Tag Archives: healing

The Joy of Cooking

In Year 7 home economics I placed a golf ball in the microwave.

The crackle that pre-empt the catastrophic boom was amazing. My anticipation and delight could not be dampened. Followed by the screams and whoop whoops by my friends that echoed in the Masterchef kitchen set up.

Yes, it was unlikely that I was ever going to appreciate the joy of cooking.

I was thrown out of the class and sat in detention for the remainder of that term, every Thursday morning for 50 minutes. In my mind, the perfect outcome.

When I was at uni, I lived on my mum’s single serve home cooked meals with instructions labelled.

Add rice. Good with salad.

Every weekend was a homemade pick up or delivery. I wasn’t going to starve. And my house mates took pity on me, ‘how did I not know how to cook spaghetti sauce?’

Monkey Diet

On a Thursday morning, after $1 drinks the night before at the local pub, it was a large McFeast meal from Macca’s. I remember how soothing all the salt, grease and sugar felt on my red raw gut as we tried to reconstruct the shenanigans from the night before.

By the time uni was done, I had even less of an idea on how to cook. And I really didn’t care. I headed overseas and worked at summer camp and was introduced to the delights of American camp fare.

Breakfast sausages, pepperoni pizza, sloppy joes, chilli con carne. And it all came out of industrial sized cans. It was brilliant! I didn’t have to go near a kitchen and I just had to keep my elbows off the table!

From camp to Colorado, I don’t quite remember how I kept myself sustained. But I quickly found a boyfriend to take care of that in exchange for doing the dishes. It was a fair trade, but I often wondered why on earth someone would need to use so many bloody utensils?

For me food was a necessary process, a social ritual. I loved eating out, there was no clean up and no time wasted walking up and down grocery aisles. I often followed my boyfriend wondering what he was seeing that I simply couldn’t.

At high altitude, the taste of fruit and vegies barely resembled what I remembered food should taste like. The sweetness of a tomato, the tartness of a granny smith apple. They were distant memories.

It was during my trips home every 18 months that something finally twigged.

Why didn’t tomatoes taste like this at 9,100 feet?

And it dawned upon me…I hadn’t experienced the joy of licking mango juice dripping off my fingers and down my hands in a very, very long time. It just wasn’t the same in the mile-high state.

After 8 years abroad, my return home confirmed what you have already worked out. I had no idea what to do in a kitchen. In fact, I argued with my mum why I needed a full size fridge at all!

Grocery shopping was a quandary. What exactly should go in this basket? I had no interest in where food came from, but I knew where it would end, so I figured I would keep it simple.

A loaf of bread, cereal, milk, orange and mango juice, sliced ham, chicken, broccoli, apples, bananas….no bloody vegemite!

My mum’s single serve home cooked meals showed up again.

Add rice. Good with salad.

And my penchant for tuna sandwiches with Red Rock sweet chilli chips and a coke were a lunchtime staple. I was set.

But for some reason my curiosity was awakened and my mum took quick advantage of the opening, slipping in a little Women’s Weekly cooking mag along with the week’s single serve meals.

And I thought, ‘it can’t be that hard’. So I started to put familiar ingredients together and much to my surprise my plates started to resemble a meal.

In fact, I was feeling so confident with my signature dish – grilled lemon pepper chicken, with a green salad – that I invited a girlfriend over for dinner. Quick, easy and tasty…impossible to screw up.

So I prepped, I cooked and I dished out – making sure the feta and the olives sat neatly at the top of the salad pile and served it on my coffee/dining table. Space was at a premium, I lived in 55 square metres.

I could smell the chicken, it was cooked to perfection. The lemon pepper was generously coating the chicken strips. I was rather impressed and so was my girlfriend giving me high-fives. Until she started choking, and gasping, and turning red, reaching out for a glass – of water, of wine, a beer – anything that could hose down the lemon pepper fire that had exploded in her throat!

I guess my sense of taste and smell was duller than I realised. And then I started to laugh…hard, really hard. And once my girlfriend stopped choking and was no longer red in the face she started to laugh; harder than we had in a long time until the tears ran down our face.

I was 28. No spring chicken.

Time to understand the use of the word ‘sparingly’.

So I went back to the mini-cookbooks, folded some corner pages, started a shopping list and read the recipes. I even bought a spice rack, excited with the possibilities. Who could I choke next?

As my kitchen technique improved and my sense of taste restored, I figured it was graduation time and I bought an outdoor BBQ – grilling salmon and angus beef sausages. Making my own tabouli and adding toasted nuts to my salads. I also realised why fridges were important and upgraded to a larger one with a decent freezer compartment. My mum thought I had been abducted by aliens!

When I met Mr Metamucil he could cook – tick – and used utensils I hadn’t discovered – tick (to be determined). But he also has a 10 minute rule. Shove it all in, quickly, you’ve only got 10 minutes.

Clearly hungry

It’s like he’s at a pie-eating competition and is vying for a lifetime of pies!

But it was refreshing, I didn’t have to trade meals for dishes and we actually cook meals together. Pressing fresh garlic, grinding cumin seeds, garam masala and turmeric and we take turns stirring the risotto, because inevitably Mr Metamucil has forgotten an ingredient, he rarely uses a recipe, and wonders why it tastes different every single time.

Fast forward 10 years and I’ve discovered a thing or two. About food. About myself. About what’s good for me. And what’s not. Reading about blue zone diets, experimenting with a Mediterranean diet full of nuts, olive oils and omega-3’s…anything to contain the inflammation of auto-immune dis-ease. Not depriving myself of much, but savouring and enjoying.

I’ve discovered the importance of food to not only nourish, but its ability to heal and to bring me joy.

Of course, there are days where my cooking ambition far outweighs the finished product, and I’m bitterly disappointed, ‘I put so much effort in, for such little payback.’

And then there are days where I nail it, and I’m doing the happy dance in the kitchen. But in my excitement and excess saliva, I sit down and employ Mr Metamucil’s 10 minute rule and then I get a similar despondent feeling, ‘I put in so much effort, and it’s gone so quickly!’

Yes, there are days where I feel like maybe I should try one more golf ball. Surely they’ve improved their microwave-bility?

But I realise, it’s my microwave, my kitchen, my home insurance and I put a banana muffin in instead.

20 seconds later… I sit back, break it open, watch the steam rise and feel my mouth salivate and take one bite, chew, toss it around and enjoy…before the next bite and then another one.

And it appears my home economics teacher was right, I won’t ever understand the joy of cooking, I’m experiencing something much more fulfilling. I’ve discovered the joy of tasting, savouring and enjoying…and that is the best lesson I could have ever discovered.

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In my Head

I spend a lot of time in my head.

Observing, synthesising, debating and concluding. All by myself. All in my head.

I’ve always done it. I don’t know how not to do it.

I put it down to being an only child, where there was no one else to share my thoughts, or the scenarios and debates I created in my head. My parents were hard working migrants, trying to put food on the table and provide their first and only born with the education and opportunity to achieve and succeed.

I’m sure as a creative child, those thoughts would have been fanciful and self-deluded. After all, there was no one to point out the flaw in my plan for schoolyard domination. I developed resilience via a steep learning curve.

Adolescence did not change my modus operandi, particularly as my parents went through an ugly divorce in my pre-teen years. The arguments, the late night whispering and the removal of my dad’s clothing into 40L plastic bags were all observed, recorded and filed away…for future reference.

My young brain recorded that trust and intimate relationships are fraught with danger.

Now as an adult, happily ensconced in an intimate relationship that looks nothing like my parents’ or anything else I had witnessed or imagined, I still find myself spending quite some time in my head.

Observing, synthesising, debating and concluding.

And in dealing with undefined auto-immune dis-eases, I find that I spend more time retreating, in my head, wondering how did it all go so wrong? What can I do to stop it, reverse it, halt its progress?

I’ve spent many hours googling down the rabbit warren, coming back more overwhelmed than clear. I’ve read books on neuro-plasticity finishing them with great hope that my brain can repair itself from the chronic fatigue short circuit and my short term memory will return.

I’ve scoured the latest journal articles on lupus research and the effectiveness of rituximab and the latest in immuno-suppressants. Hoping that pharmaceutical companies will add another drug option to the market, given that it’s been over 40 years since the last dedicated lupus drug.

I’ve struggled to find any information that could explain the importance of testosterone for females, and why my pituary gland is malfunctioning, without having to enrol in a degree in medicine. Although I suspect I have the first year of theory covered.

I even had my hopes raised when ABC’s Catalyst program, did a story on testosterone, but it was short lived as they chose to focus on middle aged men and menopausing woman. Because it appears that the sex lives of baby boomers, deserves more research and funding than those living with auto-immune disease.

I’ve fallen in and out of love with meditation, struggling to find a routine, a niche, a regular space in my day. Started drinking kefir daily, and once I got past the tangy and surprising effervescence of my coconut milk, my gut started to thank me immediately.

My yoga practice ebbed and flowed, largely due to the instability of my spine as the arthritis of my sacro-illiac joint decided to stand front and centre in 2014.

It started as a niggle, but ended with another red flag on my littered path.

The pain in the dimple of my left glute, my left knee giving way as I walk Franki to the café or try to manage the 45 stairs to freedom. The tingling in my left heel, the numbness in my hamstring.

Of the three episodes I’ve experienced in the second half of the year, I seem unable to acknowledge the symptoms until my back spasms, my hip locks and I can no longer turn my neck or lift my arm. Then the desperate call to the physio. As I’ve said before…I can be a slow learner.

And then the humility kicks in and I need to exit my head.

I ask my husband to wash my hair. I ask friends to walk a little slower. I ask Franki not to stop and sniff at every lamp post, perhaps every third one instead.

I tell my yoga teacher it’s a non-pretzel day, I can only do a 30 minute session and ask “can we do some breathing and meditation to complete the hour?”

And I ask strangers to help me untie Franki from the café chair leg as the Fisio-taped back and shoulders make my movements laboured as if my life has been catapulted into slow motion.

It’s those moments where I realise I can’t spend all that time in my head. That in fact, my life can be made easier by just opening the doors and sharing, asking and letting go.

Yes, 2014 has been a challenge. Not because my prognosis has become any worse, and not because the treatments have been wholly unsuccessful. Like everything in life, it has its success and its shortfalls.

I’ve experimented, struggled, rejigged and reworked.

Always in my head. But slowly, with others.

And with only hours left in 2014, I can only hope that I can approach the next 365 days with a little less “in my head” and a little more “in the marinating bowl” with others.

I’ll share my puzzle pieces, and ask for a different perspective. I’ll try them again, this time in a different place or space, sometimes by myself but also with others.

And I’ll remind myself that just as my parents tried valiantly, so will I.

Because life doesn’t always play out the way it does in your head.

My Confession…I’m a Crier

I make no apologies for the following confession – I am a crier.

Not a sniffler, or a quick tear up, run down and wipe away. But when I’m stressed, frustrated, elated or over joyed, my one and only emotional output is tears…and lots of them.

It makes absolutely no sense, but it appears to be the only arsenal I have in my emotional toolkit, whether I’m happy or sad… let me explain.

Depending on what article you read, or Google, as humans we experience 4 distinct emotions – happy, sad, afraid/surprised, angry/disgusted. That’s it.

Everything else we feel is biologically driven from these basic four. And depending on the list you consult, that can be up to 40+ different feelings.

Our brain is an amazing machine that filters all environmental cues and combines it with our conscious experience, influenced on any given moment by our mood, our hormones, our personality and motivation, to deliver the experience of emotion.

It’s a pretty complex range of inputs that are synthesised into a handful of outputs. Effortlessly and seamlessly.

We’ve all experienced it, the feeling, the inkling…the partner that doesn’t seem quite right today, the unusual quietness of the usually chatty barista, the smile from the parking ranger as s/he walks away from sliding another ticket under the windscreen.

And on the flip side, the palpable excitement as your birthday rolls around as you imagine you’ll awake to breakfast in bed, a stack of gifts and the incessant trill of your phone (proof that you are loved). Or the nervous tension as you lay in bed, waiting for daybreak, deciding whether to burn or bury the evidence of the latest purchase.

Within micro-moments, those environmental cues are rapidly identified, sifted and sorted and bang you experience the exploding joy in your chest (or your nether regions), or the increasing tightness in your throat as you feel you may want to puke or pass out, or in my case, complete confusion as the tightness, the joy, the exuberance spills out into… the wet stuff!

Banksy, copyright Getty
Banksy, copyright Getty

Growing up I often heard, “boys don’t cry,” “don’t be a sissy,” “what are you crying for?” So I figured tears were wrong. A sign of weakness. After all, Saint Francis of Assisi had gone blind due to all his crying!

So I inadvertently shut the tears down, or any emotion that provided an insight into how I was feeling, to the point that I often heard “I can never tell whether something is bothering you or not.” I took it as a badge of honour. And smugly assessed, “That’s right, I’m not so easy to work out, am I?”

But when life slaps you in the face, and as the stinging welt on your cheek rises, something shifts.

The shield of invincibility (read: denial) starts to crack. And it forces you to let go and lean in. And that’s where I discovered my tears.

The endless stream. The untapped reservoir. The plentiful bounty.

Psychologists believe that tears are a burst of intense emotional sensation, hence why I’ll get teary when a footballer drops to his knees as he misses the winning kick, or I’ll cry as I turn on the news and watch the cruelty of humanity in all its vivid colour and movement, or I’ll sob when I watch Mr Metamucil cross the line after a long distance triathlon – relieved, excited, overwhelmed.

But it appears that’s “normal.” I’m “normal” when I experience the emotional intensity regardless of the situation. So why do I feel there is a “right” time and a “wrong” time to cry?

Because somehow it makes sense to cry when you’ve broken your leg, but not two days later when the doctor confirms it.

Because somehow it’s okay to cry in the bathroom after the boss has called you in and closed the door behind you, but it’s not okay when he tells you you’re being made redundant.

And somehow it’s completely acceptable to cry before the cop even asks for your license, because you know there’s no way out of this one…except maybe showing remorse (insert: bawling), before you’re charged.

For most of my life, I figured I had missed the circulation guide on “when to cry.”

Because I can’t seem to control it, it just happens. And sometimes at the oddest times, like at a funeral for someone I have never met!

Or when I take Franki to the vet yet again, because her incessant scavenging has her puking at 25 minute intervals, and after each hurl she looks up, pleading with her big brown eyes, “when will this stop?”

And when I am simply overwhelmed by doctors who give me those same pleading eyes as they don’t have the heart to tell me, “I don’t know what more to do.”

And I cry… In the doctor’s office…I cry…In the public toilet…I cry…In my car…I cry.

But I’ve slowly come to realise that those tears don’t make me a sissy, and they don’t make me weak.

Those tears make me human.

And those tears won’t make me blind.

But those tears are witness to my pain and even my joy.

And that those tears are my only outlet…for now.

And the flood of tears, means I have connected. And I have found another scoop of fibre.

And that those other emotions and feelings, the ones I’ve been too afraid to let out, they’re just around the corner… waiting for their turn.

Ready, Set (Breathe) &…Go

When I first decided to publish this blog, I took a friend’s advice, “Just hit publish” she said, “ Who knows if anyone will read it anyway?”

I had purchased the domain name almost 12 months earlier. I had no doubt. Emotionally constipated. Who hoo that’s me…it’s in the stars!

The title was never in doubt, it was usually my opening line at a speed dating event and was often received with a chuckle, and I’m sure some scepticism. But I prided myself in being honest…you won’t get dolphin tattoos and hand holding from me. I’m just not built that way. That warm and fuzzy stuff makes me uncomfortable. And of course, there’s a story there to share…just not quite now.

I had written (posts), generally in fits of inspiration (and desperation). Several at one time, and then nothing for weeks. The writing came easily to me, I was 9 again, and loving it.

For 12 months it became my private place to share (with no one other than myself) my frustration and ramblings, the ridiculous and the comforting. And surprisingly it provided a place to find some peace and equilibrium;

because when it all stays in my head, the incessant chatter is overwhelming and nothing makes sense

Puddles & Play

I had no plan on my approach. Whether to be completely objective sharing the latest in scientific research into Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia or Lupus, or whether I would be uber-positive and annoyingly optimistic (unlike me) trying to convince myself or others that life with a chronic disease can be rich and fulfilling. I’m still struggling with that one.

I didn’t plan to share my deepest and darkest days, because I was (and still am) afraid if I actually admit to it, and feel the pain in its fullest and most terrifying grandeur, that it will envelop me and I’m afraid I won’t be able to find a way to get up and into enough air, let alone find the strength to get out of it.

I just planned on being…I don’t know…just plain old honest. And ultimately, much to my surprise and dismay, vulnerable.

An emotion I had been keeping well-guarded for most of my life.

And in the moments of doubt, sprinkled with troll-associated terror, I kept reminding myself “who knows if anyone will read it anyway?”

So I hit publish. Privately. Quietly. Sharing only with those closest to me. Scared to death that they would think it was boring, unengaging or even worse “I’ve heard this all before.”

And out they go. One at a time. As the tightness in my throat clenches hard and the pain in my chest rises until I feel like I’m going to choke or hurl; every time I hit publish.

And then it comes. Like clockwork.

Texts. Phone Calls. Tears.

Emails.  Likes. Joy.

Comments. Engagement. Relief.

From people I know and most surprisingly from those I don’t.

It’s a rollercoaster of feelings I don’t quite understand. A mix of terror and sublime bliss. Trepidation and exultation. And it all happens out there, within moments, completely out of my control.

My writing is a little more stable now. There are no fits of inspiration, I notice a story in almost every interaction I have. It’s just the courage to jump on that rollercoaster which still terrifies me.

And I realise that this funny little thing called life is rather persistent, forever trying to remind me to slow down, to observe, to share and to enjoy.

So as I take my morning walk with Franki, as I sit at yet another doctor’s office, and as I struggle with a downward dog, some days more than others, I remind myself to step back. Store the memory. Feel the anxiety and the fear.

Let it marinate, but don’t let it stew.

And when I’m ready, bring it back and toss it around like a good Greek salad and write. And in time, find the courage to publish.

So thank you for indulging me and sharing in my exploration.

Without your likes, your comments, your high-fives…my search for a daily scoop of fibre, comes much easier than I ever thought possible.

To Label or not to Label?

Labels are important. They tell me what should go in the dryer and what shouldn’t. Should tell me whether those Brazil nuts are organic or chemically laden. And also tells me whether xantham gum will make my gluten free banana muffins, fluffy bite sized morsels, or rock hard, teeth chipping chunks.

The label provides direction. It is a navigator. Sometimes even a safety net. It assures me my new snug jumper doesn’t come out Franki-sized.

But I’ve learnt that not all labels are helpful. Sometimes they’re not right.

It’s like the new bargain skirt that assures you you’re a slim fit size 6, when the rest of your wardrobe suggests you may be a comfortable size 12. And sometimes labels require a bit of caution, like these candidates for the Annual Wacky Warning Labels.

Anyone who has ever gone to a doctor with a pounding headache, sore neck and a pocket full of tissues is relieved when the doc confirms “you’ve got a nasty case of the cold going around, but it’s not the flu.”

Great…4 days and I’ll be right. Your loved one makes you chicken soup, you claim the best position, rugged up in front of the TV. And you’ve told the boss you’ll see them next week. Everyone gets it.

Even if the doc delivers a devastating “C” diagnosis, which 1 in 2 Australian men and 1 in 3 Australian women will experience by the time they turn 85, it is usually followed with a plan of reassurance that includes surgery to stop those multiplying cells and to remove the foreign mass followed by rounds of gut wrenching chemotherapy and radiation.

The fear and shock are overwhelming. You’re not quite sure how to tell the boss, let alone you’re loved ones, and you know your life has changed forever, in that single moment. Everyone understands the gravity of the situation. Everyone gets it.

But if you’re told you have Myasthenia Gravis, Motor Neurone, Fibromyalgia or any other of the 80-plus auto immune diseases that have now been diagnosed, the general response from everyone including your friends and sometimes even your GP is “Hmmm” or perhaps, “I’ve heard of it. What is that, again?”

How likely is that kind of diagnosis? Today, over 1.1 million Australians have been diagnosed with an auto immune disease, that’s 1 in 20 and rising. trying to manage their day, their jobs, their symptoms, their feelings and the feelings of those close to them whilst their body is in hyper alert. There are of course, many who are nowhere near diagnosis.

This is where the label isn’t so helpful. In auto immune disease it almost doesn’t matter what permutation has developed, what symptoms are visible or invisible to the naked eye. Because modern medicine doesn’t have an answer and definitely doesn’t have an explanation. From the outside, it’s hard to get.

In some cases there are modern pharmaceutical drugs that help relieve symptoms, but that requires a lot of tests, lots of scans and lots of experimentation. There is no simple, off the shelf approach.

For others, alternative therapies such as acupuncture and naturopathy can provide relief, but this is usually limited by how deep your pockets are. In the first year of my diagnosis, I spent over $15,000 on medical, and more than 40% was out of pocket. I was desperate – for a diagnosis, for a label, for a cure.

The reality is there is no cure. And this reality can be hard to accept.

In the last month I have had my “reviews” with my medical team. They currently consist of a rheumatologist, an immunologist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, an exercise physiologist and my GP. Each one of them an expert in their field, but none able to treat me holistically – as one body.

The one exception is my naturopath, who is a medically trained nurse, and understands the western medicine model but explores what else my body may be crying out for (but more about this later).

When I met with my immunologist, the leading professor in the field, he asked what symptoms I was experiencing, what my current drug regime was.

He also asked me how my mood was. From any medical professional’s perspective, mood is a key indicator of how a patient is currently managing or struggling with a chronic illness, therefore indicating the likelihood of depression.

I stated I was ok. I wasn’t as crazy as I was when I was first diagnosed, although my symptoms had been unrelenting for the past 9 months. I told him I had learnt to accept that pain was part of my every day, that the “label” didn’t help me and that it simply didn’t matter. I had learnt to accept this and tried to manage each day as it came.

“That’s great to hear” he responded, “that is the hardest part for any patient to accept.

“Ultimately you are the manager and we’re just your advisors”.

I left that appointment a little bamboozled…I’m the manager? But I have no idea what I am dealing with and neither do you!

And when I met with my rheumatologist two weeks later. The same series of questions and answers and then he bluntly stated that it was the end of the road for him…there was simply nothing left in his bag of tricks. He had taken me as far as current medicine could go.

No follow up appointment, no ongoing referral. I felt like I’d been dumped!

So where to now?

Back to the things that I know help me manage my every day – a balanced diet, cut out the sugar, the evening glass of wine, back to some basic exercise, maybe even yoga on the days I don’t feel like my hands have been put through a food processor, and a reminder to myself to be kind.

But the ‘manager/advisor’ comment has been tumbling around in my head for a few weeks now. And with a series of new appointments and specialists coming up I’m wondering.

Advisors eh? Well if that’s the case, “I’d like to speak to my advisors about my current investment portfolio and my expected return.”

Could be an interesting conversation.