What do I eat?

It is 3rd February and Veganuary is over. I have actually been a vegan for longer, I did not start it this month but back in the autumn and will be continuing it. However, I did think it was a good time to review how it was going.

Maybe I should start with why I am vegan. Like many people I did it for many various reason; mainly the animals, the environment and my health, not necessarily in that order. All of these were important but I chose to do it now, as I can.

I have wanted to be vegetarian for a long time. I did do it for a little while when 12 years old but was branded a ‘fussy eater’ and it singled me out when I was already being singled out through the scapegoating and bullying. Then was told it was the reason that I was anaemic. I listened and so I stopped and ate meat again.

Then as an adult, I felt due to my citrus allergy and lack of self-worth that I could not make the choice. This choice does affect the people around me; dinner parties, lunches and cafe visits, it just make things different. To be able to say ‘I choose this’ takes a voice, that I just did not have. Especially as this is a choice, unlike my citrus allergy and I still felt inconvenient for having that.

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Over the last three years I have been gaining my voice and getting loudly. Then I have my sister-in-law who is also vegan and supported my decision. I opened my eyes to the very many reasons to be vegan; I watched Cowspiracy, What the Health and Earthlings. I have also looked at the other arguments that these are exaggerated and a load of rubbish. I am a historian after all, so I have to know both sides to each story. The problem is that both sides have motives to argue to their point. There seems to be no neutral ground on which to see both sides.

All I can say is what I know from my experience. I am not in a clinical study or creating one, but I can say that usually this time of year my Fibromyalgia is in flare up mode. The cold weather has usually increased my pain by now and that just hasn’t happened. I am on the lowest pain medication I have been on for years and although I have symptoms they are mild. I have no explanation for this except I have gone vegan. It could be I am getting better at managing the condition but I just do not think that is true. There are studies that state that dairy has inflammatory properties and some that say it doesn’t. Usually dairy versus non-dairy studies and I have no test results, just my experiences.

So what do I eat? This is the most common question I get, even though the ‘healthy plate’ we teach the students does not consist of just meat and dairy. However, it does take a change in the way I think about cooking. It means changing a few of the staples in my cupboard and swapping some items. I now have a lot more lentils and beans in my pantry. I have swapped to non-dairy cheese, butter and am also well-informed on ‘accidentally vegan’ products.

I bought several vegan recipe books and tried out a few new recipes. Although, I had lots of my own recipes. Before being vegan I was mostly vegetarian at home, so I could make a few switches and carry on as before. Often making pastas, risotto and rice dishes with a mixture of vegetables and sauces. I have also used The Vegan Kind Online Supermarket and followed lots of vegan social media groups. All these have been so useful to find out lots of tricks and tips.

The one thing I miss is pizza, but there are even alternatives for that.  Due to this being Veganuary lots of restaurants have been making adjustments to their menus. I am able to order pizza from Zizzi’s or Pizza Express. I can even have them delivered with the help from Deliveroo.

Other cuisines have also adapted. Top of the media headlines has been Greggs, who introduced a vegan sausage roll. Which I found almost too strangely close to the real thing. I hope the availability of plant-based foods continues as Veganuary becomes a memory and the rest of the year takes form in this mental world.

 

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How do you let go of guilt and anxiety?

I saw the GP today. They have increased my anti-depressants and signed me off work for two weeks. The result is Guilt and Anxiety. The tortoise and hare are off the starting line.

The Hare (anxiety with a guilt backpack) starts to tell me I am not enough. I am letting down the students, the other teachers in my department and my bosses. It tells me I should be able to deal with all this while going to work each day. I worry about being judged by others. The panic causes me to breathe faster and my heart jumps about in my chest. My mind hurts as thoughts race around my brain, making me feel dizzy.

Many people will be judging me. Thinking I should be at school as I am not physically sick. I am not glued to the toilet, in hospital or unable to move. That doesn’t mean I do not have some physical symptoms: I am exhausted, having headaches, feel dizzy, nauseous and my whole body feels heavy. Yet I don’t feel it is enough for people to justify me being off. I feel they will judge me. Worse than that, I am judging me.

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My tortoise (logical brain) tries to reason with the hare. It explains that mental illnesses are equivalent of physical. That I am justified in my feelings and just like I could not cure my own physical illnesses, I need help and support to get better. My desperate despair will take time to get over and it is exhausting to do it. But they feel like clichés, slogans and advice I give others.

Am I letting anyone down? It is hard at school to find cover and make it meaningful. Will students miss out on having me as they will have a cover teacher instead. But sometimes our own health has to come first and I will help them as soon as I am back. How much use would I be in this state of mind? I am finding it hard to concentrate and it would be impossible to pretend to be ok for 5 hours a day in front of the children.

So, I need to show myself some compassion and let it go. I need to look after me and let the guilt go. But it is so much easier to say it. How do you let it all go? Reminding myself over and over. Will my mind just finally click into understanding?

I have learnt to be more compassionate to myself in the last couple of years. I now allow myself time to rest and recoup. I give myself time to look after my mind through meditating and reading. I adopted my lovely puppy, Toby, and I go for forest bathing walks. I have stepped away from toxic family members and that was not easy. So maybe this compassion about being off work will come too.

Maybe I just need to breathe, to give myself time and be patient with my life in this mental world.

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Me, My therapist and I

Today I went to my monthly therapist sessions. After three years I have gone from twice weekly sessions on the couch to monthly. Finding the right therapist was also so important. This one came recommended and I have never looked back. She gets me, like I feel few have. She has my back while challenging my perceptions of myself and the world. I never feel judged or patronised.

As most people, I wanted someone I could get along with. I wanted it to feel friendly but also to get professional advice. Being educated and intelligent I also wanted someone who would see that. My therapist often tells me the theory behind what she says and recommends books I can read to know more. To me education is so key to understanding myself and the world I live in, I am a self labelled bibliophile.

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Before I even approached therapy I had read and googled a lot of psychology to understand myself, but I got to a point where I could not get any further. I knew my childhood had affected me and was impacting my present. I just did not know how to stop the triggers and deal with them. Luckily a friend who I had confided in told me  she thought that her couples therapist would be a good match for me.

Each session we wrestle with my issues; family, friends, school, and everything in-between. Some sessions I get angry, tearful, sad while others I feel happy and proud of myself. I never quite know which emotion it is going to be, it could even be all of them. One things I do always know is it will help.

I have found my voice in that room. It has helped me really learn who I am, what I believe in, what is important to me. I have learnt to be compassionate to myself and those who are part of my story. It is hard at times, as I re-live and re-count my memories. And I am not done. I am booked in again for a months time.

It is so important to find a therapist who does this for you. The person who will help, guide and support you, in all the ways in which you need. If they don’t then try someone new. Try a  recommendation from someone who knows you.

This can be difficult with budget cuts and insurance policies sometimes in control. I have the ability to go privately and I know that I am lucky for that. Although I do also budget to make sure I can afford this, for me. I have had to convince myself that I am worth this expense just like I am worthy of having my hair cut or having a duvet day.

Today we talked about the ripple effect of having counselling, upon those around you. My family and friends relationships have changed, they have had to adapt. Some have faded or disappeared. I have had to respect others decisions to not want to discuss things to more forward. Leaving doors ajar and hope they will come back when they are ready. I am also trying to accept that some people might never change or really understand.

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So to my therapist, thank you. To those around me I hope we can adjust and change together. If not I will leave the door ajar with hope.

Until next time, this is my life in a mental world.