Flareups, Finding Balance & Shakshuka

Wow, I can’t believe it’s already February and this is my first post of 2015. Sorry for not being around, I needed to take a bit of a break from my cyber life to focus on my real life!

Unfortunately, this year didn’t start so well for me…relapse, flare-ups, whatever you want to call them, my body has been beating me up (like the bastard it is) and I’ve been trying not to let it win. Although sometimes it feels like it would just be easier if I did.

In January I went into a bit of a tailspin and was majorly self-sabotaging. I had lived such a restrictive life for so long because I thought it was helping me keep my conditions under control, so when I started to get really unwell again it was like a slap in the face and really difficult to handle.

I know I’ve said it before, but diet works up to a point and eating ‘well’ (whatever that means is so individual to each person) is only part of the solution. And, unfortunately, the nature of the chronic illness is that there are times when you just don’t have control over your body and you end up being dragged kicking and screaming half a mile backward. It sucks, but it is what it is.

When I self-sabotage I do it because it’s a time when I can at least understand why I feel crap. Eating rubbish food makes me feel rubbish. I get that. Waking up, trying to move, and every joint in my body falling out? Not so much. And I do love me some pizza. Shh.

But hey, I survived Marrakech with Hannah over New Year!

Trying to get back on track is difficult, especially when you’re constantly having to experiment with what works for your body and will help you get some semblance of control over your life. Sometimes I wish I knew that there was a set of meds that I could take that would make me better, or at least there would be a process that, almost unfailingly would work. Doing all of this by yourself can be very difficult and demoralizing at times, but when things start working and go well it can be so empowering. Trying to remember those feelings and that things do eventually can get better (not great, but better) is something that I always try to hang on to. I get frustrated that I ‘don’t look sick’ and the people around me don’t always understand or appreciate how unwell I am. It’s not that I want sympathy – just a little understanding would be nice. I’m still expected to do everything, and just keep going. But there is a point where you just have to say no, and stop, and try and figure out (once again) what you can do.

There are two big changes that have already happened this year, and I’m trying to take them as positives.

The first is that I’m officially on sick leave for the first time in my life. It’s weird.

I went back to work at the beginning of January, excited to be going in twice a week. Being able to go to work is something that I’ve always struggled with. Both physically in the sense that there are times when I actually just can’t handle doing stuff, and emotionally in the sense that not being able to do stuff really bloody sucks, especially when you’re as motivated and ambitious as I am.

I thought I was prepared and ready, but I felt so unwell that physically and mentally going in (even for two days) was just way way too much. It was more of a struggle than anything had ever been, and that really scared me. I had a massive breakdown and didn’t know what to do. My instinct was to hand in my notice, but (as I’ve said many times before) I’m so lucky that I work for such a supportive and amazing company and I didn’t have to do that. I’m now on sick leave and am taking some time to try and get better so I can go back to work and be a productive human being.

I’ve never allowed myself to truly rest and heal. I’d stop working or studying and get into bed, but I’d be working constantly while propped up. I’d go to work, and have a million other projects on the side to keep myself busy and to not think about how unwell I feel. This, I’ve recently discovered, is not resting. This is still working, you’re just a lot cozier. And it just feeds into my ‘boom or bust’ personality. I go for things whole hog, and instead of taking the time I need to rest and recover, I keep pushing and pushing myself to prevent the inevitable crash. But, inevitably, that crash only gets worse the more I push on.

It was such a weight off my shoulders when I got signed off and knowing that I don’t have to think about work for a bit. Not physically or mentally feeling up to it was one thing, but feeling like I was letting my team down was more of a pressure than anything else. I hate being a burden on other people, but I’m learning that in order not to be, I have to make sure I do the things to look after myself first. I also stopped working on all my side projects, tried to read, started doing yoga and bought a Wii U so I can crush Mario Kart when my wrists allow! I get shouty. It’s fun.

The second thing is that I am no longer vegan. I’ve written about this before on my Instagram, but while it worked up to a point, my body started feeling even weaker than usual, and I’m now experimenting more with my diet to find what helps. I’m still predominantly plant-based: green juices, smoothies, and soups play a huge role in what I eat on a daily basis, but limiting my grains, getting local eggs and meat and making sure I eat things that make me happy is working for me at the moment. As I said to my friend Natasha over an incredibly delicious meal at Incanto last week, I have so little control over my body, I might as well do what I can to make my mind happy so I can fight better. I feel stronger when I eat some high-quality meat (something I realized while eating tagine every day in Morocco), and I feel happier when I go out for an occasional pizza or burger with friends.

Honestly, I’m so over the judgmental bullshit that I see all over Instagram. What I choose to eat, my (lack of) spirituality and the way I’m going about trying to get well is, ultimately, my business. I get that by writing publicly about it, people are always going to share their opinions, but at the end of the day, behind pictures of food, I’m a real person, and all I’m trying to do is be healthy and live as normal a life as I possibly can while letting other people know who are going through similar things that they’re not alone. I’m not hurting anyone, and I try to be kind to others. I think more people need to think more about that than concerning themselves with ‘fixing’, diagnosing or judging other people. Just saying.

Spicy Shakshuka with Zaatar Flatbread

Shakshuka

I tend to start trying new things on a Monday. It’s just that mental thing of starting a new week in a positive way. After crying my way through yoga, but ultimately figuring out a plan for the next few weeks, I decided I’d get back in the kitchen and properly cook something for the first time in ages. I’m kind of proud of myself, because cooking has been a huge mental block for me since I had my relapse. I’ve been thinking about shakshuka for a month, and finally just thought I’d just go for it! And it was certainly delicious.

This can be a large meal for one or two smaller meals. I had half for lunch and it was perfectly filling. Just a quick note to anyone with histamine intolerance, this is a high histamine dish but as I mentioned above, right now I’m all about trying to balance the restrictive nature of what my body needs with being happy. And today, this made me happy.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Half large onion (diced)
  • 1 large clove garlic (chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper (diced)
  • 3 picked sprigs of thyme
  • Large pinch of both coriander & parsley (chopped)
  • 1 400g tin of tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt (to taste)

Method:

  • Pour the olive oil in a large frying pan and bring to a medium heat. When warmed up, add the chopped onions, garlic, cumin and chili flakes and sauté for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the peppers and the herbs and sauté until the peppers are soft.
  • Throw in the tin tomatoes and salt, mix everything together and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  • Check the seasoning (you may wish to add more salt at this point)
  • Make a couple of gaps in the sauce and carefully crack an egg in each one. Cover the pan with a bit and let the eggs cook for 4-6 minutes until the whites have set.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley or coriander (or both!) and enjoy!

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