Food and Health

Distraction Immersion

Red Cloud Headach Following Man IllustrationI am trying to distract myself from how I really feel (and the emotional tornado that always seems to be following me) by immersing myself in work.

The work in question is a web development/ programming project which has been a pet project and passion of mine since 1997. The project is a knowledge sharing website, full of links to content from a wide range of providers, covering a diverse range of subjects from arts & culture, to parenting, technology, food, humanities, politics, TV, health,mental health and much more. It is still a work in progress but the website, razaweb.com, can be found here.

The more advanced the functionality of the website needs to be the more complex the level of programming needed. This is good as it means I need to immerse myself even more in the work and lose myself completely to the joys and confusion of programming logic and the problem solving that is at the core of computer programming. Why am I trying to distract myself from how I truly feel? I feel terrible, that’s why. I wasn’t going to renew this blog as I don’t really have the time or money to keep it going, but when I clicked the link to the admin page to cancel it I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I need this blog. I need this space as an outlet for some of the thoughts and feelings swirling around my perpetually conflicted and angst ridden mind. I filter as much of what I am thinking and feeling and only let a little bit of it onto this digital canvas yet even that tiny amount of pressure release is helpful. You can;t bury your pain forever and you can’t run away from your feelings forever. They always catch up with you, when you least expect it.

The more I try to disentangle the web of my conflicted, unconscious, inner turmoil the worse it makes me feel consciously.

That dark and painful feeling of complete vulnerability, the feeling my 5 month old baby daughter must be feeling when she starts screaming in the middle of the night as if it’s the end of the world, is too unbearable to endure. I worry that if I let it out, the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and utter despair will completely overwhelm me and consume me forever. So I work hard to bury the feelings, push them back as soon as I see them starting to enter the concious world. Immersing myself in my favourite TV shows or the world of fiction, or in a work project I truly feel passionate about is usually the only way I can truly suppress the dark feelings of vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a dangerous thing to feel. it leads to despair, fear, anger, rage, irrational aggression and when mistakes are made by acting on this irrational wave of negative emotions, you’re left with guilt and regret over what you have done, controlled by confused feelings of insecurity, anxiety, fear and anger.

I understand all this know better than ever. Years of talk therapy and being married to a highly talented psychologist have given me the tools to understand how the human mind works in a more sophisticated way than I ever had before. It also helps me understand my father, a man far more negative, aggressive, angry, vulnerable and lost than I am or will hopefully ever be.

My father. The Darth Vader of my life, The man full of sensitivity and love yet so violent, abusive and angry at the same time. The Jekyll and Hyde character who can turn from angel to monster in a flash. He is the reason I am starting to spiral into a self destructive descent into overwhelming anxiety, fear, anger and depression. I need to stop the spiralling descent he triggered, by grabbing hold onto something, anything, that stops me falling and helps me climb back out of the pit of despair.

I had to make a choice yesterday. A choice between satisfying his ever demanding feelings of neediness or looking after my wife and baby daughter. Its not an easy choice to make. None of the choices in my life seem to be easy at the moment. They are all what I call bad choices. Yes I should feel empowered enough as an individual adult to have choices in life, but you can’t help feeling helpless and low when all the choices seem like bad ones. Clear our increasingly large mountain of financial debt by selling our house and having nowhere to move to or keep the house near the good schools and nice neighbours but let the debt mount up? Do I focus on my work at the expense of looking after my wife, kids, parents and home? Do I work or go to the gym, given that my weight is going up again and my asthma and IBS-D are getting worse, but I’m falling behind on my work. Do I anger and upset my already emotionally fragile and depressed father or upset my physically exhausted and anxious wife who is trying to hide her own insecurity about our precarious financial position and problems? Do compose this blog post and try to let out some of how i feel or do I instead just bury the dark feelings eating me up inside and just focus on work, exercise, household chores and put on a fake smile as the guilt, anxiety and pain swirl around inside me?These are but a few of the riddles that I feel too exhausted to unravel. Every choice we make has a price and I’m tired of having to pay so much all the time.

I won’t get into details but the point is that whenever I try to ignore the tornado of drama and emotions in my life, from other people and external circumstances, when I try to be focussed on just completing my web development projects, courses and getting a much needed job, the tornado seems to swirl harder and catch me unawares, pulling me into the vortex of complex, heart wrenching turmoil.

My father was already deeply depressed, having been verbally abused by my mother and fallen out with my sister, He is really old and getting physically weaker all the time. I love him and feel sorry for him all the time, I am the only person in his life who doesn’t throw all his aggression and abuse back at him, I just take it all, all the mocking, all the character assassination, all his rants and negativity, I take it, absorb it, and I listen to him. I am respectful and loving to him, yet he still thinks no one cares about him and no one loves him, because that’s what depression does to you. It destroys your ability to be rational, cool and calm and see anything in a positive light. It skews everything around you, making the world seem nothing but negative and out to get you. A dark and scary place, full of threats and danger.

I’m not out to get my father. I want to always be there for him. Yet I can”t always be there for him and for my wife, my kids, my health and my career. How to balance all the spinning plates in my life and not let one fall and crack apart? Suffice to say that I made the choice of letting my wife get some much needed rest and focusing on my career (for the 1st time in a long time) but it was at the expense of seeing my father and he did not take it well. He is refusing to talk to me and it will just be added to the pile of negativity and hate he feels about life and all the people in his life. I wasn’t rude to him or offensive. I just told my sister that my wife and baby daughter were sleeping so yesterday afternoon was not a good time to visit with my parents, especially as they had not told me they were coming and my wife had been awake with baby all night.

What is a really small irrelevant event in most people’s lives has become a much bigger drama because of him and his powerful negativity. He has the ability to whip up a storm of negativity out of nothing.  I call it the depression mist. He spreads negativity, despair, discord and turmoil wherever he goes. It creates horrible situations that confirm his worst thoughts about how the world is a dark and nasty place. It also destroys peoples lives and exhausts even the most emotionally secure of people. He unconsciously creates situations that push people away from him, to reinforce his twisted view that everyone hates him, because he is unlovable, all because his iron-willed mother was abusive to him and didn’t give him the unconditional love a mother is supposed to shower on her child. Yet he has not pushed me away. It is ironic, and a source of major conflict within me, that my father is the source of all my inner fear, vulnerability, insecurity, anxiety, anger, rage, self-hate, self-loathing and pain, yet he is also the source of all my humanity, sensitivity and love. He is very sensitive, which is how he gets hurt so easily and often, even though people are not trying to hurt him. Sensitivity combined with overwhelming vulnerability, fear, emotional insecurity and aggression is not a good combination. Every time my phone rings and it my parent’s calling I tense up with fear as I assume it’s my mother calling to tell my my father has died and that he hung himself. That fear drove me to sacrifice much of my own needs to always be there for him, to gratify his fragile ego, to be kind to him when others stood up against his aggression. Yet all that sacrifice on my part has been a heavy price to pay.

I am not as emotionally secure as I need to be.

I am trying not to be consumed by feelings of utter guilt, regret and anxiIllustration of man flying out of a tornadoety for having unintentionally upset my old, vulnerable, angel/monster father, by immersing myself in my work. It’s something I haven’t been able to do for years, yet the more I get into my project the more immersed I feel in it and the bigger distraction it becomes, from the emotional turmoil within me and outside of me.

Having this blog helps channel some of that turmoil out into the cyber-sphere, and that’s a good thing as buying it all deep inside me will just eat me up inside. I’m glad I didn’t cancel this blog. I hope I can compose and post some more positive and more eloquently written posts in the future.

For know I just leave you with this thought, Don’t let the people around you bring you down.

 

Quick Cook Lunch Recipe – Tuna Fish in Tomato sauce with Rice

Move over Jamie OliTuna Fish in Tomato Sauce Cookingver. There’s a new guy in town and he can rustle up a random yet tasty meal for lunch/ dinner in under 20 minutes.

They say that Necessity is the mother of all invention. It certainly was today. I was forced to be creative when making my lunch as I forgot to defrost the Turkey Breast quick cook steaks I usually have. It was actually a blessing in disguise as I am perpetually bored of eating the very same thing for lunch every single day.

I am currently on an exclusion diet as part of my effort to overcome and conquer my debilitating Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Diarrhoea (IBS-D). I was diagnosed with Lactose intolerance over 9 years ago and have been on a dairy free diet ever since, but I still suffer the ill effects of IBS-D on a daily basis. I have been on various exclusion diets and diet regimes before, all to no avail.

However, I persevered in my quest to eliminate any possible foods that may be continuing to inflame or cause my IBS-D and that is how I discovered the magic of cooking with coconut oil as a substitute for vegetable or seed oils (such as vegetable oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil). Using only coconut oil to cook the food I eat has really helped reduce my IBS-D symptoms and has also had the side effect of helping me lose over 1 1/2 stone of weight.KTC_Coconut_oil I still need to do more research around coconut oil as there seem to be many health benefits but it is also high in saturated fat, which increases cholesterol in the body, which can lead to heart attacks! I try not to use too much though.

So this is the place I started from this afternoon, when I realised I had the choice between eating a sandwich which would make me ill or trying to conjure up a suitable Free From lunch. I am currently excluding all dairy, wheat, gluten, high fibre (onions, mushrooms, spinach, all nuts, the skins and seeds of all vegetables and fruits such as potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes/ zucchini, cucumbers) and vegetable/ seed oil ingredients from my diet. I am only using coconut oil to cook with, although I can still use salt, pepper, ground coriander, ground paprika and ginger in my meals, but not garlic or any chilli power!

Having so many restrictions on what I can eat and cook with is very limiting, but it forces you to be creative. All I had in my kitchen was some Tuna Fish cans (in spring water as opposed to sunflower oil – the tuna in sunflower oil cans used to inflame my IBS-D a lot, because of the oil), rice, tomato passata, dried herbs, salt, ground pepper, ground coriander, ground paprika and a jar of ginger paste. This is what i came up with. My low fibre, dairy free, wheat free, vegetable/ seed oil free, IBS friendly Tuna Fish in Tomato sauce with rice quick cook lunch.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of Tuna Fish in Spring Water
  • 250g Tomato Passata (no skins or seeds)
  • 1 tablespoon of Coconut Oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic paste
  • 1 tablespoon of dried mixed herbs
  • 1 tablespoon of dried basil
  • 1/2 carrot – peeled
  • 1/2 courgette – peeled
  • 160g of cooked basmati rice

Serves: 1 or 2 people depending on hunger!

Time to cook: Less than 20 minutes. The rice takes 16 minutes to cook in our 1000 watt microwave. The actual Tuna in Tomato sauce takes only 10-13 minutes to cook, depending on how hard or soft you like your vegetables. A low fibre diet recommends cooking vegetables thoroughly and not eating raw vegetables.

Instructions:

  • Make the rice. I just made the rice in the way I usually do, which is to put 1 cup of dried rice into a corning-ware dish, wash the rice to remove the starch, add 2 cups of water, then microwave the rice for 8 minutes uncovered on medium power, then put a microwave cover over the corning-ware dish and heat for another 8 minutes on medium power. This cooks enough rice for 4 people. You can just cook the rice as you usually do or even substitute in Gluten Free Pasta (if you want the recipe to be wheat and gluten free). I don’t use ready-made Microwave rice such as Uncle Ben’s (the one’s that cook in just 2 minutes) as they have sunflower oil in them.
  • While the rice is cooking in the microwave:
    • Peel the carrot and cut it into small chunks and put it to one side.
    • Peel the courgette and cut that into small pieces and put with the carrot pieces.
    • Turn on the hob, to medium heat, and put the saucepan on it. It needs to be a little bit hot for the coconut oil (which is solid in the jar) to melt.
    • Put the 1 tbsp of Coconut oil, the salt, pepper, coriander, paprika, and ginger paste into the saucepan and mix together.
    • After about 30 seconds add the Tuna Fish (drained of it’s spring water form the can) into the saucepan. Stir the oil/ spice mix and tuna together.
    • After another 30 seconds add the cut up pieces of carrot and courgette to the tuna fish and pieces mix in the saucepan.
    • After 1 minute add the Tomato passata to the saucepan and stir all the ingredients together.
    • Let the mix fry for about another 1 minute.
    • Then turn down the heat to low so that the sauce in the pan is just simmering.
    • Add the Dried mixed herbs and dried basil to the sauce and stir in.
    • Cover the saucepan and let the sauce cook on low heat for around 10-13 minutes.
    • After the Tuna Tomato sauce has cooked you can just add it to the cooked rice and you have what is hopefully a tasty Free From lunch full of proteins and carbs that is suitable for people with Lactose, Wheat an gluten intolerances or people on Low Fibre or other exclusion diets.

This is what the finished meal should look like. Apologies for the photo being very basic and lacking style, it was a quick smart phone moment.

 

Free From Tuna Tomato Rice

Free From Tuna Tomato Rice

 

 

 

 

Discomfort Eating Part 1– IBS-D versus Emotional Support from Pancakes

pancakes_use It was never going to be a good idea.

Tesco factory made pancakes full of wheat and milk, together with Waitrose Pre-made Beef Bolognese full of onions and tomatoes. And all that after the Apricot Tarte that I specially bought for my father’s 80th birthday (he loves apricots and tartes so I think I made his day). He insisted I have a slice of, as it was his birthday, and he wanted me to /”make the effort for him”. He then reminded me that he thought all these food intolerances were rubbish, “made up nonsense”, and I was wasting my time going on food exclusion diets in order to overcome my IBS-D (Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Diarrhoea). So to please him, as he was already miserable at getting hardly any cards and having to live for so long in such a horrible, unjust world, I ate the tarte, although I was controlled enough to say no to cream. In case you are wondering the Apricot Tarte was delicious. However, as you may have already guessed, it was the start of a downward slide for my hyper-sensitive gut.

If the Tarte was the only wheat, yeast and lactose I ingested that day, it may have been OK. I probably still would have suffered some increased symptom of my IBS-D. I had, you see, been stuffing myself full of chocolates over the last few days, to numb the increasing emotional pain I was feeling within me. I also fell of the wagon, so to speak, by binge on wheat and dairy filled fancy snack food at a christening last Sunday. My wife was made Godmother to her school friend’s daughter. The service was beautiful (I love old churches – this was 800 years old), but the reception afterwards was my true heaven. Honey Roast Beef slices, smoked salmon with prawns on top, pork and leek pies, goats cheese and sundried tomato quiches. Poppy seed roll bread. My favourite type of seeded bread. All the stuff of my dreams, denied to me by my recent years of exclusion diets. I could have tried to have more self-control. Yet it has been a hard few weeks, in fact months. So I gave in to the naughty demons inside me.

As a drug, not all food works for me. It has to be tasty food. Generally fatty, unhealthy food. Chocolates are one of the best drugs that give me the hit I need to distract from slipping down into a spiral of depression or anxiety induced panic. I have had to deal with a lot of emotional tension, stress and turbulence recently (due to a myriad of financial and family related drama’s that I have done my best to avoid but which have sought me out and keep haunting me). The chocolate hits have helped get me through, in addition to the pork and leek pie, though at a price.

Anyway, enough about the Double Decker bars and Pound shop Thornton’s boxes, back to the pancakes. So after the Birthday Tart slippage, why did I make it worse by devouring the pack of pancakes I bought impulsively as they were seducing me at the entrance to my local hypermarket. My excuse?

It was Pancake day, one of my favourite days of the year. In terms of religious faith I am not a religious man. Food, however, is my religion. Any day or event where the celebration involves or revolves around food is holy to me.

I live to eat. It is the thing that makes me get out of bed in the morning, for breakfast. I push through the drudgery of mornings dreaming of the reward of lunch. After lunch the day is all about getting through to dinner time (hopefully with some tasty snacks in between). When I used to have a very high pressured, fast paced, long hours finance job in central London, the things that powered me on through the day were sausage rolls from Waterloo station in the morning, a Snickers’ bar (Marathon for all you old school Brits out there) for morning break, a large Chili Con Carne lunch from the subsidised work canteen, a can of Dr. Pepper and a bag of Flame-grilled Steak McCoys Crisps for afternoon break and the thought of some overly oily, yet tasty home-made cooked meal, full of marinated meat, made by my equally carnivorous mother.

So that is a very concise summary of why I eat and why eating tasty food that gives me a stimulating hit is so important to me. It is emotional comfort eating, I understand that now, but that doesn’t mean I crave it any less.

This is why I thought milk-based pancakes with Beef Bolognese sauce might be a “good” idea. Aside from the fact that it was a weird combination (I like weird) for a pancake, and my wife thought it was disgusting, I should have known better.

I have cut this post into 3 separate posts to make it easier for people to digest (excuse the very bad pun).

This is the link to Part 2, which continues on from this point (to be updated once the post is published!)

Link to Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatments List on NHS Website

How Tomorrow Makes Me Feel – Back in Therapy and Dealing with a Depressed Father

Too Much Information OverloadThis is my 3rd attempt at composing and publishing a short post.

I seem to be pathologically unable to compose a short blog post. I always have too much to say. This comes from years of being forced to keep quiet and not express my true thoughts and feelings, which is unhelpful when the atmosphere I grew up in was so unstable and traumatic.

When I do start to open up and write from the heart and soul, everything just floods out. I am desperate to let it all out and to be listened to, validated and comforted.

The problem is that we live in a world where image is everything, and the stigma around mental health issues is still really powerful. I am lucky to have come across lots of recent campaigns to increase awareness of mental health issues and break down the stigma’s attached to them. However, when it comes to telling my own true story, my anxiety gets triggered just thinking of any unintended and negative consequences of being open and honest. “Outing” myself (as suffering from mental health issues) and then being negatively judged, mocked or side-lined for doing so, scares the living daylights out of me.

To try and prevent this, I have spent the last few days trying to build a barrier of anonymity around this blog and my online presence. A virtual wall to protect myself from exposing my true vulnerability and being attacked (I am always on red alert for being attacked) which ironically maintains my alienation mental health issues. I am the same in real life. I create and maintain emotional walls to defend myself from being hurt, but the side effect is being continually disconnected from developing meaningful social interactions and relationships.

This is really ironic, as opening up, on this blog, has made me feel free, energised, and excited. The point of posting my true thoughts and feelings, my story, on this blog, was to connect with other people. I didn’t originally set up this blog with a view to chronicling my battle with mental health issues. It just happened. I still plan to post about other facets of my life. I am more than just someone with mental health problems, but those conditions are a big part of where I am in my life right now.

I currently feel very alienated in my life, so trying to connect with people I can relate to or who are in similar circumstances can only be a positive thing right? If only it was that easy. Anonymity comes at a price, it can maintain alienation, but opening up in a truly honest way, though really brave, can have its costs too.

With all this in mind, let’s try to push back the flood waters of my suppressed inner thoughts and summarise.

I really wanted to post something today as tomorrow is significant for 2 reasons. I will summarise these 2 events now and then publish 2 separate posts expanding on these summaries.

Tomorrow is my father’s 80th birthday. What should be a day of celebration is shrouded in misery and depression, which is exactly what my father, who has depression but denies having it (even though he is on anti-depressants), or that all these “made-up” mental health conditions actually exist, wants it to be.

I have been at my wits end trying to cheer him up over the last few days, weeks, months, years in fact. Nothing makes him happy. No matter what you do for him it is never enough, and he always finds a fault in it and with you. If I buy him a Strawberry trifle he will let me know that Raspberry is his favourite. If I buy him an Apricot Torte he will mention how he only likes Apricot Tortes form a certain patisserie. I offered to take him for a birthday lunch at his favourite café, but he told me he no longer eats lunch (which is not strictly true) and he doesn’t want me to take him out until I have a job (which is his way of guilt tripping me into going out there and getting a high flying well paid job I am actually too mentally ill to be able to hold down).

He has been bullying me and putting me down my whole life. That is at the core of my low self-esteem, which is one of the drivers of my depression and anxiety disorders. He is like the mother in Woody Allen’s most serious film, “Interiors” or like Livia, the mother from The Sopranos. He has constructed this idea that he is a victim and everything and everyone is out to make his life miserable. He has to discount and push away any evidence that counteracts this constructed idea. I completely sympathise with him as a person suffering from depression, but instead of admitting that and trying to work through it, he denies it exists as a condition, denies he has it, and focuses the blame on me and other people around him for his misfortunes in life. He mocks my own attempts to seek therapy for my depression and pushes back any attempts I make to be compassionate towards him.

The question is not about what to do with him. The question is about what to do with me? Why should I be responsible for making him happy and saving his soul from the darkness of destructive depression? I love him and have enormous compassion for him.  Yet for all I do for him he just bullies and mocks me and is a destructive influence on me. I think I need to stop now and elaborate further in the main post about this. So look out for my post about my father, me and his 80th Birthday non-celebration.

The second important thing happening tomorrow is my assessment session for counselling talk therapy. I have had various forms of talk therapy over the last 10 years. Not continuously, but for different periods of time, with big gaps in between. The last therapy I was in lasted for 3 years. I really connected with my last therapist and we built a really positive and insightful relationship during 3 years of weekly sessions.

It was prematurely cut short, just when I was really exposed and opened up emotionally, when she got pregnant and had to end her practice. I felt like a patient in hospital being left cut open on the operating table, mid-operation. That was in April 2013. The last 11 months have not been easy. I realised I needed to continue therapy, for the sake of my own emotional well-being, my marriage and career prospects. My social anxiety has only gotten worse. I only feel safe and comfortable locked up in bed, the toilet or at him, alone, watching TV, or in my study. When the telephone rings I get nervous. Having to deal with other people makes me anxious. I assume everyone hates me and is out to get me. That I always fail other people, let them down, and they will punish me for it. I am also really struggling with containing all my negative thoughts and finding the focus and motivation I desperately need in order to finish my courses and get a new job.

I am very apprehensive about starting therapy with a new counsellor. I really believe in psychological therapy and think it’s far harder than anyone realises. I will elaborate further my thoughts on talk therapy and my own experiences in another post. So look out for that!

Enough! I have already gone past my limit of a one page word document blog post! I need an editor.

Nightmare Under The Garden

Last night I had a strange dream.

I was in my garden at night, taking to my next door neighbour. I noticed a headstone in the corner of my garden. It was a brand new, clean, light grey stone, without any markings on it. A blank headstone. For some reason I was holding a shovel. I asked my neighbour if he knew anything about the sudden appearance of this worrying addition to my garden? He had no idea how it got there. He suggested I start digging to see what was under it. I started digging and after a short while a large hole appeared in front of the headstone.

Thing One and Thing Two

There was a large open bunker under my garden. I had dug into it. There were lots of strange people in there buzzing around and smiling wickedly. They looked like Thing one and Thing two from the Cat in the Hat children’s books by Dr. Seuss. They had orange jump suits on and were all pointing at me as they rushed around the bunker under my garden. They also seemed to be taking orders from someone else. Someone with a long dark shadow.

All I could see was the shadow, not the leader himself. The strange orange-suited creatures started shouting at me to “Jump! Jump!”. They wanted me to join them in the bunker. I could feel a chill running down my spine. I heard a familiar voice trying to call me from within the bunker, being drowned out by the horrid squealing creatures. It sounded like my father’s voice. He is turning 80 next Tuesday and I am paranoid that he is going to die soon. He’s pretty depressed and keeps talking about just wanting to die, but I have always wanted to be the one to save him. To try and give him back the desire to live and embrace life. I have always had a real Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker thing with my dad, with me trying to save him from himself. Was his voice asking me for help or was he the Dark Leader? Who knows.

It was dark outside and I knew there was some form of powerful evil down there, in the bunker under my garden. I didn’t want to go down there. I felt a force trying to pull me down into it. I shouted to my neighbour to help me. He ran and got some strong rope and threw it to me. I grabbed the rope and held on for dear life as he pulled me away form the hole in my garden by the headstone. The stronger he pulled the rope to save me the stronger the dark forces in the bunker pulled at me. I closed my eyes and used all my power to pull away form the darkness. I gathered all my energy and made one big jump away form the hole. I felt my face smash into the cold hard ground. I blanked out.

When I came to, I was in my hallway. There was a knock at the floor. All I could see was a tall, black shadow again. I checked that the chain was on the door. I franticly searched for my house keys to check that the locks had been activated. I saw visions of criminals with killer eyes at my door, desperate to get in and commit some sort of horror. I was full of anxiety and fear as I turned the key in the door lock to make sure the door stayed closed. the people outside started pushing at my front door. They were eager to get in. Something dark wanted to grab hold of me.

I heard the clock radio turn on. the music playing was the Calvin Harris Remix of Spectrum (Say My Name) by Florence and The Machine. I love that song and it empowered me enough to get out of bed.

What was that dream all about. It was some form of nightmare, playing on my real fear of burglars and having the safety of my home invaded. It felt like one of the Doctor Who serials I have been watching every day for the last few months. Strange alien creatures in an underground lair. Like Doctor Who and The Silurians (a great serial from season 7, Jon Pertwee’s 1st Season as the Doctor).

I had thought dreams were meant to be full of our unconscious desires, in order to keep us sleeping to keep enjoying the things we get to experience in dream-world but are denied us in the real world. This is because we need sleep to re-energise our bodies and mind, and dreams force us to take the time to switch off to allow the body to do its work. It’s sort of like defragmenting the hard drive of a computer, something we never bother to do until its too late. If we had our desires fulfilled every time we defragged a PC we would do it every night! Yet I have no desire to be sucked into a world of death and evil or attacked by burglars. Sure a lot of the unconscious fears and insecurities we bury deep inside our psyche come out in dreams. This just felt so powerful. I need to get round to reading The Interpretations of Dreams by Sigmund Freud.

I didn’t help that I have been fallen ill with an increasingly worsening cold that feels like it is a physical manifestation of how I feel psychologically/ mentally. I feel exhausted, burnt out, battered. I am not coping well with the fall-out from my sister’s decision to exclude me and the family from her wedding. From losing what I thought was a really close relationship, and had been at one time, for a long time. From realising that I have lost and am losing everything I used to rely on to keep me going in this harsh, cold, unjust world.

I wanted to sleep for longer to try and give my body more energy to fight the cold. My nightmare prevented that. Ironically sleep is one of the few things I still have that I can rely on to help me get through life. I also have blogging. Typing out my thoughts into this blog post has really helped. Blogging is really therapeutic for me. I am starting to get on board with the whole Blogging for Mental Health 2014 thing.

Anyway, on a positive note, no matter how bad real life gets, at least when I looked out into my garden there was no blank headstone and empty grave waiting to be filled.

Mind of Exhaustion – Mental Health and Doctor Who

Burnt Out Mind Illustration

Is it a good idea to write a blog post when my mind is so fatigued? It’s probably not. However I have just finished watching “The Mind of Evil” the second serial of Doctor Who Season 8, the 3rd Doctor, Jon Pertwee’s 2nd season. That, and the fact it was my birthday yesterday, have encouraged me to put fingers to keyboard and thoughts to cyberspace.

I have composed over 20 blog posts in the last few weeks but have not had to the time to edit them or publish them. The subjects I have been writing about range from:

  • Mental health issues such as depression, social anxiety and addiction,
  • Testing my social anxiety by going to a career networking meet up with over 200 people all by myself (very daunting, exciting yet emotionally exhausting)
  • Coping with the emotional fallout from the break-up of my once seemingly close family
  • Bravery as the concept of being scared but doing something anyway, such as opening up about suffering from mental health issues (even though you know many people will judge you negatively for doing so)
  • Irritable bowel Syndrome-Diarrhoea (IBS-D) and food intolerance diets,
  • the changing nature of parenting, how the role of a parent changes during a child’s life,
  • Watching the Lego movie with my daughter *(her 1st cinema outing), and its ironic anti-corporate, anti-conservative massage and how the cinema is my church, and
  • how my mind feels cluttered and on the point of collapse from lack of organisation or order, like my daughter’s Lego box,
  • the therapeutic value of blogging and creative writing,
  • My struggle to express myself, my thoughts and feelings, succinctly and precisely (after years of being forced to suppress my true thoughts)
  • virtual reality and online profiles,
  • Doctor Who and my adventure into watching the 3rd Doctor, Jon Pertwee’s Dr. Who serials
  • How I finally got my wife to watch “The US Office” sitcom, and how she had become obsessed with it, to the point of addiction, which has had the side effect of making me realise how scarily similar I am to Michael Scott (in terms of emotional insecurity and needing to be liked and part of a “family”)
  • Reaching 35 (it was my 35th birthday yesterday).

In terms of how I feel physically and mentally, that can for once be summed up concisely in one word. Exhausted.

That is why I decided to blog today and finally publish a post.

I’m too drained to compose a long post. The greatest battle I have when it comes to creative writing is trying to stay focussed and concise. I digress wildly. My blog posts are too long. I have too much to say and too much of a burning desire to say it. Maybe if my mind is so wiped with fatigue that will help focus it. Keep things short.

Blogging is the only way for me to channel how I truly think and feel about my life and the world around me. It also energises me. Most things I have to do in life or deal with drain me. Blogging makes me feel alive.

Recently it feels that every day I’ve been pounded by situations that trigger my unresolved unconscious inner conflict. Triggering my depression, anxiety, stress, and inflaming my already debilitating IBS-D. I’ve tried to alter my lifestyle and behaviour to help overcome my problems, but it’s an uphill struggle, that just seems to get harder.

I’m climbing up this mountain to get to a place of inner calm, peace and self-control, and just when I think I’m near the top, or even the middle, I pass through a thick cloud of mist that blocks my way. The mist conceals the true height of the mountain. When I finally clear the mist, I’m mentally and physically exhausted, having used all my energy to battle through. I look ahead and I am nowhere near the top, or near the middle.  I’ve still got a really long way to go. An impossibly long way it seems. Never-ending perhaps.

Foggy Climbing

Many people in my life around me have their own battles and unresolved insecurities. When those have been triggered by stress sin their own lives, rather than process those thoughts and feelings in a positive way, they have been lashing out at me. Throwing all the all their angst, insecurities, anger and negative feelings straight at me. Why me? They know I won’t fight back. I hate conformation. I internalise how I feel. I always have. That’s why all my childhood traumas and inner conflict remain and fester deep within me, eating away at me, pulling me down.

There are many things pulling me down, both inside and outside of me. People, situations, events, circumstances past and present.

There all also things that pull me up. Help me get through. Like my daughter, who was the brightest ray of sunshine on my 35th birthday. I was really depressed about turning 35. The older you get, the harder everything is. You have less energy, less options, less opportunities, less time to get things right. I can’t enjoy many of the pleasures of life that used to help get me through, for many reasons such as health and lack of money. Time seems to be running out for me in many ways. Just when I need to find reserves of energy to pull me through increasing hardship, I find myself fatigued. My daughter was a great help yesterday though.

My poor bedraggled wife, who seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown of her own, tried her best and I’m lucky to have her. I just wish we could both overcome our own battles, inside and out, so that we can finally enjoy each other’s company and time like we used to at the beginning. Everything in life is dynamic and always changes, whether or not we like it, but it would be nice for some things to change positively rather than constantly downwards.

The other thing that helps pull me through is Dr. Who. I am really enjoying Jon Pertwee’s Dr. Who serials. I just finished “The Mind of Evil”, an action packed adventure about brainwashing that is filmed in and around Dover Castle. It is set in a prison where the Keller device aims to suck evil thoughts from criminal minds leaving behind human beings who are theoretically no longer a threat to society, as their mental faculties have been altered.

It was a fantastic serial. Intelligent, thought provoking, tense, dramatic and fun. Pertwee’s Doctor may be far more serious and hard-nosed then Troughton’s, but he is growing on me. I am really warming to the James Bond style Action-Hero Doctor that he portrays. Maybe it’s the flamboyant cape.

3rd Doctor Who Jon Pertwee

3rd Doctor Who Jon Pertwee

I also recommend watching the making of programme, titles “The Military Mind”, which is on disc 2 of the 2 DVD set for the serial. It shows you how high pressured filming Doctor Who was, and still is. They had to film a lot of complex shots in tough locations with very little time and money.  This specific serial went over budget, and was the last one to be directed by Timothy Combe, and the interview with him is very melancholic at the end. All that overspend was well worth it though. It’s a great serial.

I also feel lucky to have blogging as something to escape to. I have been reading lots of blogs about mental health issues. I found 2 great blogs that I have been meaning to recommend.

Mrs Bashful is about social anxiety and is very honest and well written. She describes exactly how I feel, yet with a far better writing style than I can dream of.

Running on Sober is also very honest and inspiring, about addiction and opening up.

Both of these bloggers are really brave and I admire what they have done, and are continuing to do.

I highly recommend following these 2 blogs if you have any interest or experience of mental health issues.

Mental Health is still a highly underrated topic in healthcare and in the wider world. It affects far more people than you would think, and affects all of us far more than we like to believe. It is the root cause of many destructive problems and if we focussed on understanding it more the world would definitely be a better place.

WordPress have set up a Blog For Mental Health 2014 Official Blogroll,which you can access by clicking on the link.

It seems fitting then that I publish this blog post, which finally admits my own exhausting battles with mental health issues, after I finish watching The Mind of Evil, which is all about the power of the mind and thoughts.

I end up writing about lots of topics that seem completely unrelated in my blog. I thought about splitting the posts into different, more topic focussed blogs. However I feel that I am more than just someone trying to overcome mental health issues, or someone with Irritable bowel syndrome and food intolerances or a doctor who fan who is also into creative writing. I am multi-faceted, as we all are, and I like to celebrate that here in this blog. All of these things are part of me, and are connected. So they All make up Kamblog.

I think those are enough recommendations and thoughts for one day. I’m off to try and re-charge my mind batteries before they burn out permanently. Now where did I put that sonic screwdriver?

11th Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver

11th Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver

You are what you eat

A more cheery post than the last one for a surprisingly warm and sunny Monday morning here in south-west London.

A lot has been happening in my life recently, from my battles with the foxes who have made our garden their home to my detective work trying to find a long lost family member, but one area of my life has been a constant thorn in my side, or front. My gut.

Happy Gut Mascot

My gut is too big (I’m around 2 1/2 stone overweight) and is constantly bloated, making me look like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body double from his ill-fated movie Junior (without the muscles or riches) – i.e. pregnant (Schwarzenegger jokes may be lost on the new generation). In addition to being too large my gut also doesn’t work properly, and hasn’t really done for the last 2o years or so. You see I have IBS-D (Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diarrhoea), which is as yucky as its sounds. Nothing has really helped me overcome my IBS, although the intensity of the symptoms vary, and when I have bad flare ups things get really bad and it’s hard to leave the house or do much. I’ve spent a long time having various tests and trying out various remedies and therapies. I was diagnosed as Lactose Intolerant, which was hard to take as I love pizza and milkshakes, but even without any Dairy in my diet my IBS was still making life difficult. It’s not easy going out, commuting to jobs using public transport or playing sports when you constantly need the loo.

Anyway, I recently saw a TV programme called The Food Hospital, where they try to tackle peoples various health problems by changing their diet. One lady had bad IBS like me and she was sent to Kings College University Hospital in London to go on their trials of the FODMAP diet.

FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates and monosaccharides that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, including fructans, galactans, fructose and polyols. The term is an acronym, deriving from “Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols”.
The restriction of FODMAPs from the diet has been found to have a beneficial effect for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome and other functional gut disorders. The low FODMAP diet was developed at Monash University in Melbourne.

The idea is to eliminate certain foods from your diet (food high in FODMAPs) for aorudn 8 weeks, and then hopefully you’re gut and IBS has calmed down and you can re-introduce each food type into your diet, in a controlled way, to test which food inflames or causes your IBS. So after 8 weeks of eating a diet with no wheat, no dairy, no soya, nothing with onions, nothing with garlic, no apples, broccoli or mushrooms, and lots more food you can’t eat on the diet, the idea is you test which food aggravates your condition the most. In week I will be re-introducing wheat into my diet, slowly, by eating bread on the first day once, then more on the second day, and if the bread doesn’t cause a flare up of my symptoms I can keep eating bread and move onto introducing another high FODMAP food into my diet. If the bread does give me problems, I have to eliminate form y diet again and then go back to a Low FODMAP diet for the next few days before re-introducing another high FODMAP food into my diet to test that.

Sounds complicated right? Well it is, but I’ve actually got far more used to tracking what I eat over the last few years than I ever would have hoped to when I was a fast food junkie during my university years. I started tracking what I eat when I went on a different elimination diet in 2005 and also when I went on WeightWatchers in 2009. I’m using a note taking app on my iPhone (Awesome Note) to track what I eat and my IBS-D symptoms, and then correlating all this data in Excel. I aim to develop my own tracking iPhone and web based app as part of my journey into the world of programming, but I need to finish my private social network application and programming courses first. Monash University also have a new FODMAP iPhone app out, which I will have to download and try out. There is also a great WeightWatchers app, but more about that later on.

So every time I eat something, I make a note of it on my iPhone app, and I have to ensure I don’t eat any food with high FODMAPs. That is pretty hard as most food I eat has garlic, onions, dairy, wheat or soya in it, especially processed food and food made in restaurants. The only thing helping me out is the fact I am working and studying from home, so I can eat 3 home-made/ cooked meals a day. My favourite Pret-a-Manger club sandwiches are out for lunch, my new lunch menu contains 2 grilled turkey steaks, fresh baby spinach, Olive Oil, Bird’s Eye Wheat/ Gluten free Potato Waffles or boiled new potatoes if I have the time to cook them, and some ketchup and mayonnaise that er both wheat/ gluten and dairy free. It’s actually quite a nice lunch, and I have been eating this as lunch for at least the last 13 weeks. You see I started the FODMAP diet on my own, after a really bad flare up in my IBS, around 13 weeks ago. I did it for 6 weeks, noticed that the number of really bad IBS days were less than usual but my IBS was still similar to what it was before, or at least I thought so. the I went to my best friend’s wedding reception so I stopped the FODMAP diet for that week, to try and see if it had made a difference, and also to allow me to eat some tasty wedding food and drink at the free bar. Suffice to say that by the end of week 7, the first week back on food high in FODMAPs, I was really ill again. So even though it hadn’t cured me or transformed my life, the low FODMAP diet did seem to clam my IBS. I just needed to give it more time. I booked an appointment with a dietician at St. Georges Hospital, through my GP, and I am back on the low FODMAP diet, this time on week 6. My IBS has gone from being really bad, to just bad but better.

It’s still not good enough in terms of me being comfortable going out, but maybe the bacteria in my gut need more time to get healthy again. I saw the dietician 3 weeks ago, so I have 5 more weeks of just low FODMAP food, then i can start re-introducing food.

Hopefully by then my IBS will have calmed down to a place I can start re-introducting food as the good news that promoted this blog post (and my intense discussion of my gut and FODMAP) was the fact I booked our summer holiday trip for this year!

No it’s not Las Vegas or New York. It’s not even the Costa Del Sol. Yet it’s better than just another trip tot the local park. It’s sunny Bournemouth. I’ve never been to Bournemouth, in Dorset on the south coast of England, but it has a sandy beach, is by the sea, and isn’t that far to travel (consider all the IBS posting above). So it fits the bill. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to afford to go here, as holidays in the UK are pretty expensive, even though you don’t need to fly anywhere, yet I got a good deal on a decent looking hotel for 3 nights in last August.

The fact we’re now going to a seaside holiday in August means one thing. I need to lose weight, more specifically I need to trim and tone down my pregnant looking swollen gut. That means sticking to the low FODMAP diet to reduce the bloating (high FODMAP food cause bloating and gas in the gut), but it also means I need to go back onto the WeightWatchers diet that helped me loose 2/12 stone way back in 2009 (yes I wasn’t always fat!). I don’t want to wander aorudn the sandy beaches of the English Channel looking like an extra for the British Gangster movie Sexy Beast.

Everyone needs goals in life, and this new goal, our trip in 7 weeks, will hopefully focus my attention on sticking to the low FODMAP and WeightWatchers 53 point a day super diet (all food on the weight watchers diet have a points value, determined by the amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat and fibre in the food). It won’t be easy.

Tracking what you eat is one thing, tracking how much you eat of it is even harder. I’ve found my WeightWatchers weighing scales (to weight the food I eat and cook) and I have started creating the ultimate weekly food and meal planner in Microsoft word. I plan to have a 3 week cycle where I know exactly what I am going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. the total food intake will add up to no more than 53 Weight Watchers Pro-Points a day, and so hopefully, if I stick to the eating plan, I’ll avoid high FODMAP foods and also loose 2lbs of body weight per week.

I’ll have to fix the broken foot strap on my static exercise bike at home and get back to exercising. At least I’m playing squash once a week again (although lugging my weight aorudn a squash court isn’t easy). I am feeling very positive and focussed though.

The biggest challenge is eating out and socialising. Maintaining a low FODMAP diet is really hard if you eat out a lot. The food in most restaurants contains a mixture of ingredients that inevitably will have garlic, onions, wheat or other high FODMAP foods. This is certainly true of Indian/ Pakistani and Italian restaurants. I love Chinese and Thai food, but they use garlic too.

The only place I really now is great for low FODMAP food is Nando’s, conveniently one of my favourite restaurants (and my 5 year old daughter’s favourite restaurant). The chips are wheat/ gluten free and I love eating a grilled half chicken. I avoid the sauces, as they have garlic, and don’t have a very hot or spicy marinade on the chicken. Cutting down caffeine is also pretty tough for me, but I’ve been persisting. Besides Nando’s all I can think of is steak and chips in terms of good low FODMAP restaurant food. Any other suggestion would be more than welcome.

Anyway wish me luck. Hopefully I’ll lose weight, overcome my IBS-D and be able to swim in the English Channel with pride.