Monday, February 29, 2016

how to look good naked?

 On Saturday morning I was playing with Dulcie and her many and varied plastic people and animals.  These days playing with Dulcie generally involves her instructing me to "Pretend she..." or to "Talk her in a girl's voice" etc.  Well, Saturday's game was pretend the ponies keep getting stuck in various parts of the barn then rescue one another with pipe cleaners (you know, whatever floats her four-year-old boat) but then Dulcie picked up one pony and said, "Pretend she's not eating very much because she's a girl so she doesn't want to be fat."  Oh dear.  My jaw fairly hit the floor and I wondered where I had gone so wrong in her upbringing.  We had the chat about how some people, whether boys or girls, are thinner, some are fatter, the important thing is to be healthy etc.  But I'm pretty sure that chat is not enough to turn the tide of ideas really.  The poster above is one I had in my bedroom in the mid 1990s.  Seems as though not a lot has changed.  Ugh.

I should add that Dulcie is really a great eater, has a good appetite, a varied diet and will try pretty much anything these days.  She certainly adores most unhealthy food (especially if it contains sugar) but loves a lot of super-healthy stuff too.  The other day I realised that she had eaten ten different fruits and vegetables by lunchtime, and she's forever pilfering raw veg from under my nose while I'm prepping dinner.  All of which makes it doubly terrifying that she has somehow formed the opinion that girls need to be thin and that they achieve that by not eating...and by the tender age of four!  

I am always trying to lose weight these days/months/years and, even though I'm doing it in a fairly balanced and healthy way and because it has been recommended for the good of my wonky heart, I'm worried I could be giving her an unhealthy relationship with food.  Losing weight (when you're actively trying to) does make you feel really good, but maybe I should be making more of an effort to hide that side of it from Dulcie?  I guess I could make more of an effort to focus on the positive/pro-food side - that eating healthy food is making me feel strong and full of energy, as opposed to avoiding unhealthy food making me feel less fat and lethargic.  But I'm pretty sure I do that most of the time anyway (otherwise why would Dulcie flex her biceps every time she ate lentils?!) so my feeling would be that she's getting these opinions from the world at large and I really can't protect her from that too much.

I was worrying about teenage-type trials and tribulations when I was pregnant (much to the amusement of friends with teenage children) but I never imagined I'd have to deal with such complicated issues so early on.  Parenthood is an absolute minefield at times. 

If anyone reading this would like that poster (it's vintage, dahlinks!) then just let me know and I'd be happy to pop it in the post to you.  It does have some faint scratch marks on it (my cat Elvis used to scratch it to wake me up) but is otherwise in fairly good condition, no holes etc.  If I remember rightly, it came from a free Body Shop magazine or something?  First come first served.

Friday, February 26, 2016

bird's-eye view

Dulcie and I spent a lovely morning in the Botanic Gardens today.  It may have been freezing, but there was a definite feeling of spring being, if not in the air, at least on the horizon.  For some reason, all the robins were being really sociable, following us around and hopping right up to us, singing in our faces.  We spent ages with this wee fluffball.  I guess it's something to do with mating season being on the horizon?  Maybe they were trying to chase us out of their territory and we took it as affection!  Ha!  We also saw a squirrel gathering dried leaves and (literally) squirrelling them away in its nest.  Dulcie collected a wee pile of leaves for it and was delighted when it took them from her, folded them up neatly and stashed them in its hole in the tree.  So sweet.  Lots of birds were singing, doing that thing where they call and leave a gap before calling again.  Dulcie started saying, "Do it again, bird," during the gaps and laughed each time when the bird obliged.  I'm so glad our city has so many green spaces and equally glad that Dulcie was in such good spirits all day - it really does make my life so much easier.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

heard it through the grapevine*

This was me earlier today.  No, not really, it's Jane Fonda, of course, but I DID do an aerobics class this morning.  For real!  I didn't bother with Lycra and legwarmers, just chucked on some trainers and worked out in my jammies from the comfort of my own home.  I used this video, provided totally free of charge online by the NHS, and it was pretty good.  I managed to do the whole thing, felt hot and sweaty but not close to death, and there's room to add in a few extra moves and a bit more energy if I do find myself getting fitter.  There are also some other activities to choose from - belly-dancing, yoga etc.  If, like me, you are aiming to get fitter but don't have time, money or confidence required to go to real-life classes, I'd definitely recommend having a look at what's there.  I'm going to try to do this class (or something similar) at least once a week and keep swimming to a once-a-week thing too.  I think it will take less time, add more variety and be easier to stick to.  Very poor 59-year-old classification (see last post) here I come!

* If you've ever done an aerobics class, you'll get my hilarious joke, I'm sure...

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

excited to be a below-average oap

Yesterday morning I had my six-monthly appointment at hospital to find out how I got on in my recent exercise test.  Like last time, the good news was that my VO2 (my capacity to tolerate exercise, basically) had improved.  I have to say, I found it hard to be as excited as the doctor who broke the news, who was really just excited not to be the bearer of bad tidings for once, or no new bad tidings anyway.  So I had to admit I was pleased (kind of) when I thought about things, though I was hardly overjoyed, but then today I was looking at this chart of normative VO2 values and really did get excited!  About two years ago, my magic number was 13.7, I think (13.something, anyway) which, as you can see above, doesn't even make it onto the chart, hence the possibility of heart transplant.  Boo.  One year ago, my number had risen to about 17.  Again, not even on the chart.  Six months ago it was 17.5 and I was on the chart at last, as fit as a "very poor" 60+ woman!  Woo hoo!  This time around, my VO2 was up to 18.9.  18.9!  I've moved up a whole category and am now as fit as a "poor" female pensioner.  And I know it seems ridiculous to be excited about that, but I really am!  Maybe next time I'll be able to get above 20 and start classifying myself as a "very poor" 50-59-year-old.  Or does a fair 60+ sound better than a very poor 50-59?  Well, I'll take either.  I can't really set these figures as targets because they're not really in my control (though I can certainly improve my chances) but while my number's rising, I'll gladly take the credit and spin it all into a positive package :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

keeping my head above water

 Image by Deborah Stevenson.  You can buy it here...if you're quite rich.

Just to say, before anyone becomes concerned that I'm stuck in a permanent mire, that I'm back in the room, back in the saddle, back on top of my game, back in general.  Yes, I've picked myself up, patted myself down, been to work, been back to the pool, been for a walk...  Not feeling great, but feeling OK.  Onwards and upwards!

Here's a song I've been loving lately.

Want to know what I'm having for dinner tonight? Of course you do.  It's the super-healthy taste sensation that is soba noodle and edamame salad with grilled tofu.  I've been trying lots of new recipes from BBC Good Food lately, all with a nod to the wholesome and healthy.  They've all been pretty good, but this has been one of the favourites so far.  I really enjoy cooking these days, which is an unexpected development.  Dulcie's being really good about trying new things, which helps a lot.  I'm trying to eat slightly less bread so have gone back to this granola for breakfast, which I make with about 80% less honey and maple syrup than the recipe suggests.  Still really tasty and more than sweet enough, especially when you slice a banana on top of it.  Talking of bananas...I was.  Talking about bananas, I mean, and in my sleep, no less!  I was obviously very proud of the enormous bunch I bought yesterday.  Such stuff as dreams are made on... Ha!

And I think that's about it for today.  Good stuff.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


mark smith:  
 (This image is apparently by Mark Smith, but any link I follow to find a source seems to have disappeared.  I think this might be him here.)

I'm home alone this afternoon.  Graham has taken Dulcie to visit his parents to give me a chance to rest because I've been feeling shitty in the extreme all week.  To say I'm fed up of it would be an understatement.  Basically, I went swimming on Monday evening (first time in a few months) and had a great time, swam 54 lengths with relative ease, felt on top of the world and enthusiastic about getting back on top of my fitness attempts etc...  Then the next day (and ever since then) I was utterly broken.  The same thing happened a few weeks ago when I pushed myself ever so slightly on my exercise bike.  To be honest, I've done a lot of resting this week and it hasn't made a blind bit of difference.  And that's what is pissing me off - I've given up alcohol, I've lost weight, I've been exercising, I've been resting, I've been taking my tablets and keeping my pacemaker in check, I've been getting ever so slightly more sleep, I've been sticking to my promise of not having any more children even though it crushes me...and I still have zero control over how incredibly shit I feel and I feel incredibly shit a lot of the time.  Plus feeling bad physically instantly undoes all the hard work I've put into feeling better mentally

Having a chronic illness is a bit like being on the Travelator at the end of Gladiators - you slog and you slog and you slog and then one little slip-up sends you right back to the bottom and you either stay there or start the slog again.  The difference between the Travelator and chronic illness is that I'm pretty much guaranteed never to get to the top - my life is probably going to be all uphill running and frequent falling down.  Well, until I end up stuck at the bottom permanently.  When I have weeks like this, I think I scare myself thinking about reaching the point when it won't be worth trying any more.  

You know I love the British Heart Foundation, right?  But one of the worst moments of my life happened soon after my diagnosis when I finally plucked up the courage to read my Everyday Guide To Living With Heart Failure, a gigantic volume provided free of charge by BHF.  After reading lots of doom-and-gloom statistics, I turned to the chapter called "The Future" in the hope it would cheer me up by outlining how all was not lost and research was adding options, extending life expectancy and improving quality of life.  And do you know what was in this chapter?  How to make a will and how to get a do-not-resuscitate order.  And that was it, my so-called future, nothing else.  Of course, since then I've learned a lot about positive thinking and I can see that experience for what it was - an ill-thought-out chapter title that slipped through the editorial net.  In actual fact, amazing research is being done and I'm already benefitting from that, with the medication I take and the machine that makes my heart work better and the incredible care (physical and emotional) I get from the NHS and the BHF.  But when I feel ill and find it hard to stay positive, that picture of the future as grim death always comes back to me.  Ugh.

But you know what?  Things are getting better all the time, it's just not a straight line to better.  There are dips along the way, for sure, but those dips are getting easier and easier to pull myself back out of.  And sometimes feeling pissed off at your lot is the best motivation of all.  So what's my plan?  Well, I'm going to keep trying and hope that gradually, over time, the general trajectory continues to be upwards.  If swimming once makes me feel ill for a week, swimming ten times might make me feel great for a month, so I'm going back to the pool tomorrow.  And I'll keep trying to eat better and think better and sleep better and rest more and move more, and I'll keep turning up to my hospital appointments and taking my tablets and congratulating other people on their happy lives and explaining to Dulcie why she can't have the siblings she begs me for.  I'm fine with that.  Yes, it's hard, but it's getting easier all the time.  

I have a nice life with lots of nice people in it and I laugh every day and find joy and interest in all sorts of places all the time.  I won't give up but I'm allowed to find this hard.  I am allowed to find this hard.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

let's all go to the circus

Image from Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs, illustrated by Aurelius Battaglia and found via this blog.

For weeks I've been meaning to blog about an amazing episode of Storyville that I watched, called The Golden Age Of Circus.  It's over an hour of old footage from various sideshows and circuses with no commentary, rather a musical soundtrack that the clips have been edited to dance along to.  There are so many beautiful sights in it and plenty of mouth-hanging-open-with-horror sights too, really amazing to see.  I think it's available on iPlayer for another seven days if you fancy watching.  I'm planning to rewatch if I can - no better way to spend an hour, I reckon.

Talking of circuses, Graham's mum took us all to see the Moscow State Circus a few weeks back and it was so good.  Being the clumsy oaf that I am, I find it fascinating to watch acrobatic types flinging themselves around with ease.  When a very elegant tightrope-walking lady got hoisted to to the highest point of the big top on an invisible wire, Dulcie actually turned to me and said, "Mum, I never knew you got people who could fly!"  Ahh, the wonder of youth :)

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Today was my six-monthly checkup in hospital, the one where I get my boobs lubed, have my heart scanned from every angle imaginable and then have to pedal a bike to the point of exhaustion and beyond.  I'd been dreading it, having been kicking myself over my weight gain and inactivity of the last six months.  Add to this the fact I've been tired (sometimes sleeping 15 hours a day) and puffed lately, that Dulcie decided she needed to chat to me from 3am onwards last night, that (as ever) I came down with a cold days before the tests... The scene was well and truly set for negativity and anxiety.

You might think a memoir about someone else's life-threatening illness would not be ideal reading material in such circumstances, but it totally has been.  Reading it in the long wait between tests this morning, I found myself veering between chortling into my sleeve and thinking, "Hey, it could be worse, at least you don't have tuberculosis in the 1940s."  It was really quite the morale boost!  Funnily enough, many things haven't changed and rang very true to my own health experiences - certain doctors doing a terrible job of breaking bad news, long-in-the-tooth patients with the same condition openly mocking your early-days optimism and revelling darkly in informing you of your imminent doom/demise, the journey from embarrassment over your naked body to becoming "like a native of Bali and feel[ing] fully dressed with only a skirt", the chasm between the wonderfully kind nurses and those who make you feel you are to blame for your own unfortunate predicament, the weird mixture of gratitude and resentment you feel towards medical staff.

And, as far as I can tell, my tests went OK.  The scan looked kind of ominous, but it never even looks like a heart to my untrained eyes so I'm not allowing myself to worry too much until I've spoken to my consultant.  The exercise test was fine, no worse than last time, maybe even slightly better.  And I'm back on the good behaviour, eating better and trying to get back into swimming etc, so hopefully I can improve from here.

Seriously, did you ever think I could be so rational and positive about my life?  I didn't.  It took a long time to get here, but these days I feel like me with the added experiences of wonky-heartedness rather than a 100% wonky-hearted time bomb.  I can do this.