Reflecting on two years smoke-free

I first began smoking out of curiosity.

When I was growing up my grandma was in poor health but when I reached my mid-teens she became housebound. She developed emphysema, then COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), and then one day I walked into her bedroom and her medical notes were pasted to the wall where they read ‘lung failure’.

About ten years ago she was admitted to hospital on Christmas Eve and we were told to say our goodbyes. We had a priest come and bless her. I was awake for more than 24 hours and finally went home on Christmas Day, completely exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. After that I thought she would never smoke again. She lived for another five years after this and continued to smoke through many, many more similar hospital admissions.

I don’t know why she continued to smoke – they say it wouldn’t have cured the damage she had already done but to me that’s like saying you’ve got one broken leg so why not have two? They are probably right that her condition wouldn’t have improved – but it could have stabilised and been managed at emphysema instead of lung failure. Instead she continued to decline and struggle to breathe for the remaining five years of her life, and yes, it was horrific to watch.

So I was curious – what could possibly make someone want to continue smoking when it was making you so ill? I can only imagine that not being able to breathe is terrifying, but not being able to breathe for years? Unimaginable.

When I tried my first cigarettes I was totally unimpressed. I thought it was pretty disgusting and nothing to be addicted to. I didn’t get it at all. Later I tried again with menthols and found something I could smoke. So I smoked menthols for a few years, putting up with the headaches, sickness, nausea, feeling out of breath, shaky, and general feeling of unwell-ness that came with being a smoker. Then I met my partner and he didn’t like me smoking, so I quit. After that I only smoked on and off – when I stressed, upset or abroad where cigarettes were very cheap compared to the now skyrocketing prices of the UK due to laws designed to deter smokers (they work). But I didn’t really quit altogether per say, I always liked to know it was there – if I wanted it, but mostly I didn’t bother. I guess it just kind of tapered off until recently I was wondering how long it had been since I had smoked and realised that it was coming up to two years.

I only really gained an understanding when after many, many years of being eating disordered I desperately wanted to quit and to change but found myself unable no matter how I came at the problem. Finally, I understood how you could continue to smoke whilst being unable to breathe – and then I gained a greater sense of compassion, empathy and understanding – a sort of closeness to her, if you like.

Do I miss it? Yes and no. Some days I really crave it, whilst others I can’t imagine ever craving a cigarette ever again. Mostly when I walk behind smokers and breathe in that second-hand smoke – and it’s not cheating – I feel nostalgia for memories of people and a time now long gone.

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How Vitamin D changed my life

Disclaimer: Unlike iron deficiency anaemia, I was never diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency but instead was prescribed vitamin D by my GP for a different reason, which so happened to heal my fatigue. I wanted to share my experience in the hopes that it might help others struggling with fatigue. If you think you might be deficient in vitamin D you should consult with your doctor.

In autumn 2015 I was prescribed calcium by my doctor to help protect my bones from osteoporosis. Unfortunately for me I made the mistake of not mentioning to my GP during consultation that I struggle to swallow almost any kind of tablet and that large tablets would be an impossibility for me – so when I opened my prescription and saw the bullet-size pills, I filed the tablets in a draw and ignored them for a few months.

As winter came round I got ill with a severe chest infection which required three separate rounds of antibiotics – the last ones strong antibiotics – and steroids to clear. By the time I recovered I had lost 10lbs and was feeling pretty run down. So I wasn’t too surprised that I felt exhausted. Over several weeks though my exhaustion did not improve with any amount of rest. Sleeping 12-14 hours a day had become the norm, along with struggling to wake up myself up – I started semi-waking, falling asleep, semi-waking, and then falling asleep again over and over before finally properly waking. I would lay for hours needing to go to the bathroom falling in and out of sleep because I couldn’t summon the energy to move.

I knew something wasn’t right. By this point I had already begun taking my iron deficiency more seriously and felt that there must be something else wrong to make me feel this tired. It also felt different from the kind of tiredness I get when I’m low on iron – when I’m low on iron I feel breathless, like my chest is being squeezed tight and all my muscles ache constantly – the general feeling is that you can’t get enough air, or enough blood pumping around your limbs, even though your heart is beating like crazy and you’re having palpitations.

This was more like a zombie, comatose feeling where I could barely rouse myself, I never felt truly awake, it was just like living in a permanent fog. I remember lying in my bed at this point feeling like it was an effort to hold my phone and even dropped it on a couple of occasions because it was ‘too heavy’.It’s hard to explain our put into words, but the two feel qualitatively different.

Since I was feeling pretty run down at this time I decided I would start taking better care of myself in general – including finding a more accessible form of the calcium I had been prescribed. As I was then living quite a distance from my GP I did some research online as to what other forms of calcium and vitamin D I could ask for that might be easier for me to take. Unfortunately my research came up with no suitable options available on prescription so instead I began looking at over the counter options I could potentially purchase myself. Luckily I found several options available at Boots.

I can’t remember how I dragged myself to the city centre and back, but somehow or another I did, and within a few days of taking my new calcium tablets, the foggy exhaustion which left me struggling to wake up – and stay awake – began to lift. Puzzled at why calcium would have that affect, having never heard of any link between calcium and fatigue, I did some research into what my doctor had prescribed which turned out to be calcium and vitamin D, and it was at this point that I found out about the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. The constant fatigue, low immune system, muscle weakness, fogginess now made a lot more sense.

I spoke with my GP and asked if the dose and type of tablets I had gotten over the counter would be a suitable replacement for the prescription she had given me and she confirmed that they were and how many of them I should take to make up an equivalent dose. She also confirmed for me that there were no easier to take tablets available on the NHS and we therefore agreed that if I struggled to take the originals, the best thing to do would be for me to continue purchasing them on my own. We also discussed about the vitamin D and she agreed that if I found it helpful I should continue taking it.

I also did more research and found out that due to our location, around 98% of people living in my area of the country were vitamin D deficient in the winter since we are far too north on the earth’s latitude to produce any. I imagine the sheer cold even in summer leads to a majority of people covering up even in summer – I know I tried to put away my winter coat in late June, almost July and found myself regretting it. Also, contrary to my previous belief, milk in my country is not fortified with vitamin D. I had seen milk listed as being a source of vitamin D so often that I didn’t think I needed to worry about it at all.

From then on I made sure to take my calcium and vitamin D everyday, and my fatigue cleared and I began to feel more normal. I felt that I had found a piece of the puzzle in why my health was so poor. But after a while on the vitamin D I began to suffer from insomnia, at which point some further research revealed that I needed to take it in the morning rather than in the evening. Occasionally when I have been taking my vitamin D very frequently I will still get the insomnia but now I recognise it I taper down the vitamin D for a short while before continuing as normal. Such is life, we learn along the journey. Other than this minor hitch I haven’t had any other side-effects from taking the vitamin D, unless you count more energy and feeling more refreshed!

Looking back I also realise now I had some of the other symptoms of having low vitamin D levels that I had raised with my doctor, like bone pain in my legs which was unexplained. Although I’m fair skinned (Type I) I still had several risk factors – I was a student so I spent the majority of my time indoors; if I went abroad I wore factor 30 or 50 as I due to my skin type I am at high-risk for skin cancer; I had been living in the far north of the UK for several years now. We lived so far north that as a community we would joke we didn’t know what that weird shape was in the sky whenever the sun came out for it’s annual one-day visit.

The combination of iron and vitamin D has been a life-changer in terms of my fatigue, tiredness, breathlessness, aches, pains and bone pain. I only wish I had known about both sooner so that I hadn’t spent so much time exhausted and wondering how on earth I was going to make it through another day.

Since I found out about vitamin D the Scottish government has agreed with the Scientific Advisory Commission on Nutrition (SACN) to advise Scots to take a vitamin D supplement at least during the autumn and winter months, if not all year round. After feeling like a bit of a mad woman for talking about this with family and friends it’s good to know I’m not wrong! Hopefully this will also mean greater awareness for GPs when they have patients presenting with fatigue and aches and pains.

Do you take vitamin D? Or do you recognise that constant feeling of fatigue, aches and pains that doesn’t go away with rest? Share with me in the comments below.

References

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-36856176

The simplicity of one project

I know I’m not alone in having had many, many hobbies over the years, and for each of those hobbies I had multiple projects on the go all at the same time. At one point I remember counting over 40 sewing projects. Unsurprisingly it took me four years to complete one medium sized piece of work and the rest I ended up gifting to fellow stitches. Since finding minimalism I’ve reduced drastically the number of hobbies I have to only those I find really important or interesting at this particular point in my life, this has meant letting lots of past hobbies go that I had outgrown. Additionally I’ve also limited myself to having only one project, per hobby at a time. There were multiple reasons for this, so I thought I would share why you should consider having just one project too.

Time – We live in a busy world and we are busy people which means that our free time can often be limited and we must choose how we spend it wisely.
Completion – When I had 100 projects on the go at the same time, I rarely ever finished anything and when I did it was usually after several years and or tended to be a smaller project. This can lead not only to clutter but also to a feeling of failure as we never manage to complete any of the projects we are working on. Of course with hobbies it is by and large about the process, but give yourself a chance to see how it feels when your passion drives you to complete something wonderful.
Clutter – As mentioned above, multiple projects on the go at once mean several times the clutter.
Focus – Having one project allows us to remain focused and reduce time spent trying to catch up and remember where we were the last time we were working on a particular project.
Changing tastes – Over time our tastes change and if we are taking multiple years to complete a project by the time we find some free leisure time to work on a project it might have been so long that our tastes have completely changed, leaving us with a lot of time, money and resources spent on something our hearts are no longer in.
Learning – We can learn a lot from hobbies and interests, but we restrict our ability to learn when we only complete the beginning stages of a project, leaving us with no experience of the finishing stages or of the more complex challenges hobbies can bring.
Choice – Having only one project in the era of having thousands of ideas pinned on Pinterest forces us to choose what we really love and let our passion guide us to the projects we feel we cannot live without trying.
Immersion – When we have only one project to channel our passion into it allows us to become fully immersed in the process.
Memory – Having so many projects leaves us liable to forget them and then things we have spent our time and money on just get shoved to the back of a draw, taking up space.

How do you feel about the prospect of having only one project at time? Have your reduced your hobbies and projects? Share with me in the comments below.

Signs you need to rethink your hobbies

I love having lots of hobbies and interests, I always have and probably always will for the rest of my life – I just love to try new things. Hobbies are on the whole pretty good for us: they help us to unwind, learn new skills, gain new knowledge, meet new people and make new friends. But what if your hobby starts to become a source of stress?

When I was working on becoming a minimalist I quit a lot of hobbies for various reasons because minimalism isn’t just about reducing how much stuff you have, it’s also about rethinking your whole life and being honest with yourself and what you want. Life is full of beginnings and endings and the same holds true for hobbies – we might go through any number of hobbies or interests in our lifetime or we might keep the same hobby throughout our entire life.

Here are some of the reasons I quit particular hobbies or changed the way I do them:

You aren’t having any fun – Sometimes after many years of enjoying a hobby we fall out of love with it but we haven’t quite moved on and accepted that we feel differently. Remember, hobbies don’t always have to be forever, just because you enjoyed something once doesn’t mean you will enjoy it for the rest of your life. You don’t need to feel obligated to keep doing something if you’ve moved on and no longer enjoy it. If you have many half-finished projects you no longer want to complete, consider selling, donating or recycling the materials.
o Ask yourself what you loved about this hobby when you started and if that is still true today.
It’s costing you too much – Hobbies can be expensive and it’s understandable that we would want to spend our money on them, but sometimes that spending can get out of hand. Some hobbies are actually deliberately designed to make you spend a lot of money – they are fast moving and companies constantly bring out so many new items that it becomes more a game of keeping up or collecting than about the hobby itself. Sometimes hobbies can become expensive because we buy more than we need, or get caught up trying to compete with others and all the tools or equipment they have.
o Ask yourself if you are more focused on spending money on your hobby than you are on actively engaging with it.
It’s competitive, but not in a healthy way – Competition can inspire us to work harder and improve ourselves, but if you find yourself striving for improvement just for the sake of one-upmanship against others its maybe time to reconsider whether what you are doing is actually making you happy. If a hobby makes you feel constantly anxious, disappointed, angry, frustrated or aggressive then it’s time to reconsider what you are getting from your hobby.
o Ask yourself whether your hobby makes you feel positive or negative.
You don’t enjoy the community – Meeting new people and making new friends is always one of the highlights of having a new hobby or interest, but let’s be honest, not all communities are positive ones that lift us up and help us along our journeys. If the groups you are in are full of petty arguments, aggressiveness, fighting and generally don’t make you feel happy or proud to be a part of them then it’s time to exit. Of course if you are feeling really brave you could reinvent the community with a new, more positive group.
o Ask yourself if the community your hobby has is a positive one that helps you, celebrates successes and lifts you up.
You aren’t learning anything new – Hobbies are meant to be fun, but if we aren’t learning anything new, going anywhere new or discovering something new then it’s possible you’ve reached a stale point in your hobby. Part of the fun of a hobby is learning a new skill, improving and discovering new things – give yourself that opportunity.
o Ask yourself if you are learning anything new.
You never finish anything – If you never finish anything it’s possible that you are more in love with the idea of the hobby than the hobby itself. Just because you think something is cool, interesting or a good idea doesn’t necessarily mean you want to go through the journey it takes reach the end of a project or goal, and there’s nothing wrong with that – we can admire and appreciate the effort  it takes to create something without having to do it ourselves.
o Ask yourself if you genuinely enjoy the hobby or whether you are in love with the idea of this hobby.
It was someone else’s idea – Sometimes when people really enjoy their hobbies they want to share them with other people and we agree to try them out because we love those people. Well-meaning friends and family might also think they’ve found something great for us that we’ll really enjoy but if it’s not for you don’t be afraid to try it and then say so.
o Ask yourself if this is something you really enjoy, or is it something others really enjoy.
You’re ignoring your family or other responsibilities – Everyone needs some time out, but if you find yourself obsessed and unwilling to compromise the time you spend on a hobby you need to ask yourself what you are running from. Hobbies can be one way we ‘exit’ relationships or situations that we don’t want to be in, and this can be a helpful coping strategy at times, but in long-rung we need to face our problems head-on and find ways to solve them or reduce their impact on our lives.
o Ask yourself if you are trying to escape from your problems instead of trying to confront them.

How do you feel about your hobbies? Do you still enjoy them or is it time to say goodbye? What hobbies have you had in the past that you let of to allow new ones in? Share with me in the comments below.

How to declutter your digital life – Photos

Having spent a lot of time in the minimalist movement the question of how to declutter our digital lives comes up a lot, so I wanted to share my strategies for remaining on top of it. I’m going to start today with photos.

1. Reduce how many photographs you take

This sounds like odd advice at first, after all, who doesn’t love photos? But the first port of call when decluttering is always to stop or reduce what’s coming in so you can get a handle on what you already have. Here’s some questions to ask yourself when out and about taking photos:
• Am I present? – It’s so easy to get caught up taking photographs of everything you are seeing and not really taking anything in. Instead of taking hundreds of photos whilst out on a trip, try to take everything in, engage with your friends and family about what you are doing or seeing, and only take photographs of the really special moments.
• Do I need multiple photographs of the same thing? It can seem appealing to take photographs from all angles when we see something beautiful, but if one photograph would suffice don’t take ten.
• Will this photograph mean anything to you in the future? In a month, in one year, in five years? Looking back through photos from only two years ago it was surprising the number of photographs I took that didn’t mean anything to me, I couldn’t understand why I had taken a photograph of the floor, or an empty cup – yes, really!

2. Declutter on the go

When you are stuck in a queue, on the bus, on the train or at any other time where you have five minutes to spare – go through the photographs on your phone and delete any that you don’t need. By doing this you will reduce the number of photographs that end up on your computer and thus, have less to sort through later.

3. Declutter when on the computer

Before your arrange your photographs into nice folders, take a minute to go through them all each time you upload a batch and weed out any that you didn’t already in steps 1 & 2.

4. Arrange your photographs

The best system I have found for arranging photographs is the Year-Month system – I sort photographs into folders by year, and then by month inside those years, with additional folders for special occasions. This system allows for you to quickly and easily find a photograph when you want it, and also keep new photographs organised.
Advice for sorting photographs already on your computer
Now you know how to handle photographs in the future, but what to do with that pesky folder full of random, unorganised photographs? Here’s a few tips I found helped me when dealing with a huge mess of photographs:

• Set a timer – Decluttering and organising hundreds or thousands of photographs can be tiring so set yourself a timer for how long you want to spend working on this project at one time and stick to it. Trying to do it all in one go will likely just result in you getting burnt out and abandoning the project.
• Declutter first – As in the above advice, declutter bad or uninteresting photographs first, then arrange.
• Make use of the sort feature – Providing your photographs aren’t scans or super old digital photos they should have a date attached to them. The best way to find out is to sort photographs by ‘details’ and then look for ‘date taken’ or ‘date created’, then click that label and your photographs will automatically sort themselves by date. Extra tip: Weed out duplicates by loosely sorting photos into the Year-Month system then go through each month and remove any duplicates that have cropped up.
• Separate what’s been sorted – During each session move sorted photographs into your new Year-Month system so that when you come back to it next time you know immediately what is left to sort and what has been completed.
• Keep it up – Try to upload photographs at least once a month so that they don’t get on top of you and out of hand.

And finally, after all that effort, don’t forget to back them up!