Health

My grief rituals

As I sit here writing this, it would have been my darling mother’s 89th birthday tomorrow, and whilst it is now nearly three years since she died, as I sat looking through photos, I felt the familiar wave of grief rise up again.

Admittedly, my emotions have been on a roller coaster over the past weeks and months as the lockdown has continued and the massive disruptions have taken their toll on me, as with everybody, but more than that, I have been conscious of Mother’s Day in the UK coming into view in a week or so.

Again, maybe because of the emotional highs and lows, but I have been feeling sad that I don’t have my mother here to send her a card.

So when my very clever emotionally astute 17 year old daughter suggested to me why not write her a card anyway, it got me thinking about how important and helpful it can be to mark these occasions by doing something practical.

I immediately went online and added a Mother’s Day card to our shop for next week and plan to write a lovely card full of love and gratitude to my mother, and already the thought of that makes me smile and feel happier.

So that turned my attention to Mum’s birthday tomorrow and I decided to bake her a cake. You might laugh and think that is odd, but I love baking and was planning to experiment with a rhubarb, orange and almond cake today anyway, and again the thought that whilst it is rising (hopefully) in the oven now, it is dedicated to my beautiful mum, lifts my spirits enormously.

I think we have all struggled with our mental health in some form or another over these strange and difficult months, and I know for me it has been a daily challenge, which has been more successful on some days than others. But acknowledging them, accepting the down days and identifying things that can help you is so important. I shall certainly be baking a cake for Mum on her birthday every year now!

Happy birthday Mum 💜

Gratitude and hope – my cocktail of choice for 2021

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New Year’s Eve 2020

Well, what a year it has been, and what mixed feelings it provokes in me as I sit here reflecting on the year that was 2020.

I am struck by people around me seemingly sticking two fingers up at 2020, and saying good riddance to it. And for good reason of course, as for many it has been a truly terrible year, losing loved ones, suffering serious illness and/or facing financial ruin.

Somehow though, I dont seem to feel that way, despite the huge impact it has had on us as a family. Thankfully we have not lost anybody close to us and have remained healthy throughout, although we have had our fair share of trials and tribulations.

Peter lost his job in January and because of the instability and financial consequences of Covid, he has not yet got another one. We have ridden a massive rollercoaster of emotions, as of course most people have, as over the course of the year, he has undergone several job interview processes, only to have each of the offers snatched away, as either the company folded or put the job offer on hold as the uncertainty of the pandemic continued apace.

Billy had his A-levels cancelled and the last term of his school life expunged and so denied that rite of passage at the end of a long school career. Daisy has had to navigate much of her A-level years learning from a laptop in her bedroom, and despite having completed my course and passed my final exams to become a Kinesiologist, my new business has been thwarted as we all lead our lives under social restrictions.

And yet when I reflect back on the year, I am filled with the warm smiling energy of gratitude. Gratitude. We have so much to be grateful for.

We may have spent much of our savings on living expenses for the year, but we have our health.

We have family, and we have joy and laughter.

We have the most beautiful countryside with the river Itchen literally on our doorstep, and we are witness to the changing seasons, which this year seem to have been more spectacular than ever (or is it just me?)

And we have hope and optimism for the new year and for the future.

Hope and optimism is one of the things that I have come to value and treasure this year. I, for one, can’t live without it. I admit its not always easy to hold onto, and there have been times during the year when I have lost it for a few weeks, but it has to be a conscious choice, and I choose to live with hope and optimism.

So I am welcoming in 2021 with hope and optimism and waving goodbye to 2020 with gratitude.

Much love to everybody

Polly

Boosting your immune system

I wrote this article for my local gym’s weekly newsletter which was published today. They have been brilliant with their social media during lockdown and keeping in touch with all of their members – well done Mimi and team!

Vitamins, gut health & self-esteem by Polly Howard

We all know that it is vitally important to stay fit and healthy during these strange and for many, difficult times, as the fitter we are the less likely we are to catch coronavirus. And that’s where our immune system comes in. We need it to be in the best possible state – fully functioning at as close to 100% as possible.

Much has been spoken in the press about the benefit of vitamins for your immune system – particularly vitamin D, but also A, B and C, as well as zinc. But did you know that 50% of your immune comes from your digestive system and so therefore keeping your gut flora healthy right now is also of paramount importance. As well as trying to eat as healthily as possible and avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar, you could consider taking a good probiotic which will nourish your gut.

One of the other key factors for boosting your immune system is taking care to maintain a positive attitude. Might not sound so simple right now, but your self-esteem is linked to your immune system so really critical to your wellbeing. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by everything going on or talking down to yourself, then you are making yourself more vulnerable to illness.

Try some simple affirmations every morning or when you feel your energy getting a bit negative. These are some you might like to try:

I am doing the best I can.

I accept the situation as it is.

I am grateful for all that I have.

Lastly, don’t forget to nourish your immune with doing something joyful every day! Take regular exercise (which I am sure you are if you are reading this newsletter!), drink plenty of water and make sure you get lots of good replenishing sleep and rest.

Polly Howard is a systematic kinesiologist. Systematic kinesiology is a holistic way to help and support people to enhance and improve their emotional and physical wellbeing. It uses muscle testing to see what is out of balance in the energy system and then treat the whole body using a mental, chemical, physical, electrical approach.


Goodbye to overwhelm

I have been wanting to write a blog post for a while to share the journey I have been on over the past months or even years. And then I thought, what better day to do it than on International Women’s Day as there are so many amazing and inspirational women who have helped me on my way!

I want to talk about overwhelm. I bet that loads of you relate to overwhelm. It is something that I realise that I have lived with forever that I can remember. And in recent years, with the different situations that have arisen, from parents getting ill and dying, to moving house and countries, to losing jobs and income, I have certainly lost count of how many times I have said, I just feel so overwhelmed….

But all of that has gone now. And my life feels so very different without it. And actually it was quite simple to get rid of in the end. As many of you know, I started training to be a systematic kinesiologist 18 months ago shortly after my mother died. At that stage, I wasn’t really thinking in terms of a career change, but it was something I had always been interested in, and as I was feeling so lost and that my life had no purpose, encouraged by lovely kinesiologist friend, Katie, inspirational woman number 1, I signed up for the TASK (The Academy of Systematic Kinesiology) foundation course. I think the first few modules passed in a blur, not sure what I was doing there, fairly overwhelmed by it all, and by the end of those six months, I still didn’t think I would sign up to do the practitioners course the following year, despite being told by several people that I was a ‘natural’.

The turning point for me has been emotional work. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that I have done plenty of soul searching over the past 30 years or so of my life – in fact, I think I first went into therapy aged 26 or 27, and have spent many years dissecting past traumas, relationships, events, etc.

But last year I experienced EFT for the first time with the wonderful Connie, inspirational woman number 2. EFT, for those of you not familiar with the term, is ‘emotionally focused therapy’, or sometimes called ‘emotional freedom technique‘. In short, EFT uses tapping on specific meridian points around the face, which releases stored negative emotions. This may sound strange to some people, but I am a total convert, and it has no doubt changed my life. It has given me the confidence to make better choices for myself. So much so that I signed up for the TASK practitioners course last summer, which I have now very nearly completed.

In systematic kinesiology we also use a form of EFT which we call MTT – meridian tapping therapy. I had my first experience of this last October when on the full week of training for the course. It was the second module and needless to say, I was feeling completely overwhelmed with it all. Overwhelmed by the people on the course with me, overwhelmed by feelings of imposter syndrome (I’m not a therapist, I’m in food and wine – what am I doing here?), overwhelmed by lack of confidence that I would never be able to cope and learn all of this, overwhelmed that everybody else knew more than I did (or so I thought). The list was endless.

On the second day of that week, I had a meltdown. But I was in the right place for my crisis of confidence. Enter fantastic inspirational woman number 3 – Claire, principal of the TASK academy. She did some MTT on me, throwing lots of words at me, mostly about being completely overwhelmed, whilst tapping away on numerous points at the start and ends of various meridians. MTT is almost counter-intuitive as you are repeating lots of negative words describing how you are feeling but the idea is to scramble your brain a bit and almost take a pair of scissors metaphorically-speaking to snip the ends of the brain synapses that have been nurtured for so long with these false beliefs and negative emotions.

It is a not an exaggeration to say that this has changed my life. I no longer feel overwhelmed! Overwhelm is no longer a part of my life. I think I can count two occasions over the past seven months when I have started to feel overwhelmed, but then realised, and stopped, and said to myself and the overwhelm, no thank you, I don’t want you in my life, you are no longer a part of my life. I now love my life and am so much happier without overwhelm.

I have now got my final weekend of training coming up having passed my practical exam and scored 82% in my mock exam, and I am excited about the future, and where it is going to take me – a future without overwhelm.

I love kinesiology, I love helping people, and if I can help people to let go of some of their negative emotions and lead a happier and freer life, then mine will be a happy life well-lived.

I cant end a post about wonderful inspirational women without mentioning my beloved mother, who was brave, funny, vulnerable, kind and loving and would have been 88 on Friday. And so many other wonderful women who have helped and supported me along the way, from childhood friends to new friends and therapists met on all my travels in various countries over several decades along the way – thank you to you all – I wouldn’t be where I am today without you 💜

Nothing like a road trip….

Escaping for a few days R&R has given me time to reflect on the past few weeks. Goodness, you can’t underestimate the power of a little bit of downtime, always so difficult to allow, but the effects are huge.

It’s been a tumultuous few weeks, and whilst there is still so much to do – probate forms to fill in, estate agents to appoint, the house to clear out, when Peter announced last week that he needed to go away for a few days for some business research, I jumped at the chance to go too. Always up for a road trip, but right now, more importantly, I realised that I needed a change of scene, and a chance to unwind, even if only for a couple of days.

We stayed the first two nights at the Cow at Dalbury Lees, in Derbyshire, which I booked following an article in the Times on Saturday morning, very fortuitously for us, about the best summer pubs in Britain. It is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, but a real gem. It is newly refurbished, and uses lots of reclaimed wood and recycled items, such as old polished milk churns for bar stools. Our only negative was that we were put in a room right above the bar, so our first night was fairly noisy, but when we mentioned it the next morning, we were moved to a delightful room at the back of the pub.

As regular readers of my blog will know, coffee is always at the forefront of my mind, and what a pleasant surprise, when a fabulous flat white was served up at breakfast yesterday. I don’t think pubs are usually renowned for their coffee, but the barman at the Cow certainly knew how to make a good one. In fact, everything they served was on point. The chef clearly knows a thing or two. Produce was fresh and everything cooked really well – simple and of the moment.

In fact we have been blown away by the wonderful quality of produce and service everywhere on our trip so far. How times a-change. Lunch yesterday was at Bear in Derby, again lovely contemporary concept – lightly battered cod bites and pulled pork in soft tacos with slaw and avocado, and good flat whites.

Now sitting here in the wonderfully named ‘Medicine Kitchen and Bakery’, this cafe reminds me of some of the fabulous places in Sydney, large airy open spaces with lots of big wooden tables, for lingering over. And whilst I may presently get the probate forms out, it is still wonderful to be in a different environment. Somehow it just makes me feel lighter, less burdened, less sad.

But I am keeping my promise to Mum, wherever I go, she comes with me. I look out of a window, and for a split second, imagine that phone call, where I describe where I am, what I am doing, what I am about to eat or drink. And then I remember, all too quickly, that of course, I can’t do that. But this morning, when those thoughts popped into my head, I smiled, because I realised I was keeping my promise. Of course I will never forget you. I will think of you every day. Forever in my heart, Mum 💜

 

My beautiful mother

I don’t know if everybody experiences grief in different parts of the body, but mine is firmly in the coeliac plexus (formerly known as the solar plexus!) – right there between the ribs, below the breastbone. This is the second time I’ve watched somebody dying in as many years, and whilst I am so grateful to be able to be here daily with my mother, holding her hand, looking into her eyes and telling her that I love her, it is also hard being so close.

I started to go through some of Mum’s papers last week, and what really kick-started my grief was coming across some wonderful letters and photos. One was from Charles Spencer, in response to a letter Mum must have written to him after the death of Diana and his tribute at her funeral. Another was a letter she had published in the Times in 2002 on her love of sprouts, and all the delicious ways to cook and eat them. There was a gorgeous photo of eight glamorous women, called the Lunch Bunch, which was the bridge club Mum was part of for forty years or so.

And I realised that in these past few years of caring for a sick, fading, elderly lady, I had forgotten what an incredible, vital, vibrant, creative creature my beloved Mother had been. She was all of those things and more – not least a fantastic cook producing amazing suppers night after night, and she has loved life and lived it to the full, particularly in most of her thirty five years with Thomas.

I don’t think she will be with us for much longer now, as she no longer wants to eat, except for a few mouthfuls of yogurt, that are gently fed to her by the ever-caring Liz, but her colourful, energetic and beautiful soul are what I want to remember, not the past weeks, or even months or couple of years.

Love you, Mum

Conversations about dying

You know when you open Facebook and those memories pop up? Well, yesterday that happened to me, and my heart skipped a beat. Pure deja vu, and overwhelming sadness. This is what it said….

“Had a lovely chat with Thomas on FaceTime yesterday, so I could see him sitting up in his hospital bed, to which he is now confined, in Mum’s old studio, so he is surrounded by paintings, and looks out onto his beloved garden! He has lots of care and support and still the same old Thomas – strong, stoical and spirited. He has been setting specific time goals to aim for the next thing he wants to be around for – previously it was Christmas, then Mum’s birthday, and now, in the best Thomas spirit, it’s the EU referendum!!!! It did make me smile – I am so happy some things don’t change 😍😍😍“

It is with a heavy heart that I now write about my dear Mother, who has been bedridden since the beginning of March, as her body has weakened significantly, and her appetite is reducing daily. She spends most of her time asleep, and her waking time gazing out of the window at her beloved garden, just as Thomas started to do two years ago.

Mum is of course being looked after beautifully by her (our 😍😍) wonderful carer, Liz, who ensures that she is always comfortable and brings the all important smile to her face.

But I can’t lie, it is very hard being faced with somebody you love dying, and in the same place, same bed, same room. The funny thing was that before even reading ‘my facebook memory’ last night, every time I have walked in and seen Mum over the last week, I have been struck by these feelings of overwhelming sadness that here we are in the same situation again.

We have had many conversations about dying over the past weeks, and you may think this is something intensely personal, and not to be shared. But I think it is a conversation we should be having more often. It is bloody scary, and of course none more so than for the person dying.

One of my mother’s fears is that she will be forgotten. I reminded her that she once told me that she thought about her beloved Mother every day, and had never forgotten her, and I assured her that I will do the same and I will keep her in my heart forever 💜

My January health kick

 

So the festivities are over, the tinsel is packed away for another year, the kids are back at school, and I, like millions of others out there, stood on the scales last Monday morning and got the fright of my life. Initially I was too shocked to move off the scales, but this was swiftly followed by disbelief as I got on and off the scales checking that it was true.

When I have been over-eating, or rather eating too many of the wrong things over a period of time, then I definitely find that part of the weight gain is due to bloating and fluid retention, as my system is inflamed from the amount of food thrown at it – in my case, far too many profiteroles, slices of Yule log, cheese, crisps, croissants, etc, so I figure if I can reduce the inflammation, then I can shed the first kilos quite easily.

But it was more than that, I realised I had had enough of feeling bloated, sluggish and even unwell, and with all the newspapers and online media full of every health tip under the sun and every different diet to try, I realised it was time for me to start being a bit kinder to my body.

 

For most of us, our biggest enemies are probably what I call the bad carbs – so the usual culprits that include anything with sugar, plus crisps, croissants, which are my personal downfall, and i know that if I just cut those out, then I will lose those extra kilos fairly quickly.

However, as it was not just about losing weight, I decided to kick start the healthy eating plan by also giving up dairy, fructose and red meat, so as to better give my system a bit of a breather.

My biggest discovery, and the one element of fun in this whole process, has been the food diary app, MyNetDiary. I absolutely LOVE it – it definitely appeals to my OCD tendencies. I cant help laughing when I say, or type, that, because it is something that Peter has been using for several years now, and boy, have I given him a hard time about it – weighing every nut that he consumes!

So now, it is my turn. I am having to eat my words (and sadly not much else), as I pedantically weigh every oat flake, houmous lick and oil dribble. But it is fun – i know, maybe not everybody’s idea of fun – I adore scanning all of the bar codes and adding all of the data (again, sad), and it sort of gives it all a focus. The scary bit is that it actually makes you realise how many calories you consume and what and where they are hidden. That handful of nuts I am used to chucking in my mouth, whenever the urge takes me, is practically 150 calories right there and then.

And the more activity I can add, the more calories it gives me to eat, so guess what, it definitely encourages me to fit an extra walk in where I can.

So far so good – day ten and hopefully it goes without saying that I feel much better already – slowly getting rid of the bad stuff from my body, as well as shedding two kilos of unwanted extra baggage.

Sunday morning treat – sugar free pancakes with low-fructose fruit and maple syrup