26 January, 2014

Let's talk about health, baby!

I want to talk about health. Health is the common factor that binds humanity together – we all want it, we all need it, some of us have it, it applies to everybody bar none.

I take health pretty bloody seriously. To say I am (only) 27, I know about e-numbers like Dr Gillian, I obsess about my sleep like an over-tired parent, and I prioritise feeling good over having too much fun.

My attitude is a reaction to watching my Mum decline so very badly when I was 7, and never seeing her get back up. I was there when she tried to battle through flu, glandular fever, whatever it was, tried to raise 3 toddlers, tried to work full-time, tried to still feed us all at the end of the day, whilst feeling like hell. I watched Mum persevere and deteriorate and never recover and 20 years later her health has never been back. It just upped and left.

As well as my inherent fear of something shattering my health like it has my mother’s, I choose to be healthy because it leaves me feeling happier and energetic , day in and day out. I learnt from mistakes I made 5 years ago, I learnt that taking care of myself is central to a sunny disposition. And I love sun.

There is without a doubt a direct correlation between the extent to which people take care of themselves and their mood. It makes me sad when I see people so unhappy, not taking care of themselves - they have no idea how good they could feel! People tell me I am mad for going to the gym on a morning or having salad for lunch, but they don't know how different I might be if I didn't do those things. People tell me I am ‘always’ smiley, happy and chatty – well they probably haven’t seen me on 4 hours sleep, or hungover, or the morning after a Pic & Mix party. Or indeed at any point in the past 7 days. But on the good days, I know that being healthy contributes to a huge proportion of my happiness, it leaves me feeling like every day is a sunshine Saturday. And I have just been paid. And it’s my birthday.

Leading a healthy lifestyle doesn't leave me invincible. I get run down very easily. I ‘overdo it’ and my emotions run rapid at all times – whether I am laughing, moaning, crying or just plain happy, I am guaranteed to be doing it at full throttle, with a supporting choir and backing dancers (I am working on toning that down). I also don't manage stress very well. I just get stressed and then I get ill and then I get stressed because I am ill.

This week I have been knocked down by tonsillitis again and it has changed my whole being. I have been irritable, angry, reactive, so very tired, unmotivated, sensitive and teary. As the week wore on I felt my illness get increasingly out of control, and myself and my poise spiral with it. That lack of control over my own mind, body and heart is not fun. When I glimpse just one week of this, I cannot imagine being in my Mum’s shoes and my heart breaks when I try to.

Society teaches it’s young that our health is something we can control – from the moment we step into school we are taught eat well, exercise, sleep, don't over-do the custard creams and you'll be fine! Although we can take steps to be healthy, we can't control our own bodies. More than that, we rely on the NHS and a very small percentage of the population to help us when we are sick. Only the doctors and nurses amongst us have access to the knowledge, skills and drugs to make us feel better. I used to believe that if you went to a doctor, they would always know what is wrong and give you the right medicine. Now I know that even with our healthcare systems in place, being treated correctly is sometimes a bit of a lucky dip. Being treated with compassion is even more of one. The NHS is great, but sometimes it is a ruddy tombola. Whilst we are lucky to have a tombola at all, it’s exasperating when you lose.

This week, I LOST big to a Doctor at a walk-in centre. In short, the man who saw to me ignored all my symptoms and told me I was fine, that medicine would not help me and that in order to receive antibiotics I needed to be “so ill you wouldn't pick money up off the floor.” (HOW exactly do Doctors measure that?) All this while I sat in tears, with a temperature, my tonsils big and sore. I have experienced these symptoms enough times in my life before to know what they mean – they mean I need drugs and I need them nowwww!! But not according to this man who patronised me as I cried out of frustration and desperation – after a week of progressive pain and exhaustion, this man refused to take me seriously. HOW. DARE. HE.

Not one to go down without a fight, I got in at my GP (which in itself was a result) the following day and was prescribed a high dosage of antibiotics without hesitation. I was so relieved that I temporarily felt better, as I ran along in the freezing rain to the nearest late night pharmacy, clutching my prescription like a lottery ticket. My relief was paramount, but my anger from my experience of the previous day set in deeper. How dare that man who calls himself a doctor have dismissed me as he did, when I had so blatantly needed treatment?

The chairman of NICE has recently said that patients need to be pushier with their GPs and see themselves as equals - I could not agree more. GPs know medicine, but you know your body.

What I want to know is, how is medical negligence allowed to happen? EVER? Sometimes misdiagnosis is pure human error, but sometimes it is someone just refusing to take you seriously. I experienced negligence on the smallest of small scales, but it all translates into the same thing – when we do not have ultimate control over our bodies and when we are sick, why are the few people who can help us allowed to deny us just that? And belittle us whilst they do it?

I have seen first-hand how important it is to stop and listen when your body isn't happy, and how easily our health can be taken from us. I believe it is down to those who are qualified to make sure that each and every individual is as healthy as they can be and treated as though their health matters – prescription or no prescription, it’s equally about compassion and consideration.

Despite getting run down easily, I am lucky to be a strong and mainly healthy girl and I will do everything I can to hold onto my health for as long as possible, even if that means being really boring sometimes, crying outside walk-in centres and shouting at people until they give me my meds!


11 January, 2014

You Know My Name

With all the ways in which we can present ourselves to the public these days, from tweets sharing what we are doing everyday to Instagrams revealing what our world looks like, it is easy to feel we know someone before we really do. Spending time on someone's Facebook page or following them on Twitter can make us feel as though we know things about that person and are in some way closer to them. Although it is true that we can understand more about a person through these forums, I honestly don't believe a soul can transpire onto a digital platform.

As strongly as I advocate positive use of social media and believe it is an incredible, new, unknown enigma for humanity to have stumbled upon, I don't believe it can 'replace' the real, human connection that comes from getting to know somebody. In real life. Yes digital communication is (for me) just as real as picking up the phone or chatting face to face, and learning what people like, who they admire, what they are interested in...but that is all that it is. The communication. It doesn't tell us when someone blushed, or giggled, or got tears in their eyes, or shifted uncomfortably or cried. Twitter doesn't carry that all important message that makes the difference between engaging with someone, and seeing right into their soul.

So it aggravates me when people presume to know who we are and what we are thinking or feeling, based on what they have seen online or from a distance. As someone who is very active on social media and writes an open blog, I have come across this presumption many times. People presuming to know everything about who I am, based on my online activity, the things I choose to share. Just because you can see what I had for breakfast (sometimes I tweet pictures of Ready Brek, my bad), and know I played netball last Monday and that I love writing and running, doesn't mean you know me. Do you know what my life has been like? What my memories are? The things that I think and care about? No, because you have chosen to make an assumption about me, based on what you can see, not on what you know. 

Did you know I have low self-esteem? Did you know I barely go through a week without crying for the homeless? Did you know I struggle with anxiety? Did you know I hate my own smile? Did you know I wish deeply that I was not as loud and open as I am? You didn't, because I don't share those things. I share those things now to make a point, but ultimately those and all the other things which live in my soul are for the people who are really in my life. Yes, I share a lot. I get a lot from doing so and I love getting to know other people who do the same. But the one thing I will always hold sacred and will never bring into the public eye, is my soul.

Recently someone told me I wasn't emotional, which made me laugh so hard inside. Oh my goodness, how much stronger my public persona much have become for someone to think that about me.  I am emotional, extremely so, I just don't share my emotions with 700 followers, 600 Facebook friends and 100 people at work.

We should never assume we know someone or what they are like or how they feel. Get to know someone, learn about them, try to understand them, but don't judge them when you are not qualified. A public persona is not only a 'persona' but it is a perception. Your perception of someone is not the same as everybody else's and it is not who they are.