Happy New Year!

It’s nearly the end of January 2019 – how insane is that?! At the end of this year, it would have been ten years since I left high school, and boy does that blow my mind!

Christmas 2018 was hectic as it usually is, with lots of social events and lots of eating. Although it’s always hectic, it’s also a nice time to reflect on the year, and also take the time to appreciate the friends and family that you have around you. I definitely know that over the last 14 months, I have learnt a lot about the types of friends I have, and the types of friends I want to have around me.

“Surround yourself with people who have a positive impact on your life.”

I think that is something we should all do, and it doesn’t just stop at friends. It also includes making sure we follow social media accounts that lift us up and inspire us, or generally entertain us, rather than accounts that can make us feel bad about ourselves, which is all part of self-care.

The best self-care I could have done at the end of 2018/the start of 2019 was to go down to my cottage, a small home in Owhango. I spent a day or so with a close friend who drove us down, then spent time with my parents (and a few locals), got to finish a 1000 piece puzzle, and read two and a half books! I also got to take some awesome photographs, as well. It was a lovely week and a half of relaxing and spending some chill time doing things I love.

What did you get up to over the Christmas/New Years period? Whatever it was, I hope you had a lovely time.

See below for some of the pictures I was able to capture while I was down in Owhango:

How well do you look after your teeth?

For years, I barely looked after mine. I hated cleaning my teeth, and I didn’t have the money to get them checked out – so much so, that I didn’t even think about getting them looked at. Last year, I finally decided to sign up to a dental plan so I could keep my teeth regularly maintained… and it was a fantastic decision. Yes, I’ve had to spend a lot of money fixing problems caused over the years, but the longer I waited to check my teeth out by the dentist, the more damage that would occur. There are a couple of areas of my teeth (mostly my back teeth) that need extra help, and the dentist has put in these temporary ‘covers’ (don’t know the official word) to help the teeth naturally work on themselves. In a couple of years, after well maintaining my teeth, the dentist will decide what to do with them – hopefully not all permanent fixtures, if I’ve done things right!

“By joining our Lumino Dental Plan, you can rest assured that you’ll be taking care of your oral health the best way possible through regular check-ups and hygiene appointments. For less than a dollar a day* you can be confident you’ve got the basics covered with:

  • A comprehensive dental consultation, including an exam and x-ray
  • Two hygiene visits
  • 10% off any additional treatments,  excluding Dental Implants and Orthodontic services
  • Text alerts when your appointments are due”

– Lumino 

Totally. Worth. It.

Overall, I’m so glad that I finally started caring for my teeth properly. It’s something that I regret not doing earlier, but apparently (so says my hygienist) it’s quite common for people to stop going to the dentist through their uni years due to money. But, fear not! I am regularly chewing sugar-free gum, flossing (although I still find this the hardest to remember to do regularly), cleaning my teeth with fluoride toothpaste and using mouthwash. I’m also eating less sucrose and fructose – or, at least cleaning my teeth/chewing gum asap afterwards! I also purchased an electric toothbrush to help me clean my back teeth slightly better and easier, as the toothbrush head is smaller. FYI that my dentist said I didn’t need to buy an expensive one – he said the main difference is the battery life and I always have mine plugged in.

So, how well do you look after your teeth? No judgement here, but here’s a reminder to get them checked out if it’s been a while!

Photo by Alex on Unsplash

Self-care on the Road to Recovery

How self-care affects recovery

Over the past 8 months, I have come to realise that self-care is a dominant player in my Rheumatoid Arthritis recovery. I am a true believer that recovery is holistic and that overall well-being is important, not just physical improvement. During a conversation I was having with my physio about ‘pacing’ activities (I’m focusing on walking at the moment – read more about ‘pacing’ here) I realised that not only has my ‘pacing’ been helping my recovery physically but so has spending time in nature! I love a good flower find and enjoy breathing in fresh air.

Taking care of ourselves

We have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others – that can be in the context of a parent-child relationship, friend-friend relationship, with your partner or even with a stranger. This concept has been explained to me in relation to flying in an aeroplane – we have to put our oxygen mask on before we can put the mask on a child/any else that needs help. This is pointing out that if we are struggling, it becomes a lot harder for us to help other people.

So, what can we do about it? 

I truly believe that self-care is a crucial part of everyone’s health and well-being, but especially those who are recovering from something, like myself. This is when active self-care comes into play. It’s about making sure we take time out to care for ourselves. There are basic self-care aspects, such as ensuring you are feed balanced, nutritious food and have the appropriate amount of time to sleep, but there is also a deeper level of self-care that we need to take into account. We all have physical, emotional/mental and spiritual needs that we have to consider when thinking about self-care. Self-care changes from person to person, as well. It’s all about listening to your body and being aware of what you need.

How do you know what works well for you? In my experience, it’s all about trial and error. You give something a go and see whether it works for you. For example, sometimes self-care is all about spending time alone and sometimes its all about spending time with others.

Where do I start? 

Below is a list of self-care habits I personally like, which you are encouraged to try out:

  • taking a bath
  • quality time reading a book
  • eating some of my favorite food
  • ‘earthing’ – physically connecting with the earth e.g. walking on the beach barefoot or lying on the grass looking up to the sky (although my hay fever is not a fan of that one)
  • going for a walk either by myself or with friends
  • having a nice nap
  • listening to some music that makes me feel good
  • spending time trying out some new recipes
  • spending some time with my best friend
  • lighting a candle at my meal time and sitting down at the table to eat
  • watching my favorite TV show
  • asking to catch up with a friend I haven’t seen in a while
  • buying something that I usually wouldn’t buy
  • going to the movies
  • doing a face mask
  • thoroughly cleaning my teeth

Self-care can be part of your normal daily routine and it can also be a special time that you have allocated. There are some habits I tend to perform more than others, as I have learnt over the years what I need to on a regular basis and what I need when I’m feeling a certain way.

Can you recognise what self-care habits that you do on a regular basis? If you have any self-care tips, let me know!

It’s time to step back

I have been part of a small team that organises events once every couple of months for young people (talking about topics such as money, gender equality, mental health etc.) for a few years now. I was in charge of taking photos of the events and generally having a creative touch when needed – like occasionally helping out with table ‘conversation starters’. I have thoroughly enjoyed spending my time being a part of the core team that run these events, but its time to step down from the role.

It’s not something I randomly decided – I thought about it for quite a while, but with the news that my health is not going so well, it made me decide that it was time to let go of that responsibility in my life so I can focus on my health.

I’ve always been a person who struggles to say ‘no’ to things. I often take on too much responsibility and it’s not until something goes wrong (like I double book myself) that I step back to see how much I have on my shoulders. Taking a journey of self-awareness means that I am stepping back before things become a problem. I acknowledge that saying ‘yes’ is something that I often do before really thinking about what it means for my life and I am trying to change that behaviour. So, I am taking the first step by stepping down from my role with this group, as a way to care for myself – by freeing up some of my spare time and concentrating on things like learning more about healthy foods that I can eat and reading more books in nature.

Do you take on too much? Think about it next time you say ‘yes’ to something!

Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake Recipe

I recently had an event where I needed to take a plate for a shared meal and I decided to make a cake! I found this recipe online and altered it to my desire (but in reality just used what I had in the fridge already).

You’ll see that the icing doesn’t have any quantities written alongside the ingredients – this is because it depends on how much icing you want and how thick you like it to be. My suggestion is to start small and slowly build it up, so you have lots of room to play with. Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake

Ingredients:

Cake

1 cup Chelsea low GI cane sugar
125g butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups Edmonds gluten-free flour
1 3/4 teaspoons Edmonds baking powder
1/2 cup Lewis Road Milk (I used pure organic ‘Light’)

Icing

Butter
Cream cheese
Icing sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees
  2. Grease/flour a 23cm x 23cm cake pan (or line a muffin pan with paper liners if you want to use the batter for muffins).
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter.
  4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla essence.
  5. Combine the flour and baking powder and then add to the creamed mixture and mix well.
  6. Finally, stir in the milk until mixture is smooth. Pour or spoon into the prepared pan.
  7. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes. For cupcakes, bake 20 to 25 minutes. Cake is done when it springs back to the touch.
  8. While you let it cool, make the icing. Quantities are as desired.
  9. Melt a small portion of butter and mix in the cream cheese until you have a smooth consistency. You can add more butter later if you need to thicken the icing.
  10. Add in icing sugar as necessary to make the desired thickness and amount of icing.
  11. Once cooled, ice the cake and decorate as desired before serving.

I topped mine with fresh blueberries and passionfruit – delicious!!

Reactive Arthritis: Dealing with Disappointment

I have to say, the feeling of disappointment is not something that I come across often. I often feel frustrated and annoyed in situations that don’t turn out how I would like them to, but disappoint is another story altogether.

Why am I disappointed? Because as you may have read earlier here and here, I was supposed to have a rheumatologist appointment yesterday. I was called a couple of hours before the appointment to say that the rheumatologist had called in sick and we had to reschedule. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but my heart honestly dropped. I was so disappointed. I had been waiting over a month for this appointment, which included taking extra medication to cover me until then. I had also been waiting to hear what I am supposed to do in terms of physio, the expected timeline of this arthritis, how they think I’m progressing and to get a new treatment plan. The direction and course of my life is currently depending on this rhumatolgist, so to hear that my much-anticipated appointment was cancelled, was shattering.

Having the appointment cancelled meant that I also had to call up my doctors and get another prescription, as I had run out of medication on Monday morning. This turned out to be quite a hassle and of course cost me extra money!

Luckily, the next available appointment was Friday (could have been worse). It is, unfortunately, the most difficult day for me to take time off in regards to work, but after chatting with my manager, she said it was fine for me to take the time off. Later that day, however, (same day as the cancellation and rescheduling) I get a notification that the Friday appointment is now also cancelled and they’ll have to get back to me with another time. I feel for the rheumatologist lady (as she must be pretty sick to take the whole week off), but again, my heart drops. How long am I going to have to wait? What happens with the medication that I’m on? Do I keep taking it? Am I walking properly with my crutches? Should I be doing more exercises to help with the healing? The questions could go on forever.

They got in contact with me today and the new appointment is March 1st – too far away for me to stay on the medication that I’m currently on. That means that I not only have to wait another two and a half weeks to see the rheumatologist (to hear her pivotal decisions about my life), but I also have to visit my doctor again (more money!!) to get more medication and potentially change medication until my new appointment.

With every notification or phone call, I have felt disappointment. It has been hard for me to deal with, as my emotions have overwhelmed me. Having had time to process what has happened and now that I have booked in to see my doctor, I am trying to overcome the disappointment and keep myself focused on the future. Luckily, my best friend and I just booked three days away together over Easter and that gives me someone positive to look forward to! I am struggling at the moment, but becoming self-aware involves figuring out my emotions and right now, I know that planning ahead for something positive is the best thing for me to do. So, with that in mind, I need to plan three days worth of meals so we can do one supermarket shop and then relax for the whole Easter weekend. Got any ideas? Flick a message my way.

For those that are interested, the blog image is a picture of my newly purchased book, Self-Care for the Real World, I’d totally recommend checking it out!

Reactive Arthritis: An update

For those that have been reading my blog, you’ll already be aware that I’ve been living with Reactive Arthritis for 6 weeks now. For those that want to catch up, go here.

I thought I would give a quick update on how my Reactive Arthritis is going. As I said in my previous blog, I was (and still am keen) to read real-life experiences that people have had with their Reactive Arthritis, rather than read a bunch of medical stuff that may not relate to me.

Since the end of my previous blog, I have gone back to work on a part-time basis. I may be sore and tired but I’m so glad I was finally able to get back to work this week – even if it has only been a few hours a day. This whole experience has been incredibly challenging and unfortunately, I still have a way to go in terms of getting better. However, for now, I’m enjoying being somewhat useful again. Big ups to my workplace for being so understanding and supportive through this. As ironic as it sounds, I’m quite a lucky gal 💁🏻‍♀️

As stated in my previous blog, I have a rheumatologist appointmnet in a couple of weeks and they will determine whether or not I remain on my current treatment plan or move me over to a more intense plan. Unfortunately, since my last blog, the Reactive Arthritis has spread to my left knee and ankle as well. I went back to hospital for the fourth time to get more tests done and they decided to up my steroids once again and asked that I wait for the rheumatologist appointment before looking at a completely different treatment plan. Having taken bloods during this visit, they informed me that I was positive for the HLA-B27 gene.

Human leukocyte antigen B27 (HLA-B27) is a protein located on the surface of your white blood cells and is a genetic marker for autoimmune diseases such as arthritis.

Human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) are proteins commonly found on white blood cells. These antigens help your immune system identify the differences between healthy body tissue and foreign substances that may cause infection. Although most HLAs protect your body from harm, HLA-B27 is a specific type of protein that contributes to immune system dysfunction. The presence of HLA-B27 on your white blood cells can cause your immune system to attack those otherwise healthy cells.

It’s interesting that I wasn’t tested for this earlier, but I’m glad I know now. Regardless of this new information, I still have to wait for the rheumatologist appointment, but having this knowledge on board may or may not affect their decision for my treatment plan.

I am currently living life with less pain, on the whole. The swelling in both knees seems to be very slowly going down and I’m starting to need less pain medication by the day. That doesn’t stop me from needing to walk with assistance (crutches) and I still drip with sweat when I’m up and moving around too much. My body aches, but I no longer cry throughout the night in pain. There is a current heatwave here in NZ, so having inflamed legs doesn’t help with the overheating, but there’s not much we can do about that!

A weird side effect of using crutches is that my hand gets pins and needles in it. My right hand is the one I have been more dependent on over this period of six weeks (as most of the time it has only been my right leg needing the support) and it came as a surprise to me when it started to feel a bit odd. It turns out I’ve been hitting a nerve in my arm that in turn creates pins and needles in my hand, mostly in my pinky. Just a warning in case it’s happening to you – it may be because of your crutches!

Out of curiosity, some things that I am doing to help with my Reactive Arthritis are:

  • Trying to avoid as much sugar, gluten and dairy as possible
  • Eating pineapple (a natural anti-inflammatory)
  • Taking pro-biotic tablets to counteract the antibiotics I am taking
  • Taking turmeric tablets and making pumpkin soup with turmeric powder
  • Sleeping with ice packs under my ankles and damp cloths on my knees to help keep me cool
  • Drinking enough water throughout the day

If you have any questions about how I am going or have any handy tips, feel free to message me! I will update you once I have seen the rheumatologist.

P.S. The blog image is a Tropical Smoothie I made using fresh pineapple, a fair trade Huckleberry banana, some Homegrown orange juice and a tropical Juicie. The straw is from CaliWoods.