So, what got me interested in health and well-being?
In the coming months I will be writing a lot more on health and well-being. It is an area I have both written about and worked in for many years. I am very fortunate to have met and interviewed some very inspiring writers and practitioners including Deepak Chopra (whom I interviewed for a national paper in 2001), Louise L Hay, and recently, the incredible Marianne Williamson.
My personal interest in health and well-being stretches right back to my teens when I became a very strict vegetarian at the age of 13 (I’m no longer a strict veggie but I do care about what I eat and where food/produce has come from and how it’s been farmed). Don’t get me wrong, I am no saint (!) and I see no harm in indulging in a wide variety of food but moderation is the key.
Hippy hack: From Fleet St …to fields of organic lavender!
In 2002 I took time out of my busy career as a national newspaper/magazine journalist and qualified as a Holistic Therapist. My diploma in Holistic Health & Stress Management (including reflexology, Reiki, basic nutrition, aromatherapy, therapeutic massage, anatomy and biology) not only served my clients well (I hope!) but me too as, by mastering these disciplines, I also learned how to manage my own health and stress.
I’m a yoga lover (ideal for anyone wanting to exercise without damaging their joints – in fact I’ve recently got into Bikram yoga and can’t recommend it highly enough). Through yoga I got interested in meditation and again, this led me to do Levels 1 and 2 in meditation, as well as the respected Breathworks Pain Management Course at the Manchester Buddhist Centre, where I still have many great friends and private clients, 10 years on.
While training as a holistic therapist, I took an introductory course in counselling which I found really fascinating. I absolutely love discovering what makes us all tick! I went on to do further training at Manchester College as it was clear to me that the ‘well-being holy trinity’ mind-body-soul are truly connected and neglecting one, defeats all the work we may be doing in the other.
Again, a lot of what I learned and trained in really served my own understanding of my own life, family history/patterns and certainly helped me deal with a lot of the changes I’ve experienced in recent times (I was widowed at 33 and it completely changed my perspective on everything). Physical illness is so clearly connected to emotional and historical pain. Thus, taking good care of your mental/emotional health is another huge factor in keeping well – holistically - mind, body and soul.
For the record, I am STILL learning … often from my own mistakes but it is all experience and a good sense of humour and humility are a total necessity! Likewise, while I eat a largely Mediterranean diet today, I still respect the principles of vegetarianism and I was actually a spokesperson and media officer for The Vegetarian Society (UK) back in 2005/6.
Living with an Auto-Immune Disease…
Fundamentally though, my interest in complimentary health and how our environment and the past impacts our mental, physical and emotional health largely comes down to living with a long-term illness myself.
When I was 18 (about 20 years ago) I was diagnosed with the Auto-Immune disease, R.A, known more commonly as Rheumatoid Arthritis. R.A is not the ‘wear and tear’ arthritis that is common among the elderly or sportspeople (ie. osteoarthritis) but a condition in which the immune system attacks itself (within the blood stream) – targeting joint tissue and the internal organs.
The prognosis for me at 18 was not good as I had a particularly aggressive form of the condition. I underwent a lot of pretty horrendous treatments and procedures, while enduring absolutely awful joint pain and exhaustion. All this while trying to study for my degree and trying to live the life of a sociable and fun-loving young woman. From gold injections, anti-malarial drugs, steroids (not great for the figure!), right through to the chemotherapy drug Methotextrate, there was and is not a lot I have not tried medically in order to halt the disease.
However, even at 18, I knew instinctively that while conventional medicine and treatments certainly do have their place, lifestyle, diet, and natural therapies play a really fundamental role in health and in managing disease. I got into yoga, meditation (as mentioned), hydrotherapy and then elimination diets, supplements and complimentary therapies. There have been some hits and some misses but it has been a worthwhile journey and my health continues to improve and my positivity radiate…so I am told.
Writing: Over time, I found that these lifestyle changes and natural therapies really made a difference, and while I was advised that a career in journalism was a terrible idea for someone with such an advanced level of the disease, I didn’t let it stop me! Actually, I think my positivity and determination to not let living with an Auto-Immune disease completely ruin my life is the main thing that has got me through the last 20 years.
The good news…
Today I am in good health and certainly in great spirits. It feels really satisfying to type that – especially since there have been times of extreme stress in the last six years (particularly when I was widowed in 2005) and I have suffered flare-ups – leaving me completely unable to move… nevermind walk!
People often cannot believe I have an Auto-Immune disease at all and most definitely not one as extreme as R.A (Rheumatoid Arthritis). It takes a lot of effort but I do all I can to ensure that these days my flare ups do not totally consume and devastate my life. However, I am not ‘cured’ – there is no cure for R.A. – and I have to be really careful about flare-ups – surrendering when I absolutely have to, to steroids (instant curves!), cortisone injections and plenty of rest.
Ultimately, I now manage the stress in my life a LOT better (a key trigger for a flare up). I also have a much better balance now in terms of my work (I am self -employed writer/broadcaster and private holistic therapist with a fantastic client base) and lifestyle.
For me, a warm climate and the sea/nature are therapeutic and essential for my own well being, so I try to head off to the sun and sea as often as I can. While I will never be a marathon runner (stress on my joints is a recipe for a LOT of pain) I do enjoy gentle exercise, swimming and of course yoga. I do everything I can to support my body (often at a substantial financial cost, of course) and to keep myself away from a hospital ward and extreme drugs.
In the coming months I will be writing more on this the topic of well-being and on my own approach to keeping healthy, positive and happy.
I hope you enjoy these posts and feel inspired to take a look at how YOU manage your health and lifestyle too. x
For more information on R.A. (Rheumatoid Arthritis) contact NRAS http://www.nras.org.uk/