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.



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.

In Real Life: Week 2 Update

Well that’s the end of week 2.

This week I went to the park several times, I saw a bee fly for the first time ever in my life, have watched the pink foxglove in my garden begin to bloom, took a nap because I needed one (I would previously have pushed on through to keep clicking), went for a picnic and watched a live cycling race. It’s funny to think that most of this would never have happened if I hadn’t logged off – I definitely wouldn’t have seen the bee fly for certain, which would have been a great shame because when I spotted it in amongst loads of bees I got really excited and I wasn’t expecting that at all.

I also finished another three books this week and began reading Bleak House, a book which has been on my to-read list for a decade. When I first opened it I struggled with the first page, but I decided to perserve, in the belief that the more I read the easier the book would get, and I was right, I’m now 240 pages in and having very little trouble apart from the odd unfamiliar word. At this pace there is actually hope that I might finish all 1500 books on my to-read list. Unlike before IRL, I have been to the library several times in the past week to either loan or return books.

One downside is that I am feeling the creep of my googling, unfortunately my RescueTime app is having some issues and so it hasn’t been recording my google chrome usage on my mobile. I’m also quite attached to my phone and keep checking it still, despite that there’s no need to. I think this is something I can work on in the following week, especially if I can fix the RescueTime app on my phone. Overall though I think my life is still better than when I was online and I plan to continue as I am.

In Real Life: Week 1 update

As promised, I said I would update with how my first week offline went.

My most common activity logged on Rescue Time was messenger apps. I was wary of switching one procrastinating activity for another; however I’m not going to feel bad about the amount of time I spent texting as I spent more than 20 hours travelling this week and away from various loved ones. I spent two hours on YouTube which came from a flaw in my plan to go offline – I wanted some background music to relax to while I went about other chores – thunderstorms, rain and so on. Again I’m okay with this concession but I do want to try get some MP3’s or albums instead as this will remove the temptation when I log on to YouTube to ‘just check that YouTuber I used to watch…’. Overall I’m pretty happy with my statistics for the week given how they usually look!

My week went exceedingly well, this has been the longest period I have been offline for around a decade now I think. I ate more – this is good as someone recovering from illness, I need the extra calories as my immune system is low right now. I went to the park a couple of times and went on a trip to visit some family. I also went to visit some friends which had become quite usual for me in recent months. My concentration improved, my happiness went up, I felt a sense of achievement and oddly enough did not feel that I missed much. I felt much more connected to the real world and was strongly reminded of my pre-internet life at various points. I also did more cleaning and made more eye contact with people.

This week I finished three books, and nearly finished another. It’s amazing how much your concentration improves when you take away the option to go online. Over the past year or so my concentration had dived, my memory and language skills were clearly suffering to the point where sometimes I couldn’t form a coherent sentence or simple story without stuttering, stumbling and being unable to find my words. This week I found myself pushing through another few pages, a chapter, until I had finished two books in two days. I thought it was difficult to read, and it is – when you are constantly distracted by the internet, having six or seven windows open at once. Take all that away and it’s not so hard. When there’s nothing else to do you might as well read another page.

My partner said I seemed more coherent, more focused, and calmer than usual. He was also amazed that only a week ago I had been struggling to read almost anything longer than a short article and had virtually given up on my life-long hobby of reading as I was finding it too difficult.

But were there any downsides? I did feel twitchy in the sense that I kept checking my phone a lot. Part of this I can attribute to having travelled so much this week – when you’ve read 500 pages on a an exceptionally long train journey, and are still not at your destination I think even the most strong willed would find it hard not to start randomly pressing buttons on their phone. I think another part of this might have been that I had become accustomed to always having a new notification to check and suddenly there wasn’t any more because I had deleted all my social media accounts. It will be interesting to see if this declines in week 2. Other than this I did not feel that there were any downsides to the experiment so far. I’ll report back in another week, until then, happy IRLing.

In Real Life: Quitting the internet

Quitting the internet is not something that most people talk about, and when they do it’s often a highly criticised choice for a variety of reasons. In many ways the internet is a paradoxical place to look for people who have chosen not to be online anymore or in a more limited way. Yet as with most life decisions and experiments, we look to the internet to hear others voices, even regarding this.

When I decided to quit the internet I found surprisingly little on the subject besides the experiences of Paul Miller as a Ted Talk and a single book by Susan Maushart. In both cases they returned to their online lives, and in the case of the Paul he said afterwards that it hadn’t made him any happier and instead he found another way to waste time in the guise of gaming.

So I’ve decided to start my own experiment and write about it on my blog, drafting my posts offline first and logging on only to post them. I decided initially to quit social media, but later also included the vast majority of the internet as well, barring a few exceptions – updating my blog being one of them. I’ll blog about my experiences living life offline every week or so, depending on how things go.

But first let’s go back to the beginning – how did I get here?

I’ve been unhappy with my internet and social media usage for quite a long time. When I was a kid I was enraptured by the internet from the beginning, but my time on it was restricted to 20-30 minutes a night. Later, around the age of 14 I got the internet in my bedroom and after that there was no limit on how long I spent on it as long as I had gone to bed by around 11pm. I remember reluctantly turning off my computer many nights, my head buzzing with all the things I still wanted to do. It wasn’t long before the internet crept into my life more and more – I would go on my computer before school instead of getting ready, on my lunch breaks, and my computer would be the first thing I turned on when I came home.

A break came when I went on an extended holiday with family where I didn’t have access to the internet for several weeks. While I was away I vowed to cut back on my usage once I came home but it wasn’t long before I got bored, and pressed the on button once more, and before I knew it I was back to spending hour after hour in front of the screen.

Over the years I tried to cut back or quit, periodically closing accounts and trying to log off only to fail every time. Often I wouldn’t manage even a few hours. For years I have been a member of RescueTime, a free application which tracks how long you spend on each activity on your computer or phone. It was my attempt to ‘cut-down’ and although I did have some success with it, I became used to the graphs and stopped being shocked by the numbers. Still, seeing the number of hours rack up on social media, gaming and the internet in general was depressing. What if I had taken that 30-60 hours a week and read or written instead. If I averaged around 5-6 hours a day for a decade that’s over 20,000 hours gone that I cannot get back. It’s not just the sheer amount of time spent that bothers me though, it’s the lack of having anything to show for it, having made no meaningful memories with anyone, I’ve learnt very little and not developed much either which leaves me feeling that none of it was worth it in the bigger picture.

In early 2016 I discovered Susan Maushart’s The Winter of Our Disconnect and invigorated, logged off once more for a few days. Around this same time I had received some nasty messages of some sort on social media, and so it was a blessed relief to log off and not care anymore. During those couple of days I felt calmer, more focussed, more relaxed and more like I was living the kind of life I wanted to, but the addiction of the internet drew me back in and I soon found myself spending as much time online as before.

I’m finally going to give it another go because those couple of days I spent in 2016 without the internet were some of the best I had all year. I have a lot of reasons for quitting which I’ll share below.

Boundaries – There is a great power in not being contactable so easily online, it creates a boundary. Previously this was universal. If you were bullied at school you at least had (hopefully) home to go to where the bullies could not follow and harass you. There was a space to get away from it. Now if you are on social media, bullies have access to you 24/7 365 days a year. By logging off social media or having only private accounts for a limited circle, we create a boundary where only the people we want to contact us can contact us at times we want them to, and no one else. When we signed up to social media we erased and redefined a lot of boundaries and norms, but sometimes they are there for a good reason. It’s not a bad thing to draw lines. It’s nice to have things that are for you and only you, or just the really close, important people around you who you trust. Not everything needs to be for everybody.
Addiction – I don’t like feeling addicted to anything. When you are addicted to something you no longer feel as though you have a choice whether you partake anymore, regardless of whether it makes you happy or not. Logging off is a way for me to regain some of that control.
Lack of connection – Yes, you read that right. Although the internet is supposed to make us ever more connected, I don’t feel like I’m connecting with anyone anymore. People didn’t comment much on my profile and neither did I on theirs. We were connected, but we weren’t really connected. If we follow the theory that some of us are on social media because we are lonely then the fact that I wasn’t even speaking with anyone says it’s not even fulfilling that need anyway.
Lack of importance – It’s not really what life is about. 99% of what we read is completely irrelevant to our lives and has no bearing whatsoever. The majority is so forgettable that I can’t even remember what articles I ‘had’ to read yesterday that would have pained me to close my browser instead. What was I reading last week? Last month? Last year? Five years ago? Forgotten it all already. Books on the other hand tend to linger in the memory longer, we get lost in the world that the author had created and how that book made us feel.
End the excuses – As Bill pointed out to his friend in The Winter of Our Disconnect if you have time to spend 40 hours a week on the internet or gaming, you have time for other more important things you keep making excuses for. I want to stop making excuses for why I haven’t fulfilled some of my important goals in life.
The emotional cost – Going online is being exposed to a constant barrage of people who are constantly outraged, this drama, this disaster, this new danger etc. This isn’t to say that we should get complacent about world news but studies have shown that when people are constantly shown dramatized news which only shows negative stories like shootings it has an effect on the way they view the world and the way they feel– and when we view stories like this all day everyday it can make the world seem a lot more frightening and scary. I think that news is important but the lack of balance and ever-increasing sensationalism isn’t healthy, especially when you are constantly reading this all day long. It’s highly concentrated negative news without all of the other mundane life interspersed or positive news to balance it out. Regular life is not concentrated this way (usually) and instead is full of a mix of negatives, positives and neutrals.
Lack of focus and concentration – My focus has plummeted. At least when I was studying there was a balance between light-hearted reading and academic reading, now it’s all just tiny news articles, tweets, photos and emojis. It doesn’t seem to have done my brain much good to be honest.
To stop living other people’s lives and live your own – I don’t want to constantly be reading about other people who are out actually living their lives and achieving things while I do nothing with mine.
Sleep – Staying on your phone or laptop late at night can also affect your sleep which in turn can affect a lot of other things for you, like your appetite, mood, stress and ability to cope with things or think clearly. This is definitely the case for me.
Who is it for? – These days you can end up with an eclectic mix of friends on Facebook – work colleagues, former work colleagues, classmates from school, University pals, people you had to do a group project with, family members – so when we write something, who is it for? I think Susan Maushart is quite right when she says that ‘There is no targeted recipient at all.’. And if we think about it a bit more, there is no guarantee that anyone will see it, let alone read it or even respond to it. Unlike when you start an actual conversation with someone. It’s much like shouting into the void.
Escapism – Going online has become for many people, including me, a way of escaping life and dulling out that ever nagging voice that we’re not achieving as much as we would like to.
Stalking – Almost everyone seems to engage in this, even just a little, but the problem is it keeps people in our minds and memories, when otherwise without the internet they and the memories associated would have naturally faded with time, along with the pain they caused us. By having the option to look people up we keep the wound open longer than it needs to be and don’t let it heal. It keeps people closer to us than they would be otherwise.
The bigger picture – I am not spending my time the way I actually want to be in order to fulfil the kind of life I really want. I don’t want to look back in ten years’ time at a twitter account with 50k tweets or 1000 friends on Facebook. I want to have progressed in my reading and writing goals, have travelled more, strengthened my relationship with my partner, have more pets. When I think long-term about what I want from life Facebook and Twitter etc. are really at the bottom of the list.

How I’m going to do it

Okay. First things first. I did set my digital life straight before quitting. I didn’t spend too much time on this step this time because in the past I’ve used this as an excuse to delay my logging off and end up not quitting, so I sped through it, tidied up my inbox, deleted all my social media without saving anything and all in all I think it took me two days max. Before I logged off I also gave some thought to what I might do once I had quit, and write a list of activities tailored to me and my goals based on what I wanted to achieve by quitting. I felt that this might help me from wandering too much once pulling the plug.

What’s left?

All that being the said, the internet isn’t an entirely bad place and if quitting is something you are considering you could try setting time limits, or just quitting some apps or maybe only social media. Personally there are a few things I’m keeping, like email, myfitnesspal, my blog, Facebook messenger (free photo messaging!) and so on. And I’m still going to Google things occassionally, but I definitely feel the need to step back and re-evaluate. I like what the Minimalists have to say – ‘Does it add value?’ – this is a good way to think about our internet usage. I feel that a good 95% of my internet usage the past decade has not really added any value to my life, if anything it has just taken away. All the majorly important things in my life have nothing to do with the internet at all and never did. But it’s not too late. There is still time for me to log off and go live my life. To surmise my thoughts:

‘Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and I could not spare any more time for that one.’