The A Word: I Would Walk 500 Miles

and I would walk 500 more

It’s been a wonderful week spending time with our family. Our grandchildren give us so much pleasure and laughter and our new grandson is growing so quickly he’s nearly out of his Moses basket.  It was also incredibly hot and now we’re back in Cornwall it’s noticeably cooler but more humid which isn’t great for my hair! 😊. 

I also had my first Rheumatology appointment since before lockdown.  It worked OK by telephone and I’d prepared my notes beforehand.  We agreed that I’d have some investigative MRI scans of the cervical spine and an ultrasound scan of my arms, hands, and fingers due to some new symptoms I’ve experienced.  I guess these will go on a while, so I won’t have any updates in the short term.

We’ve had the most amazing Summer in Cornwall and the walking has been superb.  Since the start of the UK lockdown on 16th March until today, our FitBit shows we have walked over 3,000 kilometres.  To put that into perspective Moscow is 2,500k from London and Cairo 3,500k.  Norway is about the right distance, at 3025k from London!  Not surprising, the soles of our walking shoes have worn away 😊.

We’ve loved living in our cottage right in the middle of a bustling village.  The pavement is opposite our house,  but people still walk on our side of the road and look into the window whilst we’re sitting in the evening.  I can’t complain though as I do it too, especially at Christmas.  I love looking at all the beautiful Christmas trees on display. It’s like those Christmas scenes you see on cards with houses all lit up and families inside and its definitely my favourite time to peer in.  Jamie and I could always close our curtains, but we chose not to as we love to see the activity outside our window.

My blogs are mostly about living the best life you can with chronic pain.  Last week I talked about positive and negative motivation and the difference between the two.  This week I wanted to talk about negativity in general as it really can really hamper our ability to be happy.

Negativity is a tendency to be downbeat, disagreeable, and sceptical. It’s a pessimistic attitude that always expects the worst. It’s important to mention that depression and/or sadness are not the same as having a general negative disposition.  

Negative people tend to moan a lot, convinced that the whole world is against them. They are usually the victim of “something” whether it’s a difficult boss, a bad relationship, bad luck, or their upbringing. They rarely step back to look at other factors – such as hard work.  Apparently, there’s also a neurological explanation as to why some people end up being so negative. It has to do with the part of the brain called the amygdala, which functions as an alarm and is constantly on the lookout for danger, fear and bad news.

For many people, being negative is just a part of life, however, it is something that you can train yourself out of with a little bit of practice.  I love the Ant Middleton books; they are easy to read and focus on embracing positivity and a positive attitude into your everyday life. 

I often see articles suggesting that you remove negative people from your social media or your friendship groups.  I definitely agree and during my career, I’ve found that the most successful people have made it a rule to avoid negative people. This is because negative people can affect your attitude.  For example, when I thought about writing my blog my friends and family were brilliant, encouraging me and being really supportive of my goals.  My husband Jamie continues to complement me on my blogs and encourages me every week. Acquaintances are sometimes different.  Before I started to share my story, I had someone say I’d find it impossible as bloggers were mostly much younger than me!   If I’d chosen to listen to that negative person or believed in what they said, it would have affected my confidence and possibly even stopped me from writing.  My blog has been really successful and I’m in the top 10% of traffic for WordPress blogs which is amazing.

I’ve also experienced negative people during my working career; they’re always the ones who make you doubt yourself.   I’ve noticed that when I’m around positive people who are enthusiastic, they raise my energy levels. Negative people do the opposite; they tend to drain my energy and I just want them to go away.

As I said earlier, whatever life throws at us, we need to try and live “our best life” as we only get one shot.  When you struggle with illness and chronic pain, positive people help and give positive reinforcement when doubts and worries creep in.  Negative people make you believe your doubts.  Negative people generally have a problem for every solution and positive people have a solution for every problem.  Don’t waste you time trying to accommodate them, do what I do and remove them from your life, starting with social media.

Finally, I want to talk about the ice-cream manufacturer Ben and Jerry’s who made headlines this week when the company’s social media team published a Tweet about migrants and refugees directed at the home secretary.   Whilst a lot of people agreed with their position, a large proportion didn’t and personally I don’t think the Corporate world should get involved in politics.  Ben and Jerry’s are part of a massive global conglomerate called Unilever and perhaps if they paid the taxes HMRC thinks they should pay we could spend more money helping the people who need it most. 

Until next time, stay safe #stayalert and remember positive thoughts in the morning can change your whole day xxxxx

The A Word: A Cause for Celebration (or not!)

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind!

Everyone who sees my social media photos must think we have sunshine 24×7 in Cornwall so I thought I would post a blog picture in the rain for a change.  Jamie and I have full waterproofs and I love to walk in the rain; I really appreciate the smell of the earth as it has a natural calming effect on my overactive mind.  We’re so close to nature here it really is beautiful in all weather conditions.

I’m also happy to report I finally have my first Rheumatology appointment since the COVID-19 lockdown and it’s next Monday on my birthday!  I’m not changing it as I’ve waited too long so hopefully all will be well as I’ll get the results of the MRI scans and blood tests from February. We’re off out for dinner after the appointment and up early the following day to drive “up country” to see our family and grandchildren so a lovely week to look forward to.  We also hope to exchange contacts on the house so a busy time all round.

Like me, many people with an autoimmune disease go through periods of feeling relatively normal and then have the sudden onset of severe symptoms called “flares” making it difficult to find the motivation and energy to be active.  Self-motivation has always played a big part in my working life and private life and I thought it would be useful to write about my experience of both.

There are two types of motivation, positive and negative.  Positively motivated people will achieve something because of their own enthusiasm or interest, without needing pressure from others.  For example, being a star performer at work, living a fit and healthy lifestyle or even saving for a deposit on a house.  It’s when a person knows where they’re going, how they are going to get there and adopting that positive attitude towards achieving their goals.   

Motivation is our internal energy force that determines all aspects of our behaviour; it also impacts on how we think, feel and interact with others. Sport is a great example as high motivation is widely accepted as an essential prerequisite in getting athletes to fulfil their potential.  My daughter is a triathlete, mostly focused on the Half Ironman (70.3 distance) and her self-motivation to train never ceases to amaze me.

Negative motivation can best be described as wanting to get away from an existing condition.  Although it tends to display the same characteristics, the results achieved are markedly different from those of positive motivation.  Negative motivation is rooted on fear.  Fear means you are acting on the pressure of losing something – your current job, your money, or your lifestyle. 

The main difference between the two is that positively motivated actions will most likely have a positive outcome.   If someone is negatively motivated, their actions may have an undesirable negative outcome   A film I watched called Deep Water is great example of negative motivation.  It’s a documentary film based on the true story of Donald Crowhurst and the 1969 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race round the world alone in a yacht and it doesn’t end well.

Positive and negative motivation also applies in the workplace.  We’ve all had a boss who uses negative motivation to get their employees to work harder or perform better (yes, the stick rather than the carrot).  These are the people who focus on giving their team negative feedback, threats, or disciplinary action.

I certainly prefer carrots and I would like to think that during my career I always tried to be a positive motivator (and still do).  Positive motivational leaders are visionaries and tend to build a shared vision, rallying their team.  I’ve been very lucky to work for some outstanding people, who, whilst results oriented, they were able to motivate and develop their team to adopt their shared vision.  They pursue information to reduce uncertainty and find ways to do things better, and often cut through red tape and bend the rules when necessary to get the job done.  More importantly, they persist in seeking to achieve goals despite obstacles and setbacks.  They see setbacks as manageable circumstances and don’t take anything personally.   I’ve only worked for a “negative motivator” once and I hated it and made a mental note never to repeat that kind of behaviour.

Finally, I wanted to chat about Gin.  I know Jamie and I are late to the party, but what has happened to Gin, its amazing!  A few months ago, in one of my blogs I said I don’t drink spirits, but all has changed since we found the gin “tinnies” in Sainsbury’s. 

From “mothers ruin” to the “hipster” drink gin has now become, it’s a real success story.  There are now pink gins, gin in beautiful artisan bottles and those flavoured with honey, rhubarb, mangoes and strawberries, the list is endless. Flavoured gin has increased in abundance but it’s not just gin. Flavoured tonic is expanding in every direction, providing us gin drinkers with exciting new ways to serve their favourite gins

In 2018 it was revealed that UK gin sales had soared by 254 per cent over the past decade. The spirit was officially named Britain’s favourite drink when a record 47 million bottles were sold in one year! To keep up with demand, the number of UK gin distilleries has more than doubled, from 152 in 2013 to 315 today.  Gin has become so popular in Britain that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) added it back to the basket of goods it uses to measure inflation after a 13-year absence.

Gym?  I thought you said “Gin”, yes please 😊.  Until next time, stay safe #stayalert and enjoy the Gin xxxxx

The A Word: Behind the Mask

Chapel Porth, Cornwall

Life is St Agnes is great.  The weather has been amazing, and our work has started to pick up too which is really good news.  Our Hampshire house is nearing exchange and we’re just waiting for the searches to come back which have taken longer than normal due to the backlog from lockdown.  We’re anticipating completion during August, but Jamie and I admit it will be very difficult to tear ourselves away from Beech cottage.

We do miss our family though and will probably head back “up country” before we complete on the house to see our family and grandchildren.  We were back two weeks ago to welcome our new grandson; we now have three which is wonderful, a girl and two boys.   The journey from Cornwall takes just over 4 hours which isn’t too bad, especially with a few good podcasts.

Like everyone else, I’m wearing my face mask for shopping.  The evidence seems pretty clear to me that masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that the more people wearing masks for indoor activities will help.  I also understand this is not about “me”, as there is strong evidence to say that the best benefit of wearing a mask is for people who have COVID-19 to protect them from giving COVID-19 to other people.

However, masks and makeup don’t mix 😊.  I don’t wear a lot of make-up, but I do wear some and its now covering the inside of my mask.  There are many YouTube videos advising us to emphasize the eyes; it’s definitely all about the eyes and not about my red lipstick! Obviously, I appreciate that looking good is not the point of wearing a face mask however, it’s just possible there’s just something attractive about a little mystery, a little obscured identity. Apparently, the masks draw attention to two of our hottest and most controllable features, our eyes and hair and thankfully I’ve now had a haircut!

Whilst the mask is not my favourite accessory, it did make me roll my eyes to see hundreds of demonstrators gathered in London to protest against wearing them days before it became mandatory. Ultimately, I think wearing a mask suggests that you actually care about the people you interact with and whether they live or die”, it’s that simple.

Moving on I mentioned earlier that our work has started to pick up and throughout my career one of my strengths has been to identify the best salespeople and hire them.  My theory was always to employ people better than me.  Some people are afraid to do this, worried that their new hire will be so good they’ll make them look bad.  I don’t agree – everyone needs really smart people in their team.  They bring a fresh perspective; they see things that you might not have seen by yourself.  Good leaders recognise their own weaknesses and limitations as I did.  Why would you recognise a weakness, and then not hire someone smarter than you who can plug this gap? It’s not only the best outcome for the team, and ultimately the business, but for your own personal development too.

So that’s why Jamie set up our search and recruitment company 12 years ago to find these top performers for our clients.  Many people ask us why we are different from the hundreds of other recruiters and that’s a great question.  We both worked in the financial technology industry and have a much better understanding than most of our competitors about the roles we are recruiting for, but there’s another, more important reason.

It’s a fact that most sales professionals perform well at interview, but research shows that 50% of sales hires underperform against expectations, a figure that is constantly on the rise in our new world.  We know that top sales performers are alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of emotional intelligence which they can’t “fake” during an interview.  Whilst a candidate’s skills are important, salespeople are very good at enhancing these and covering up their flaws.  Characteristics such as emotional intelligence are vital in identifying high achievers.  We’ve spent years comparing the profiles of top performers with average ones in sales roles, and nearly 90% of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than cognitive abilities.   Hopefully, our business will continue to improve over the coming months as we enjoy what we do.  We would like to continue working for the next 3-5 years but we’ll see how it goes and, if not, find other ways of making some money and keeping our brains active.

Finally, I’ve had lots of messages asking me if the antibiotics worked.  Well, yes and no.  They cleared my chest infection so I can now walk uphill again without my chest frantically whistling at me and whilst my sinusitis is a little better, it hasn’t gone completely, so mixed results.

I’m also patiently awaiting my next Rheumatology appointment.  Most hospital departments were reallocated to the frontline during the lockdown, which was understandable, but as they have restarted, I’m hopeful I’ll be seen soon.  I was due to start on new medication before the lockdown and I also had a number of MRI scans and blood tests for which I’m waiting the results. I find it reassuring to know that my treatment is working properly and to go through the physical assessments to assess how my AS is progressing.  Without these appointments I get nervous and worry about the future.  I’m definitely the kind of person who needs to know the full picture so I can deal with it in the best way possible.

Thank you for reading and sharing my blog to raise awareness for autoimmune disease.  I doubt any of us could ever have imagined we would be living in a world where its normal to walk into a bank wearing a face mask and ask for money?

Until next time, keep safe, and #stayalert!



The A Word: Winners and Losers

Cottage life is suiting us well and we haven’t given much thought to our five crates of “stuff” in storage.   When we purchased Beech Cottage last year we were nervous about the prospect of the downstairs bathroom, but we don’t even think about it now. It also has its advantages; arriving home from a long walk and taking a shower, you can stir the spaghetti bolognaise at the same time as the small bathroom is next to the galley kitchen 😊. Living in the centre of a thriving village is also a new experience for us, I find myself chatting to the people who go past our front window regularly, its very sociable.  I also love people watching and currently, with an abundance of visitors to this beautiful area, we are never short of things to see!

The walking is superb and my favourite this week was Logan’s Rock to Sennen return.  Taking in both the North and South Coasts of Cornwall this walk offers dramatic cliff formations and beautiful hidden coves.  It passes through the Minack Theatre, an open-air theatre, constructed above a gully with a rocky granite outcrop jutting into the sea.  The route also takes you around Land’s End, which was a tad busy for me, but the views are breathtaking. My favourite view, however, was without doubt the magical beach at Porthcurno.  Described by some as being a paradise, Porthcurno Beach, located in the far west of Cornwall has won many awards and it’s easy to see why. With gorgeous fine soft white sand washed by a sea that turns turquoise in the sun and high cliffs on both sides providing shelter, it’s an oasis of stunning natural beauty.

It’s a reasonably difficult walk, my Fitbit recorded 38,000 steps and 201 floors so we were ready for a Pint in The Logan Rock Inn on return.  This 16th century traditional village pub is named after the famous Logan Rock which stands a short walk away from the picturesque village of Treen, our starting point earlier that day.

I could write an entire blog about our walks but moving on I want to talk about “losing” and why it’s so much better for personal development than “winning”.   During my career in technology sales, I had to learn to learn to lose gracefully and deal with the emotions of losing.  I would question my ability, perhaps I’m not as good as I thought.  Losing can make you feel more vulnerable too.  I still feel that way when I lose a deal now, I question everything!

However, after going through all the emotions it does help to build character and you learn from the mistakes you made.  In my mind, I haven’t lost unless I give up and stop trying.  Let me put it another way, when we win, how much do we really learn?  Personally, I don’t think we learn much at all! When we win, we’re not challenged, our ego can grow but our skills stay stagnant. 

One of the behaviours of successful people is being able to self-assess.  If we’re willing to self-assess and examine our mistakes following a defeat it provides us with the flaws we need to fix.  Winning makes us feel good, like we’ve accomplished something great, but it doesn’t force us to self-reflect and self-improve. It doesn’t make us better people. Those of us with the ability to look deep into ourselves and find ways to address our failures without falling apart are the ones who ultimately succeed.

Thinking this way has also helped me manage my life living with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a progressive inflammation that can lead to permanent limitation of movement in the spine.  When I was first diagnosed, I wanted a second opinion as I was keen to understand how exercise would help.  We carefully selected a Consultant who, among other roles, worked with the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine (UK), an excellent body leading the NHS Exercise Medicine Service . They also work to improve NHS musculoskeletal outcomes, hence my interest.

During that consultation, I got the green light to exercise, and more importantly the knowledge that exercise was going to help me more than any medicine could.  Having an element of the disease under my own control meant that self-help was definitely the way forward and that’s how I’ve continued to live my best life.  Jamie and I appreciate that one day it might not be so easy but so far so good 😊.

Finally, I want to finish this week talking about “respect” which I often feel is sadly lacking in today’s society.   Respect is a way of treating or thinking about something or someone. … You show respect by being polite and kind. When people are insulted or treated badly, they feel they haven’t been treated with respect. You can respect things as well as people.

In the workplace, in relationships, friendships or on social media people rejecting another person’s thoughts and ideas when their views don’t align with their own is commonplace.   It may be an unconscious action, but it’s a definite sign that a lack of respect exists. Even if you don’t agree, allowing the other person to express themselves shows that you value their perspective.

It’s essential that our society has respect. Without it, our society can’t function well. We must think about the way we act to others, because the smallest act of kindness can truly make a difference and change somebody’s day.

Until next time, keep safe, #stayalert and remember we’re not born winners and we’re not born losers, we are born choosers”


The A Word: Up Shit Creek

Don’t mess with the Bull!

So, what happened?  The official term is “up shit creek without a paddle”, a Scottish slang term meaning to be stuck in a bad situation without anyway of fixing it. The bad situation being shit creek and the ‘paddle’ being the solution.  Our shit creek incident happened last Saturday during our walk along a section of South Coast of Cornwall.

The main difference between the North and South Cornish coasts is surfing vs sailing.  We are located on the North Coast.  There’s an amazing rugged feel to north coast, the undulating dunes, jagged cliffs, and the amazing surf-bashed beaches.  The well-known destinations of Padstow, Rock, St Isaac, and St Ives are all located on the North Coast.

The South Cornwall coast is different.  You’ll find spectacular coastline, hidden coves and beaches, wooded river valleys and estuaries, fantastic sailing waters, cliff top walks, lush sub-tropical gardens and the superb fishing towns and villages such as Mousehole and Mevagissey

The walking can be equally difficult on both coasts for different reasons.  Last Saturday we were walking from Porthallow to St Anthony return a “moderate” 11-mile hike.  This walk started in the fishing village of Porthallow (pronounced ‘Prallow’), a cluster of whitewashed cottages with pilchard cellars and net lofts on the picture-postcard quayside.  The route also takes in the beautiful Helford River and the first leg passed without incident. 

On the return journey we were tempted by the idea that we could cross the Gillan Creek via steppingstones as it was nearly low tide.  This would save nearly 1.5 miles off the return leg and even though the steppingstones were not passable (too much slime) we decided to wade through the creek regardless.  This in itself was quite a challenge. Low tide was still over an hour away, the creek was a mixture of water and green slime and even with my shorts rolled up as far as they would go, I only just made it without falling in or getting wet. 

By the time we reached the scene of the incident we were tired and ready to finish.  About a mile from the car, the field we had crossed earlier was now full of cows and a rather evil looking Bull.  They had surrounded the only exit point.  We approached tentatively and tried to work our way around the herd towards the style, however, the cows had a different idea and completely surrounded us, leaving us with one escape route through an area of overgrown brambles.  With our legs now covered in blood ripped from the brambles, our only option was to jump a five-bar gate and wait until the herd had moved to a different area of the field which they eventually did.  On arrival at the car park we must have looked a bit of a sorry sight to the rather neat and tidy people who were sightseeing.

Moo-ving on I thought it apt to continue to talk about finding solutions to problems and “coaching” was a very valuable part of my career.  Many organisations offer a training budget as part of their benefit package.  This can be very valuable to employees to enhance their skills.  However, in some circumstances I think coaching is better.  Essentially, the difference between training and coaching is that training is about transferring knowledge while coaching is about enhancing the knowledge or skills you already have, mostly around improving results.

Training is excellent for things like new-hire induction, procedures, technology, and new governmental regulations. It trains something specific and can be a one-time event. 

Coaching, on the other hand, sometimes has a bad reputation because it’s so often used to deliver critical or constructive feedback.  If you can handle this, it’s a superb way of developing critical thinking and decision-making.

Unlike training, which is mostly group based, coaching is normally carried out on a one-to-one basis.  I was lucky enough to work with an excellent coach during my sales management career and I can honestly say that I had some real lightbulb moments 💡.  The ability to find solutions to problems has helped me through many of life’s challenges (apart from getting surrounded by cows!).

I write my blog to raise awareness of autoimmune disease and as my readers will know in addition to my ankylosing spondylitis, I have endured months of sinusitis which I thought was getting better.  However, it decided to move onto my chest so reluctantly I have succumbed to taking antibiotics.  Having a productive cough is a classic sinus infection symptom. You feel a heaviness in your chest and a rattling when you breathe on top of this, you may have bronchitis so it’s essential to get it treated.

I am on Day 2, so I’ll let you know how I get on.  I’m not convinced they’ll work though.  The doctor said in her experience they were more miss than hit and recently, researchers in Southampton have discovered a ‘hidden reservoir of bacteria’ in the nose that can prevent antibiotics being effective in the treatment of chronic sinus infections, so we’ll see.

Finally, this week I wanted to leave you with some facts on cows 😊

  • Cows can lie down for up to 14 hours a day
  • They can’t sleep standing up
  • They can eat up to 50kg of food a day
  • They can drink up to a bathtub of water a day or 60 litres
  • And finally, Cows have their favourite companions – just like us! I suspect the brown one with the ring through its nose in the picture took a real liking to Jamie and I last Saturday.

Whilst our Cornish adventure continues, keep safe, #stayalert and watch out for the Cows.

The A Word: Life’s a Beach

St Agnes, Cornwall

Our first week living by the sea in St Agnes has been lovely.  We’ve been able to work efficiently and the walking has been superb.  For the last 20 years our visits to this beautiful village on the North Coast have been in Spring, Autumn and Winter but being here in the Summer has been wonderful.  The sea is the most amazing mix of aqua and deep blue, and whilst Cornwall is busier than at other times in the year, its been so good to see the hospitality industry welcome guests again as its been particularly hard hit here in the South West. 

We’ve been to the pub for a pint, we’re off out for dinner tonight for the first time since early March and Jamie is playing his first game of cricket on Sunday.  We’re also making good progress on our new home in Hampshire but as with all these transactions they are always slower than you would like.  More on this next week.

This week I want to talk about mistakes and how we can learn by them.  Jamie and I went through a learning experience last year with our house sale.  We originally accepted an offer on our house in May 2019, but we pulled out 2 days later and decided to take the house off the market.  We’d been trying to sell since 2018 and, reluctantly, reduced the price several times.  When we eventually received an offer, we were tired of tidying up for viewings, tired of time wasters and generally tired of trying to sell so we accepted the offer even though it didn’t feel right.  The decision to pull out was extremely difficult as we were effectively putting our life plan on hold.  When we marketed it again this year it sold within 4 weeks at the asking price (which was a good deal higher than the offer we accepted last year). 

So, what did we learn?  It was a mistake to put the house on the market at a time when the property sector was on a downward spiral, but we were so keen to push on with our plan that we went ahead anyway.  It was also a mistake to accept an offer we weren’t happy with.  Fortunately, Jamie and I were able to acknowledge those mistakes and we were prepared to make the difficult decisions to change our plans.  By doing so and being patient, we have benefited in the long term.

Like most people, I’ve made many mistakes during my career too some of which, unlike our house sale, weren’t rectified in time.  No one is immune to making mistakes but it’s not good enough to carry on as before as it puts us in danger of repeating the same errors.  When we don’t learn from our mistakes, we inflict unnecessary stress on ourselves and on others.  You can’t start to learn anything from a mistake until you admit that you’ve made it which is the part a lot of people find difficult.  Its like the old interview question:

“talk about a recent mistake you’ve made and what you learned from it”?

I love that question and, whilst its old hat,  it really does help you to determine whether someone really can acknowledge and learn from their errors.  In my view, failure is a critical step in the path to eventual success. The most successful people are those who know how to learn from their mistakes, not people who never make mistakes and I can tell you, there are loads of those people around 😊.

There’s a great quote from the inventor, Thomas Edison (paraphrased) in reference to his experiments: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” As such, he was encouraged to try new things, take risks, and learn through trial and error

That said, dwelling upon mistakes is not so good.  This will diminish your self-confidence and affect performance.  Moreover, when you dwell on mistakes it can trigger the habits of procrastination and perfectionism, as well as other emotions such as anger, stress, worry, fear, and frustration. This is certainly no way to live.  We wouldn’t have sold our house had we have dwelled on the mistakes from the previous year and considering that mistakes are actually a positive and transformative force in your life, you can see how many people have it all wrong.

Moving on, thank you so much for all the responses on my sinusitis, I really appreciate people taking the time to write to me.  There were some great tips and whilst it hasn’t gone away, I do feel it’s improving. 

As readers of my blog know, I write my story to raise awareness of autoimmune disease and I often get questions about flare-ups and how I manage them.  The classic sign of autoimmune disease is inflammation, which can cause redness, heat, pain and swelling.  All autoimmune diseases have flareups, when they get worse, and remissions, when symptoms get better.  Treatment depends on the disease, but in most cases one important goal is to reduce inflammation.

During a flare-up my body feels like it’s on fire. I have aches and pains everywhere, especially in my neck and back. I feel swollen and bloated, and even my teeth hurt as sinusitis kicks in.  I am more anxious than usual and feel lethargic and all I want to do is “wallow”.  However, I’ve learned that wallowing only makes things worse and I’ve got much better at managing my medication.  In addition, I also make sure I look after myself better.  I drink lots of water, eat loads of fruit and veg, force myself to continue to workout (which takes tremendous willpower) and get sufficient sleep. 

It’s also crucial to suppress inflammation during flares and for severe flares I have taken the steroid prednisone, which generally improves my symptoms within days, but I don’t like to take them too often.  It’s not fun but learning to manage the bad times definitely improves lifestyle.

Finally, this week I want to talk about Karen! Originating in the US, A Karen, in case you didn’t know, is a term used on social media to denote a typically middle-aged woman who is unaware of her ‘white privilege’.  I learned this in a trailer this week for a BBC podcast called No Country for Young Women.

Basically, the interpretation is that any woman of my generation who fails to accept her “white privilege” is obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often racist.  However, for the same reason, it’s also why the Karen meme is so wrong. Because it’s the other side of the same coin. It judges people — specifically women — on their colour, sex, age and social background!

There are lunatics on both sides of this culture war and if we carry on like this the end result will not be good.

Until next time, stay safe, #stayalert and #bekind.  My grandson finished school yesterday for the summer holidays.  Next year he moves into a different class.  He was delighted when told about his new teacher and when I asked him why he said “she is very kind Nana”….


The A Word: Eat, Sleep, Relax, Repeat

“Eventually all the pieces fall into place.  Until then laugh at the confusion, live for the moment and know that everything happens a reason”. 

The first stage of our house move is complete, our “stuff” is in storage and we’re in Cornwall.  It was very tiring, and I didn’t sleep particularly well for the days beforehand, so I was ready for a rest when we arrived at the cottage.  They do say moving home is the 3rd most taxing life event and I completely agree.

The stressful nature of this move has been somewhat exacerbated for me as I had lived in the house for longer than I had lived anywhere else.  For the first 17 years of my life I lived in 7 different homes.  From 17 to 36 I lived in 8 and these last 20 years have been my most stable (only 2 changes) and I have really enjoyed the constancy.

We’ve had an offer accepted on a property in Hampshire, closer to our families and with a mainline station to London. If all goes well, we anticipate being able to complete the second stage of our move in August so for the time being we will enjoy our time in the beautiful South West.

I do need to make a determined effort to relax as I’m rubbish at it.  My Fitbit normally reports 13 out of 13 active hours per day which I know is crazy.  I need to allocate more time to “limin”, a Caribbean word I love which means to hang out or to idly pass time.  I first heard the word when we went on our honeymoon to St Lucia. 

It’s a long story – we were due to go to Antigua, but the resort over-booked and we were asked to switch resorts to St Lucia. In return for the inconvenience, the holiday company upgraded our room to a beach front suite with a concierge service.  The concierge service was completed wasted on Jamie and I as we’re so low maintenance.  Our bar was stocked up every day and, as neither Jamie nor I drink spirits we gave them away to the locals we met on the beach.  One chap, Daniel, used to come and sit with us daily sharing his wonderful stories of life growing up in Caribbean. We returned the favour by giving Daniel our rum and whatever else took his fancy from our bar which was then restocked in time for Daniel’s stories the following day.   I loved listening to his tales of life in St Lucia and the word “limin” has stayed with ever since.  I can never understand why people don’t interact more with locals on holiday, we’ve learnt so much about the places we visit which you will never learn from a tour operator.

The other gripe I have is the way people speak to restaurant or bar staff which I notice more when we’re away on holiday.  Growing up I’ve had many waitress and bar jobs and most people are OK, but there’s always a few who talk down to you. I’ve always disliked any form of snobbery and I’m not a big fan of social class.  The classic formulation of social class in Britain is to see us being divided into three classes: working, middle and upper class.

Simply put, working class is normally defined as those in manual work, often having lower levels of educational achievement.   Middle class is generally categorised as individuals having higher levels of educational achievement.  Typical jobs include everything from doctors and lawyers to people working in cerical roles. Upper class is described as being the social group that has the highest status in society, especially the aristocracy.

To me, everyone is the same no matter what their social class, colour, religion or wealth.  I was born into and brought up in a working-class environment in the North West UK.  My entrance into the world and the first 6 weeks of my life is a story for another day.  I often feel more comfortable with people from my working-class upbringing however nowadays I can pretty much hold my own in any environment. During my career I did face some snobbery because of my lack of University education which was mostly from other women.  I allowed it to worry me and it definitely affected my confidence.  It would always come at a time when I had been particularly successful or taken on a new, more senior role.  I could never understand it as I’ve always strived to help and support other women in my working life.   That said, some of my best working relationships have also been with women and I can’t speak highly enough about some of the female colleagues I have had the pleasure to work with over the years. 

So with that emotional brain dump done, the reason for writing my weekly blog is to raise awareness of autoimmune disease and this week I am asking for help.  I’ve had Sinusitis, an inflammation of the lining of the nasal cavity and sinuses since February, yes! 5 months.  I should have taken antibiotics (which I have done for previous bouts) but I am taking so much medication at the moment that I haven’t bothered.

Seasonal allergies or an upper respiratory tract infection can cause sinusitis and symptoms include headache, nasal obstruction, decreased sense of smell, facial pain, ear pain, toothache and fever, most of which I have.   There are some autoimmine diseases that are associated with Sinusitis, but not any of the ones I have.  If any of my readers have any information on their experience of chronic sinusitis I would love to hear your story, especially if you have any tips as it drives me mad.  I’m hopeful that being in Cornwall and breathing in fresh air will help.

Finally, for this week, I can’t believe its July.  I do hope it treats us better than March, April May and June.  I’ve always love July; it’s the warmest month in the Northern Hemisphere on average, similar to January in the Southern Hemisphere.   Sometimes the hot, long days of July are called the “dog days of summer” and it’s often called the Hay month when the grass dries out due to a lack of rain and can be made into hay.  July’s birthstone, the ruby, is associated with contentment, love and passion, something I don’t see a lot of on my Twitter feed 😊

Until next time, stay safe and #stayalert…

The A Word: Living in a Material World

With a great hat comes great responsibility

This is my last blog from our current home; I’ll be sad to leave but I don’t get too emotional over these things and I’m ready to move on to the next phase of our life.  Last week I said our house purchase had fallen through so our furniture is going into storage and we are heading off to Cornwall for the Summer.  Our business is completely portable as all our applications are in the “cloud” and we’re currently interviewing via Zoom so all is good.  I’ve also stopped worrying about my haircut, it doesn’t seem important in the overall scheme of things 😊.

This move has certainly made me think about “material possessions”.  We’re living in a highly materialistic society and, to some extent, lockdown has taught us that the best things in life are generally not “things”.

During my lifetime, our society has grown more materialistic.  Social media is partly responsible and there’s a lot of emphasis on the brand of clothes you wear or what car you’re driving.  Some people look at others who live in luxury and think that they are living a happier life than theirs. This is the impression that society embeds in our heads and leads to many of us spending our time trying to earn more money rather than achieving happiness.   In addition, our society doesn’t help as its constantly bombarding us to buy more because we live in a society that only functions if people continue to spend.

Whilst I don’t spend excessively, I do like nice clothes.  I’m fortunate that I’ve weighed around 56 kilos since my early 20’s so clothes I bought years ago still fit and I do look after them. There’s also an argument that wanting more in life is a good way to motivate ourselves.  I’ve worked hard since I was 18 often long hours in stressful roles as has my husband Jamie and it’s helped us to achieve a lifestyle that we are very content with.  That said, there are always compromises and I do feel I could have been a better  “Mum” if I hadn’t worked so hard.   Finding a happy middle ground so you can have nice things but not too many seems like a good plan to me.

The opposite of materialism is minimalism, and this also sounds attractive 😊.  This is someone who prioritises living with less to achieve freedom.  Freedom can be defined in lots of ways, financial freedom, freedom from “stuff,” even freedom from a place.  When you have a house full of new clothes or all the newest gadgets its more difficult to up stakes and start travelling.  Stuff often weighs you down, psychologically, and geographically. If we can stop buying and stop holding onto all that stuff, think of the benefits to be had!  Perhaps we have succeeded in life when all we really want is only what we really need.

Moving on, Jamie and I have saved so much money and eaten a healthier diet by not being able to eat out or go to the pub and I wanted to talk about the benefits of a healthy diet when living with autoimmune disease.  I’m a great believer in cooking and eating good food as it has a very positive impact on our overall wellbeing.

One thing most people in the autoimmunity field agree on is that there’s a lack of evidence-based information about dietary treatments for autoimmune diseases. The best suggestions are that we follow a good diet and exercise regime to attain general health. 

I’ve spoken previously about new evidence supporting the Microbiome and Autoimmunity and this is something I’m continuing to investigate.  I’ve also talked about the importance of Vitamin D which I now take.  The nutritional management of autoimmune disease usually emphasises foods to boost the immune system which I make sure I includeAutoimmune diseases are painful and disruptive to everyday life.  At their core, they have one thing in common: an out-of-control immune response, linked with systemic inflammation and the right diet can help ease pain. In general, I avoid sugar and focus on fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, fish and organic meat.

My stepdaughter Ellie is a fabulous example of what a good diet can achieve.  Ellie has IBS and Fibromyalgia and I also suspect an undiagnosed autoimmune disease, possibly Lupus.   Over the years, Ellie has had to cut out many food groups as they made her feel so ill.  It has taken her a long time to find the right food combinations to suit her and she now eats a pescatarian and low fodmap diet.  I cannot emphasise enough how well Ellie looks and feels; it has made such a difference to every aspect of her life.  She has started an Instagram account (ellie_sw15) diarising her journey to a healthier and fitter lifestyle, including all the recipes and photos of the wonderful food she makes.  Following Ellie’s experience, I’ve seen first-hand how a good nutritional diet can make such a difference to the way we feel both physically and mentally. 

Talking of healthy food, I want to end this week’s blog chatting about fish and chips.  Freshly cooked, piping hot fish and chips, smothered in salt and vinegar, wrapped in newspaper, and eaten outdoors by the sea is just perfect.

The potato is thought to have been brought to England from the New World in the 17th century by Sir Walter Raleigh although it’s believed that the French invented the fried potato chip.  Both Lancashire and London claim to being the first to invent this famous meal – chips were a cheap, staple food of the industrial north whilst fried fish was introduced in London’s East End.

So are fish and chips any good for us, nutritionally? Fish and chips are a valuable source of protein, fibre, iron, and vitamins, providing a third of the recommended daily allowance of vitamins for men and nearly half for women.  Apparently, there are now around 8,500 fish and chip shops across the UK, that’s 8 for every 1 McDonald’s, making fish and chips the Brits favourite take-away.

This time next week I’ll be eating my fish and chips by the sea from the best fish and chip shop in the UK and I can’t wait.  I also can’t wait to go to the pub on 4th July and Jamie and I will be first in the queue 😊.  I know, such style, fish and chips and a pint of lager and I’m a very happy girl.  You can take girl out of the North but you can’t take the North out of the girl!

Cheers, Prost, Santé, Yamas, Cin cin, Salud

Until next week, stay safe and #StayAlert xxxx

The A Word: Self Promotion or Bragging?

How a hat makes you feel is what a hat is all about

Hats are my new “go to” accessory.  Until recently I thought they were only worn at weddings and Ascot, but they are proving very useful due to my unplanned “bouffant” hairstyle.  I was beyond excited when I bumped into my hairdresser in the high street last week; they are hopeful of a 4th July opening and I’m on the waiting list.  However, there’s a slight problem, we’re moving on the 2nd and more on that stressful event later.

As our nation starts to return work it got me thinking about the subject of self-promotion, a topic we covered regularly during my sales training.  Self-promotion is attempting to present yourself to others as an accomplished, capable, smart, and skilled person.  It can be done through face-to-face conversation, on blogs or social media platforms, or even through our mannerisms, posture, speech, or dress.   

Self-promotion is necessary for anyone running a business.  It’s important when interviewing for a new job, especially when competing with say 20 other applicants or even when vying for promotion.   In my current job, I interview people every day, some self-promote well and others don’t.  If someone has great skills, I try to help them with their self-promotion techniques as some people just don’t feel comfortable with it.   That said, it’s a fine balance as a boastful manner is unattractive and favourable impressions can also be accomplished by modesty or even self-denigration.

So, what’s the solution? How do you ensure your achievements and your unique selling points don’t get lost while avoiding annoying everyone with your bragging?   During sales training we were reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote:

“You don’t talk because you want to say something, you talk because you have something to say.”

People generally don’t value confidence and self-promotion unless it’s accompanied by competence. I follow a number of people on Instagram who do self-promotion well but its combined with competence and knowledge in their chosen field so, as a follower, you receive value.

Writing my blog to raise awareness of autoimmune disease has been a new venture for me and, to start with, I loved writing it, but felt uncomfortable promoting it even though sales and marketing has always been a part of my career.  I’ve got better over time, mostly due all the nice comments I receive from people who enjoy reading it.

Research also concludes that gender has a strong influence in how much a person pushes themselves forward.  In most cultures there tends to be a view that confidence and self-promotion are more desirable male characteristics, whilst modesty and group-affiliation are more feminine ones 😊. 

Parking self-promotion for now, I want to talk about driving and the affect my ankylosing spondylitis has had on my ability to drive.  As AS attacks the spine it causes pain and swelling between the vertebrae, as well as in the joints between the spine and pelvis. I also have pain in my mid-back and neck which often gets worse when I’m in one position for an extended period of time, including sitting in a car, or on an airplane.   Even before my diagnosis my range of motion was often affected, making it difficult to check to the side and behind, affecting my driving.

If I’m in pain now, I tend to avoid driving long distances which is an inconvenience.  I also had a car accident around the same time as my diagnosis.  I was hit by a lorry who failed to see me overtaking him when he pulled out.  Whilst I was uninjured, the car and the motorway crash barriers were written-off and I was very lucky.  It knocked my confidence and I haven’t driven as much as I would like since those two events.  This is something I intend to work on over the course of the next year as my driving skills have definitely deteriorated!

And so, to my finale, our house move!  OMG, it’s so stressful.  We’ve lived in our family house for 16 years and moving seemed like great idea until we started the process.  I’ve read so many stories about how moving to a new house represents a transition in life and this move is certainly part of our life plan.  

However, moving home is also about change and unfamiliarity and for many people (including me) it can cause stress and anxiety.   I adore familiarity, routine, and order, they are my best friends.  When you’re moving, you have none of these, hence the challenge!

We’re also downsizing, and Jamie and I have been working towards this move for over a year.  Not only do we have the 16 years of our life in this house, we also have our previous 40 years packed away in cupboards too.   This house has A LOT OF STORAGE.  We’ve been quite ruthless assessing whether our “stuff” is still useful.   If not, we reasoned that it still wouldn’t be useful packed away in a box in our new house, so it’s gone.  We’ve exchanged contracts on our house and move out on 2nd July, hence my distress at my hairdresser opening on 4th!

To add to this distress, we’ve pulled out of our house purchase due to some complications with boundary lines.

As Joel Osteen said, the life in front of you is so much more important than the life behind you so fingers crossed for the next chapter

Until next time, keep safe. #StayAlert xxx

The A Word: Is Happiness Overrated?

2020 has certainly packed a punch so far and there are mixed opinions on how quickly we should return to normal.  I can see both sides of the argument and protecting life should always take priority.  Whilst the furlough scheme has protected some, many other people have suffered because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, so I’m in favour of the tentative approach to open up our Country. 

Interestingly YouGov’s mood tracker picked up many changes in the nation’s emotional state during lockdown.  In March, the nation’s mood was unaffected by the virus. Since that point, things have taken a turn for the worse.

The tracker was launched in July last year and the most common emotion in Britain was “happy”, with an average of 50%. In early March before lockdown 50% of Britons said this had been how they had felt.  Since then, however, this figure has plummeted to just 26%. In fact, happiness is now only the sixth most commonly cited emotion, behind negative emotions such as stress, frustration and feeling scared and unsettled.  Boredom was also up and feeling content was down.

It got me thinking about how much emphasis is placed on happiness which is generally defined as the experience of frequent positive thoughts, such as joy, elation, and delight.  However, the pursuit of happiness can be expensive and time-consuming.  Money can buy us temporary happiness but after depleting our funds, we always come back ‘down’ to our natural state.

Contentment is different to happiness.  Contentment is generally defined as a longer lasting, but a deeper feeling of satisfaction and gratitude.  Being content is a state, whereas happiness is a moment. A content person does not need to always be happy, as long as there aren’t too many unhappy moments.

If we’re content with ourselves, we’ll have more time and energy to live and experience life, in both its delightful and wonderful moments. It doesn’t mean we can’t have goals for a better or different lifestyle, but it’s important to find acceptance and contentment no matter what your situation. Even if you have nothing, you can enjoy a sunrise or sunset.  During lockdown I’ve appreciated different things such as the birdsong on our walks, the beauty of our countryside, eating some of the wonderful bread and cakes baked by my husband and, except for some of my ungrateful days, I mostly felt content.  In my opinion, feeling content is more important than feeling happy.

That said, one of the biggest influencing factors to feeling content is our health, both physical and mental.  Living with autoimmune disease means you do have bad days but knowing what is wrong with you and being in control of your illness certainly helps.  The problem with autoimmune disease is that it is often difficult to diagnose so you may be living with health issues but every time you visit a GP or hospital, there is no obvious reason for your distress which contributes to mental health too.

I  lived with chronic pain and other unpleasant symptoms for 23 years until I finally received my diagnosis for ankylosing spondylitis.   I first experienced Iritis, an extremely painful inflammation of the eye which is linked to AS in 1992, but wasn’t diagnosed until 2015, by which time my sacroiliac joints had already fused.

If you experience fatigue, aching muscles, numbness or tingling in hands and feet, skin rashes or chronic pain, its important to continue your pursuit to find an answer.  There are other symptoms which are often dismissed such as trouble concentrating or low-grade fever. It’s never just one factor. Diagnosis can also be difficult because these symptoms can come from other common conditions.

There are over 80 autoimmune conditions that scientists know about all of which follow the same pattern when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body.  Normally, the immune system can tell the difference between foreign cells and your own cells.  In an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes part of your body, like your joints or skin, as foreign. It releases proteins called autoantibodies that attack healthy cells, so diagnosis is really important.

Moving on, the term Force Majeure intrigued me when I was selling software and negotiating the contracts. Force Majeure is a common contractual clause which can free parties of liability in the event of specified circumstances beyond the control of the parties.  I always wondered what would trigger it as it never came into play in any of the contracts I was involved in.  It covers events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorism, war, and depending on how a contract is worded, they also cover pandemics.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the social lockdowns in both the UK and internationally have seen a rapid increase in queries relating to force majeure including reports of refused refunds from holiday companies and airlines because of a force majeure clause?  I guess it’s keeping the lawyers busy and I’ll  will be interested to follow the outcome.

My finale this week is about Twitter as it has a reputation of being a very dark place where the ugliest voices are often the loudest.  For me, Twitter is great as I get more click throughs to my blog from Twitter than from any other social media platform by a long way.    I saw a funny quote during lockdown which resonated and pretty much summed Twitter up.

“Twitter is a terrible platform, but, on the other hand it does provide 98% of my entertainment for the day” 😊

Until next time, stay safe, #StayAlert xxx