spectators of life. Its something we learn to be accepting of, to tolerate, which we manage…most of the time though at others it makes us sad, like a deep and innocuous feeling of homesickness. So we adopt the stiff upper lip and we try to get back to the job…our job in this life…whatever that is; yet even a sense of our core purpose in life can flounder at these times.

We realise we have been blithely imagining “our recovery” as some sort of process of slotting back into the herd, of being one of them, pursing normal pastimes again, grabbing a bite to eat, being utterly spontaneous like we used to but suddenly we wake up to the fact that such a likelihood closed off to us a long time ago; it was siphoned away the very moment we woke up to our very first symptom of being out of the ordinary, of being bizarrely and biologically out of time and step with this reality and yet we opted to find a new way of being, so we could survive. We realise, that was just the start of a new trajectory…and now we are miles apart; us and the conventional world. That’s because our steady improvement has all been one giant process of standing up for our differences, of being prepared to tailor our own microcosm of life in ways that are subtly but importantly different to most peoples’ choices but just right for us. Slowly but surely we have learned to place our wellbeing above convenience, trends or the motivations, conditioning, demands and say-so of others.

“Fitting-in” was one of the first things we threw off. We have turned down all the dials on the pace of life and shown that we can exist in a very different place to the rest of the world; whilst seemingly, seamlessly, coexisting with it. We have ear-marked our own dimension and dropped it into the reality of everyone else; only they are subtly out of sync with each other in ways that we clearly perceive and those other people only vaguely suspect (though enough for them to sense we are uncomfortably “different”). Over time, we hone a sort of environmentally controlled bubble in which we carefully and mindfully live our own lives, peering though its glass bauble at everybody else. With our enhanced diet and our micro-environment made out of subtly different life choices to the throng, we find we can thrive for ever longer periods without being tipped over in that old way but we are kidding ourselves if we think we can ever “go out” there for anything longer than a holiday or a few days in a city, which can be enough to knock us off our perch for days or even weeks so its a trade we seldom take lightly. The broader world is like one giant relapse; its fear-driven people and toxic overload trip our super-sensitivity up at every turn since we are the living-breathing measure that these excesses exist, we are the biological systems that are shouting them out. To go “out there” all the time is to know what it feels like to have our alarms going off all the time (again). So how is this conditional existence satisfactory, the holly grail of recovery we chased after for so very long? Can we ever ditch the odd-ball lives we’ve built, go back to “normal”, do all the things other people do once our health stabilises without it being the snake-ride back to the start of the game? Normally, I don’t even want to…but sometimes, just sometimes, I feel there had to be an easier way to live my life than this; I gnash my teeth and wonder why the hell I couldn’t have picked a far easier, more sociable, route.

bench-accounting-49023So here I am again. I realise I am at some sort of crisis of confidence with my recovery…with everything to do with who I am, what I do, who I do it for. With all the hours I spend alone, utterly detatched from physical community, doing what I do, which I sometimes wonder “why am I even doing it?” Why do I bother writing, painting, researching, sharing information, all the myriad things I do (mostly…not now) with so much gusto and drive? For all the dent they seem to make on this world, why put myself through the constant effort since none of them feed back into me at a level I can measure; they don’t feed me (literally, they don’t since I make no livelihood from them) so why peddle so very hard? Perhaps if these “whys” hadn’t reached some sort of convergence point with the bigger question outlined above (how can I do all this for my health, make so many shifts, and still not thrive “out there” in the real world where other people live) then I would feel less bewildered as to why it is I chose this life. What did I expect to gain from coming here in this format, at this time when every personal victory of improvement is so conditional on where I am and the choices I make, moment to moment, mouthful to mouthful, environment to environment? Why live in a time of just so many choices and feel like they are all on display behind a sheet of bullet-proof glass so that I can see but can’t touch them; to have them already filtered and chosen for me by what my biology can cope with before it tips over into pain? When “non pain” and “non exhaustion” is so conditional; like walking a tight-rope. There must have been a reason I selected this particular time…which is like falling into a vat of sensitivity soup for people like me.

I’m left with this; perhaps I really am some future version of myself, from a world where I am perfectly calibrated for my environment and the frequency of the people who live there. Perhaps I’m a preview of a future model, with features that don’t yet sync with the way the world is. Maybe people like me are those long-anticipated aliens from another world only it is really this world, in another time, that we herald from; we are the way showers. Perhaps my non-compute at the bland reception of all that I am and all that I give so freely of myself, is the very communication breakdown between two peoples that makes at least one half of that dialogue (me) try so very hard to forge paths of communication that those listening out for a sign might start to hear if I just keep trying to refine my methods of speaking what I know. Perhaps the extent to which I feel the misfit, noting the “rub” between this reality and another one that I perceive being held out there in potential, creates the friction of desire that serves like the tyre on the road; the very thing creating traction to get me and others like me from one reality to another. Perhaps the relentless motivation by impulses that have nothing to do with personal gain and everything to do with making the path easier, quicker and more direct for others is how those like me demonstrate that future reality in action (since, you could say, it is fuelled by love). Perhaps it is the ceaseless desire of those in recovery from chronic health issues to keep moving optimistically towards a more comfortable, heart-centred reality where we biologically thrive, showing others how it is all done by focussing on meeting our own needs, creating our own best environment, making our own most discerning choices at every turn, is one of the ways that we help fuel the evolution of a planet…and this is our contribution, which is enough.