Living With PCOS

Something that I haven’t talked about very much on my blog, is that I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, PCOS for short.  I was diagnosed with this when I was eighteen but it’s really only in the last couple of years that I have learned anything about it.  PCOS is where women have an elevated male hormone and comes with a number of symptoms, which differ from woman to woman.  These include irregular or no periods, mood swings and depression, acne, excess facial and body hair, pelvic pain, difficulty conceiving and difficulty losing weight.  Diabetes type 2 can also be associated with PCOS, as can Endometrial cancer and heart disease.

When I was first diagnosed, I had gone for seven months without my period.  At first I didn’t mind, I’m sure all women can relate to the inconvenience that is our monthly visitor, so I didn’t do anything about it.  After a while though, I thought it was a bit strange, so I decided it was time to find out what was going on.

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My doctor told me that it could be PCOS and sent me for an ultrasound and blood tests to investigate further and it wasn’t long before she told me that I did in fact, have PCOS.  Cool, so what I had wrong with me had a name!  She told me that I had too much testosterone and that polycystic meant ‘many cysts.’  I was instantly ashamed, testosterone!  Did that mean I wasn’t really a woman?  Up until that point I didn’t even know that women had testosterone!  She gave me a small leaflet to flick through, put me on a specific contraceptive pill called Estelle, which was apparently designed for women with PCOS and told me to lose weight and quit smoking.  She also told me I would be unlikely to ever fall pregnant and then told me in the next breath that a cure for PCOS was to fall pregnant.  Um…?

I don’t remember a lot about the leaflet, except that it didn’t tell me much other than to tell me that PCOS was the reason I had recently started sprouting random dark hairs on my upper chest, neck and face.  I didn’t have a moustache or anything embarrassing like that, just stray hairs that I regularly plucked to avoid embarrassment.  It was also well before the days of having Google on my phone on the go, so I didn’t really do any research.  It was back when I thought that doctors knew everything and I assumed that the leaflet was all the information that I needed.  I went on the pill, my period came back due to the sugar pills, the excess hair disappeared and after a few months a follow up blood test showed that my testosterone levels were normal.  Cured!

Or so I thought.  It turns out, PCOS has no cure and as soon as I took a break from the pill, the excess hair came back and my testosterone levels soared again.  The cause of PCOS is uncertain, although there is evidence to suggest that it is a genetic condition.  For me, it is likely that PCOS has played a part in my mental illness, although being on The Pill did nothing to alleviate my depression symptoms, so maybe it is not related. Obviously I will never know if depression and anxiety would have been a part of my life without PCOS, but there are strong links associated.  My diagnosis for depression and PCOS were within quick succession of each other, although looking back I feel like I always had a struggle with mental illness, even as a child.

Irregular periods are the norm for me. They are heavy and painful and can happen as often as a week apart and as spaced out as six to seven weeks apart. I don’t calculate them, because I just never know. They are somewhat painful, but as I’ve gotten older the pain has decreased, which I’ve heard is unusual. The downside is as I’ve gotten older, the bad moods that come with my period have gotten worse, especially on the first day. It is not uncommon for the smallest thing to make me instantly ropable on the first day of my period these days.

PCOS is a factor in my struggle to lose weight.  A common symptom of it is insulin resistance and while I don’t have that, like many women with PCOS, I do struggle to lose weight and I gain it back very quickly.  For me, a diet of unprocessed food was the only successful weight loss method, but for other women with PCOS, a low carb diet is the way to go to combat the insulin resistance.  Even then, some women have little success.  Obesity and being overweight is a very common symptom for women with PCOS. It’s an unfortunate catch 22 as there is evidence to suggest that weight loss can help diminish PCOS symptoms, but of course often a lot harder to lose weight when you have it.

I also used to experience a lot of pelvic pain.  It didn’t matter what time of the month it was, I felt period pain all year round, sometimes so extreme that I would have to stop what I was doing and wait it out.  Interestingly enough the pain seemed to be worse when I didn’t have my period.  Since completing my elimination diet, I have only had small amounts of pelvic pain, usually after excessive gluten consumption, and it hasn’t been crippling like it used to be, so again, like with my mental health, I am unsure if this was a PCOS symptom, or coincidence.

The stray hairs are now a part of my daily life, with or without the contraceptive pill.  I have been lucky enough to not experience much acne, even in my teenage years, but I have taken to carrying a pair of tweezers with me wherever I go, in case I notice a dark unwanted hair.  They tend to pop up anywhere on my neck, near my ears on my jawline, between my breasts and anywhere on my chest.  It’s not uncommon for me to spend a few minutes a day, straining the skin on my jawline to make sure I haven’t missed any.  These hairs are darker than my natural hair and also coarser.  They used to be a source of embarrassment for me, but I’ve actually only ever had one comment about one that was on my neck, because it was before I knew that I had them.  I’m pretty sure that until this blog post it was a source of private embarrassment for me.

In the past couple of years I have done a lot more research about PCOS and while I’m in no way an expert, I do feel lucky to have discovered that my suffering of this is mild compared to what a lot of women have to deal with.  Sure, I struggle with weight, irregular periods, have the annoying excess hair and used to have to deal with the pain, but a lot of women have it worse.  For some, it causes extreme heavy and uncomfortable periods, others have to deal with the insulin resistance and others unfortunately do have infertility as a result.

Infertility is not an issue for me.  I am pregnant now for the second time in my life.  The first time, I was on the pill, which obviously failed.  This pregnancy turned out to be ectopic, which also has links to PCOS, but I felt lucky knowing that at least I could get pregnant if I wanted to.  I was on the pill and while that isn’t foolproof, it sure makes it harder to get pregnant, which in my mind meant that fertility, while coming with the risk of another ectopic pregnancy, wasn’t going to be impossible for me.  This time round, my pregnancy was planned amd so far is going well, which is all I can ask for, although I expected it to take a longer period of trying before we had success.  The other thing that surprised me is that I expected the excess hair to go away while pregnant, which it hasn’t.  I now realise that this is something that I will always have to deal with.

For anyone who has been diagnosed with PCOS, I urge you to do your research.  Ask questions, go and see a specialist, don’t just accept it like I did.  There is a lot of misinformation out there, so ask your friends as well.  In the last year I have discovered that a surprisingly large number of the women I know also suffer from PCOS, all to varying degrees and with varying issues of their own.  Some women find ways to cope through diet and exercise and others need more specialised help, but it’s all about not being ashamed and not letting it take over your life.

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie

 

How Did I do 2015?

What a year!  One day left in it and I can honestly say, I’m exhausted!  It’s been a big year, so much has changed and gone on.  I’ve got two weeks holiday coming up and I absolutely can’t wait, just one more day of work to go then two weeks with no alarm.  What could be better than that?

Tomorrow is the last day of 2015 and it’s the first year where I really feel like I’ve done myself proud.  I’ve had a year of ups and downs, so much has gone right and probably the same amount has gone wrong, but I have come out the other side of all of it a better person.

Not long after I started this blog I posted Goals and Whether You Should Keep Them about my ten goals for the year and today I thought being so close to the end of the year, what better time to review how I’ve done.

Goal One: Become debt free.

I’m not 100% debt free, I still have my student loan, but I no longer have any outstanding bills, hire purchases or other debts.  Considering that it’s been a tough year financially for me, I am very proud of this fact.  I just about cried the day I paid my car off!

Goal Two: Read at least one book per month.

I read three books this year.  I was just too busy and there was a period of a few months where my anxiety was way too high and it is almost impossible to read when that happens.  I probably read more books last year, but I’m still okay with not achieving this goal.  I have instead improved my writing skills, read a lot of different blogs and learned so much from them.  And, I got accepted into a writing course for next year, where I will have a published author be my mentor and get the opportunity to advance my skills further.  I think my aim to get published one day is getting closer to becoming a reality!

Goal Three: Complete a full elimination diet.

I did this and it was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.  If you’ve been following me for a while you will know just how life changing this was.  I have way too many posts on this to reference them, but there is an Elimination Diet section on this blog.

Goal Four: Run the entire City 2 Surf of 14 km.

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Cross this one off the list, I exceeded my expectations that day!  Up until the race day I had only run about 5-6 km in one hit so you can imagine just how ecstatic I was when I crossed the finish line, having jogged the entire distance.  I wasn’t even sore the next day (thanks yoga).

Goal Five: Be able to do the splits.

Unfortunately, this is still a way off, but not for lack of trying.  I think the amount of walking and jogging that I do is a factor, as this shortens the hamstrings, however I am closer to being able to do the splits than ever before.  I will be continuing this attempt into 2016.

Goal Six: Bike to work at least once a week (unless raining).

No, this did not happen.  I did bike a lot, way more than last year, but not once a week. I also took the bus and walked the 3km from the bus stop to work a lot more as well.  Part of the reason behind this goal was to save money on petrol, which I definitely was able to do.

Goal Seven: Volunteer time to a cause each month.

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t do this one.  I did however raise over $300 during Junk Free June for The Cancer Foundation, raised $150 during Movember for the Movember Foundation and a friend and I dressed all in pink one day and spent the afternoon collecting for the Pink Ribbon Street Appeal as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  This was more volunteering than last year, which is a good start.

Goal Eight: Learn ‘Lonely Day’ (SOAD) on my guitar.

I still haven’t picked up my guitar.  My free time has been focused more on writing.  Maybe one day.

Goal Nine: Fit comfortably into my goal pants, dress and jacket.

This is a bit of a pass and fail. I achieved this by the end of March, which was very exciting, however it isn’t something I was able to maintain for the entire year (see here).  I did manage for most of the year though and I am still wearing my goal jacket, so this is more of a win than a fail.

Goal Ten: Be grateful, stay happy.

If you read my post Gratitude and Family, you will know that I have achieved this. I am the happiest I have been, ever. This is in part due to all my achievements, but it is also a side effect of being grateful. I seriously recommend gratitude.  I still have my low days, more than I should have lately, but I can always find something good in every day and that’s pretty awesome.

When I started this blog at the beginning of the year, I had no idea that the person writing the last post of the year would be completely different, both inside and out.  I didn’t think it was possible to have this many positive changes in such a short space of time, but it is.  I haven’t achieved everything I set out to, but I haven’t given up and I already know of a few great things in store for me in 2016.

I hope you all have a wonderful new year, no matter how you are celebrating and hope to see you back here next year.

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie

When You Lose Weight

I lost a lot of weight this year and I’m going to say it, that was the easy part.  During my Elimination Diet the weight just melted away.  I lost three dress sizes and a total of 26 kgs.  The reason? I wasn’t eating any crap and I was exercising regularly, pretty much daily.  I had energy to burn and life was good.

I’ve learned a lot about losing weight this year:

Mindset is everything.

I’ve learned that losing weight is not hard, if you are in the right mind set.  The reason I struggled to lose weight for most of my life was because I just wasn’t willing to put in the effort.  Obviously I had to find the right balance of food, exercise and treats for myself and everyone’s needs in that sense is different, but a lot of people I personally know who struggle to lose weight like I did, do exactly what I did, eat junk food and drink a lot of booze on the regular, engage in minimal exercise and expect results after eating a couple of salads. You have to be 100% committed.  Having a treat of McDonald’s or a bag of chips on Tuesday as a reward because you ate clean all of Monday is not the way to go.  Obviously treats are important, you still want to have a life after all, but you have to find the right balance.

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Other people noticed more than I did.

I genuinely could not see my weight loss for the life of me.  My clothes were looser, the number on the scales was way down and people were commenting all over the place and yet, I still couldn’t see it.  I still saw the same ‘fat’ girl I’d always been.  My thighs were too big, my stomach was an amorphous blob, I had a gazillion chins.  I couldn’t even see it in photos.  I took this progress shot and I didn’t want to share it, I genuinely couldn’t, and still cant see any difference between the two pictures.  Zombie literally pointed at parts of the pictures to show me differences, but I just couldn’t see it.  I shared the photos online and got a tonne of positive feedback but to me, the photos still look the same.  The only photo I have where I actually do see a physical difference, is this face to face photo.

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I will get reactions of all different kinds.

I got a lot of compliments about my progress.  People were impressed, wanted to know my ‘secrets’ and were genuinely happy for me.  I had a lot of friends joke about my weight loss, saying things like ‘it’s disgusting how skinny you are’ and then following up with a ‘nah, you look great, well done’ and that was cool, banter among friends is awesome.  A lot of my friends and workmates were especially impressed with the change in my personality.  I was happier than some people had ever seen me and I was a lot more fun to be around. Then there were the haters.  I had people tell me it was a shame that I’d lost my chest (I hadn’t, I’m still wearing the same bra size), I had people tell me I looked gaunt and sick (I didn’t, I was a size 12 which personally I think there is nothing wrong with at all) and I had people who were genuinely pissed off that I had lost weight and they couldn’t. I was quite upset by these comments at first, but I very quickly learned that this was sheer jealousy.  I also realised it was something I had done to others in the past and for that, I’m sorry.

Keeping the weight off is harder than losing it.

Going in, I always knew that if I ever did lose weight, it would be a life long effort that I would have to keep up.  I didn’t realise just how easy it would be to put back on though.  In the last two months I have gained back 10 of the kgs I lost.  It took me about 5 months to lose the weight and thanks to the elimination diet and my cautiousness with treat meals, alcohol and exercise, I managed to keep most of it off for a couple of months, occasionally gaining a losing the same 2-3 kgs over and over.  Unfortunately I got complacent.  One treat didn’t hurt, why not add another? Then another… Then another.  It got to the point where while I was still eating a clean and healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner, I was also treating myself to snacks everyday that I didn’t need.  Some days I was even adding in another meal, of junk food, just because I could, not because I was hungry. And while I was exercising every day, it wasn’t helping and it was getting harder to do. I started to feel tired all the time again, my mood wasn’t as light, my eczema was playing up, all the awful side effects of a bad diet I’d been putting up with for years were coming back.  Then one day, my jeans were uncomfortably tight.  I stood on the scales and was really disappointed in myself.  They say that you crave what you eat and it’s true.  While I was eating 100% clean, all I wanted was unprocessed ‘goodies’ to eat.  When I started adding in more and more treats, all I wanted was sugary junk.  And it was difficult to get back on track.  I had to retrain myself from the beginning.  Luckily, as I’d done it before, it wasn’t quite as hard as all the other times I’d unsuccessfully tried to eat a healthier diet.

My personality got a makeover.

I was just happier, less stressed out, and nicer to be around, the more weight I lost.  It wasn’t actually because of the weight I was losing, it was because I was looking after myself and this is evident in the fact that when I started treating myself too often again, I got grumpy, depressed, stressed, even a little jealous again, all the negative traits that I had managed to get a handle on came back with a vengeance.  Being happy is a ‘side effect’ of weight loss, that goes with the better diet and it’s certainly a side effect I’m keen to have continue.

I’m proud of what I’ve learned this year.  Sure, I didn’t keep all of it up, but I got myself to a point where I was able to get back on track, every single time I slipped up.  A weight loss journey is a roller coaster ride.  There are good days and bad days, weeks where you smash out goal after goal, followed by weeks or days where you get off track, berate yourself, then get back on.  You have to deal with jealousy and also a lot of people who are interested in your ‘secrets’.  The side effects I experienced, a sunny disposition, clear skin, healthy hair and nails, no more stomach pain, energy to burn and an ability to sleep well at night, plus all the other wonderful things made all the hard moments all worth it.

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie

Elimination Diet Done And Dusted

I am very pleased to announce that I have completed my elimination diet. It’s taken me seven months, which possibly is longer than it would for other people, but as I was going it mostly alone I wanted to be certain about everything.

I can’t express how life changing this diet has been for me. I’m not an advocate of diets, personally, I don’t think they work for long term weight loss, but I’ll make an exception for this one, mostly because it’s more of a lifestyle change than a diet.

I have gone from being overweight, lazy, unhealthy and unhappy, to being a good weight, full of energy, healthy and happy. I have made huge advances in my mental health too which is just as important to me as being physically healthy.

Now, I don’t specifically know what caused any of my symptoms. My eczema took a really long time to clear up. A few months! There were several reasons for this, stress being a factor, but I think also because there was just so much of it. All of my other symptoms, even ones I had thought were just a fact of life, were basically gone within the first three weeks of the diet, during the detox stage. These included headaches, constant tiredness, sleepless nights and stomach cramps.

Nothing that I reintroduced into my diet affected me in a negative way. Eggs, beef, dairy, nightshades, nuts, peanuts, soy, chocolate, oats, chickpeas, not a single food type gave me any reason to think they had been causing me issues.

In July I discovered that too much chocolate, made me tired and my skin a little itchy. I also discovered that too many peanuts made my asthma play up. This was a bit of a wake up call as I had been over indulging in both of these, which was also affecting my weight.

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My skin and too much chocolate don't agree

After this I had a few processed treats. I had some bread which made my stomach cramp, and I attended a few gatherings where I ate some of the nibbles on offer, which seemed to have no affect on me. I also last week found that caffeine is way to good at keeping me awake now, so that is completely off the menu. I have no room in my life for self inflicted sleeplessness anymore.

I was beginning to think that I would never know what was causing my issues and for a little while I kinda gave up. For the most part I ate healthy, but I started letting processed treats slip in daily. And at first, nothing happened.

Then after a few days, my energy levels weren’t as high. Admittedly, I had a bad cold at the time, but it hadn’t affected my energy too much until.that point. Then, the headaches and sleeping difficulty started. Again, I thought it could be related to the cold.

When my stomach started cramping, I knew it wasn’t cold related and when my skin started flaring up I knew exactly what was going on. Too much processed food. I can’t pinpoint exactly which food it was, because I ate so much of it, but when I went back to basics for a few weeks, all my symptoms disappeared again.

I have taken to having a weekly ‘cheat day’. For all of August, I have eaten unprocessed food all week, then on Saturdays I have allowed myself a treat. My symptoms have stayed away and I’ve been able to enjoy the best of both worlds. I’m pretty excited about this. I enjoy eating healthily, meats and seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, grains, oats and some dairy (mostly butter and cheese) and feeling the most alive I ever has as a result. I enjoy having a little control over my mental health and not having to worry about what I’m eating affecting my weight.

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There’s a hash tag on Instagram, #JERF. It stands for Just Eat Real Food. It’s simple, and for me, it has solved a lot of my problems. I found out about using an elimination diet to discover food intolerances a few years ago, but didn’t have the will power to go through with it. It was too hard. But when I decided to commit, I was surprised at how simple just eating real food is. And I’m so glad I did.

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie

Winter Blues or Old Habits

Lately I’ve been on a bit of a downward spiral. I’ve barely exercised apart from a little yoga for about two weeks now. I’ve slipped up on my elimination diet a little, not majorly and nothing that can’t be undone, just a little processed food here and there, but after 6 months it’s a little disheartening. I’m starting to get tired all the time again, my mood is swinging all over the place, my eczema is coming back with a vengeance and worst of all, I’m slowly putting weight back on. To the point that I’m not the only person who has noticed.

I do not want this, but I feel like I’m stuck in a bit of a rut at the moment. I’ve had a lot of compliments recently from people about my weight loss and general overall changes, but I don’t feel like I deserve it anymore. This is the first winter in a really long time that I haven’t been depressed, which is a huge win, but I certainly do feel like something’s not right. And with the weight gain and return of the eczema, it’s getting me worried.

I’ve been doing a bit of research on Seasonal Affective Disorder. Wikipedia explains it as people who usually have sound mental health who tend to get depressed in winter (winter blues) or summer (summertime sadness). Obviously I don’t fit into this category, but it certainly makes me wonder if we are all to some extent, affected by the seasons.

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I love summer. If my mental health is suffering, I tend to improve. I’m more motivated to exercise and go out. I like to organize BBQs, go for walks up the hills, spend time with people and am generally a happier person. Last summer. When I was eating clean, was one of the best I’d ever had. The weather wasn’t perfect, but I had so much drive and I managed to kick start my health journey which until recently was going swimmingly.

But now, winter is well and truly here and I’ve lost my Motivation Hat. I’m running out of ideas on how to find it too.

I’ve had a few wake up calls. I felt quite sick and bloated recently after eating way too much chocolate and far too many peanuts. I’ve had some terrible nights of sleep recently, which I think is directly related to the overeating and lack of exercise. My mood on Friday was disgusting, to the point that I was incredibly rude to my workmate and a friend, which, while I used to make a habit of this, I have made a point of not being rude and snappy like that this entire year. I had it pointed out to me that my clothes were looking less baggy the other day and the fact that I’ve been contemplating using steroid creams on my skin again is a huge sign that I’m abusing my body. Steroid creams are not good for me!

I’m not giving up. I’ve come too far to do that. I’m still eating healthy the majority of the time, which is good, I just need to get everything else in check, stop treating myself daily (chocolate). I need to get out of bed in the morning and jump around for a while before work. I need to completely cut the processed food out again. The theory of ‘a little won’t hurt’ clearly only works if it is genuinely only a little and not several times a week. I need to start practicing daily gratitude again and most of all, I need to calm down. I know I’m not depressed again, I haven’t even come close to gaining back all the weight I’ve lost, my skin, while worrying, is not beyond repair, I just need to stop sliding further and further to avoid these outcomes.

Any goals we have in life are first and foremost only achieved if we are 100% mentally committed. I was, which is why I did so well for so long. I’d like to get back to that point. Winter isn’t going anywhere so I need to learn how to get back into it when every fibre of my being wants to take the easy way out. 

Today I forced myself to meal prep for the first time in a long time. I’m now fully prepared for the week ahead, food wise, which I’m hoping will take some of the pressure off. I’ve set my alarm for 5.30 am tomorrow and I’m going to have an early night so that I’m less tempted to turn it off and go back to sleep instead of getting up and kick starting my day with a decent workout. I’ve even put my workout gear in the lounge, ready to go. Tomorrow is a new day, a new week and a new chance to get back on track.

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie

The Itch Life

I have vague memories of being very young and going to the pharmacy (it was probably the doctors but my memory is of a shop) because I had a rash behind my knees. Eczema. They took scrapings for testing. I remember the scraping felt really good. It didn’t hurt, but it was a nice relief. That’s all I remember and from what I understand I grew out of my eczema pretty quickly.

I never had anymore skin issues growing up. As a teenager I rarely got pimples and my mum was always telling me that I had really lovely skin. I never used moisturisers or any other skin creams because I didn’t need to. All my friends were using them and getting lots of pimples but I felt lucky that I didn’t have that issue.

Then I hit 16. It was an interesting period in my life. I left school and home because I thought I knew everything and went flatting. I ate junk. Fish n chips, cakes, McDonalds, chocolate bars, as long as it wasn’t healthy, I ate it. I also started smoking and had the occasional drunken night.

I had always been heavy, but I got heavier. I didn’t drive so I did get exercise from biking everywhere but I started to get lazy on that and took the bus often instead. I called in sick to work a lot because I always felt terrible and I spent most of my days sleeping, while filling in time at night playing video games and hanging out with my only friend at the time, who was quite possibly the worst influence I’ve ever had.

After a while, I started to get a rash on my right calf. It was itchy all the time and it started to spread. Before I knew it, it was covering both my lower calves. I stopped wearing skirts at this point because I was embarrassed. A lot of my friends at the time who had seen it were grossed out by it.

I went to the doctor and was given antibiotics, some antihistamine creams and aqueous cream. It just kept getting worse though, nothing I did seemed to help and while it wasn’t spreading anymore, it was becoming unbearable. Unfortunately it was to be a very long time before I found any relief that wasn’t temporary.

The thing I’ve found about eczema is that everyone seems to know someone with it. And yet I rarely came across another person with eczema as bad as mine. And I’ve had a lot of conversations about it and been given a lot of advice that unfortunately didn’t work.

All my doctors would give me was different creams. Other people suggested all sorts of different things. Apple Cider Vinegar was one, which stung like anything but did provide temporary relief from the itch. Fish oil was another, that I didn’t notice a difference with but couldn’t afford to keep taking anyway. Emu oil, tea tree oil, sun tanning, wheat oil, baths in bleach, baths in pink salt, calamine lotion, the list was endless and often bizzare. I did try most of these ideas, including the bleach bath and hypnosis of all things, but nothing helped.

I got a little annoyed. Every time I was given advice it was followed by “it’ll clear right up” and when it didn’t, I would get very frustrated, which would make me itch more, and basically start a vicious cycle where I would make it worse.  Stress certainly was a factor.

One thing that did help, was acrylic nails. Obviously they didn’t stop the itch, but because my nails were so blunt I couldn’t do so much damage anymore. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed these nails at some of my jobs and also, couldn’t afford the maintenance. And I needed something to stop the itch as well as heal my skin.

I took so many different vitamins and minerals, drank many weird concotions from health stores that the shop assistants assured me would clear up my eczema and give me a new lease on life and slathered my skin with countless ointments, lotions, moisturisers and steroid creams. I stopped using soap as directed by my doctor and changed laundry powders constantly in case it was something in those.

I would wake myself up because I’d been scratching so hard it would start to hurt. My sheets were constantly covered in blood because sometimes even small movements would open my wounds. I would spend on average 20-30 minutes after getting home from work just scratching because I hadn’t really been able to when I’d been at work.

You could tell where I’d been sitting because there would be a lot of white on the ground beneath my chairs. This was flakes of skin that I had scratched off, but also bits that had fallen off by themselves, or from rubbing up against my clothes.

I can’t even begin to guess how many times I’ve been told to stop scratching. And while I knew that the majority of these people were saying it because they cared, it just wasn’t that easy for me. It was a 24/7 itch. There was no relief from it and it was probably the thing that consumed my mind the most.

I cried a lot about it, partly because I was in pain and partly because it made me hate myself. I hated that it was so bad that I scratched in front of people, that can’t have been a good look. It was so bad that I stopped going swimming because I was embarrassed and because some people (not my friends thankfully) didn’t want to be in the same water as me. I always wore long pants, even on ridiculously hot days because I didn’t want to be seen as the monster I thought I was.

I was referred to a specialist in the public health sector. I was incredibly hopeful and mum went with me for support. But both our hopes were dashed as the doctor was more interested in his car that he had illegally parked in the drop off point to pay much attention to me. He gave me my first ever round of oral steroids and then sent me on my way.

The steroids helped in a big way and they made me feel amazing. I couldn’t sleep, and I was a little shaky, but I had energy to burn and my skin was clearing up drastically! But that can’t be a good thing. And sure enough as soon as the steroids were over, my eczema came back with a vengeance.

About 5 years ago it spread to my eyes. There was no hiding it then. At first I thought it was conjunctivitis and so did my doctor. My eyes were full of puss and would be hard to open at times. But the eye drops for this didn’t help at all and soon the skin around my eyes started scabbing up and cracking. It worsened so much that I ended up going to A and E while I was on holiday in Invercargill because I couldn’t cope with it anymore.

The hospital was great. They delivered antibiotics through an IV as a kick start and prescribed me plenty too. The next morning there was a massive improvement, but then when the antibiotics ran out, the eye issues came back. A friend suggested an elimination diet but I didn’t have the willpower at that point of my life.

For about a year I was off and on steroids and antibiotics with differing results until one day I could take it no more and I went to see my doctor in tears. I cried for the entire appointment, in my black work uniform that was absolutely covered in powdery bits of my skin. I was covered from the neck down in the rash and it was driving me absolutely mental.

My medical centre has a special fund that they donate specialty care to patients with extreme conditions which she recommended me for. Another dose of steroids was prescribed and I was able to get some relief for a few days, before I got the phone call that I would be going to a private specialist payed for by my medical center.

I went to the specialist and was proscribed more steroids, more creams and ointments and a medication called Azathioprine. I had to have weekly blood tests to check my liver function and I wasn’t allowed to spend much time in the sun because the medication increased my risk of skin cancer. There were a bunch of other things to watch out for too.

It worked. I felt awful for the first few days, but my skin started clearing. After a year I stopped using it completely and my skin was fine for a year. It was seriously an amazing year, to not feel like a monster for a entire year, when that’s all you’ve felt for over ten years is amazing.

Unfortunately, last year it came back. One thing I’ve noticed is every time it comes back its not a gradual process. It can go from mild to full blown in the space of a couple of days. And the emotional damage is just as fast. I was referred to the specialist again and given the same option as the previous time: Azathioprine.

This coincided with my panic attack and my attempts to start looking after myself instead of treating my body badly with junk food and a sedentary lifestyle. Finally, with the threat of more nasty medication I realised it was going to be a never ending battle and something that was going to cost me a lot of money. It already had cost me so much, financially and emotionally. It was time for a change.

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It wasn’t long after that, I started planning my elimination diet, which really did work and gave me the added bonus of healthy weight loss, better sleep patterns, more energy and all the other wonderful benefits I’ve had, simply from eating real food. I know now that as long as I keep up my healthy lifestyle I will not have to deal with my eczema anymore. And when my healthy lifestyle makes me feel as amazing as it has, its really easy to stick to it.

For anyone struggling with eczema as I did, my only advice would be to look at your diet, as you may potentially be eating something that causes it. There are so many triggers out there and everyone experiences them differently. While I still don’t know specifically what causes my eczema, I know that falling off track with my healthy eating flares it up. It’s not an easy way to heal eczema, but for me it has been 100% worth it.

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie

The 80/20 Approach

It’s been 5 days since Junk Free June finished there is a chance that I have overdone it since.

Ok actually not a chance, I have completely overdone it. I have eaten a ridiculous amount of chocolate And also way too much peanut butter and I don’t feel amazing. My skin and asthma are playing up and I don’t have a lot of energy. I’m not sick, I’m just slipping back into old habits. The kind where I eat and eat and eat, even if I’m not hungry.

As a consequence, I am noticing that my clothes aren’t as loose as they were. Nothing major, but if I continue down this track I will undo all my hard work. It’s not all bad, The difference this time round is I’m still sticking to my elimination diet, but there is just no way I should be eating this much chocolate and peanuts. Everything in moderation.

In weight loss and healthy eating, the general rule is that its 90% eating, 10% physical exercise and 100% mental. And this is totally true for me. When I’m not 100% committed my eating goes out the door which in turn causes my exercise to go out the window. I can’t have any of the components without each other.

But now that I am allowed treats in my diet I want to adopt a new rule (for me). 80/20. 80% clean eating, 20% treats.

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It’s all about finding the right balance. I felt great all June, I wasn’t eating anything too much, I was just eating what I needed to. I wasn’t exercising quite as much as I should have been, but everything was on track. Towards the end of the month I decided to make my own peanut butter. The ingredients? Peanuts. I slow roasted them then blended them up until they resembled peanut butter and it is delicious!

So delicious that I’ve eating a lot more than my usual tablespoon a day. The first couple of days it didn’t matter. Then I started feeling bloated. Then my skin started to get itchy. Then tired and sore. Then Junk Free June finished and I started loading up on chocolate and my symptoms got worse.

I don’t want to backtrack, but I don’t want to cut out treats completely, so I just need to find the balance. My body is obviously going to tell me when I’m over indulging, so I need to start listening to it. This means not eating chocolate every day and limiting my peanut intake. And that’s where the 100% mental dedication is needed. Itswnot going to be easy to start with, but until I do I won’t be reintroducing any more foods into my diet.

80/20 means I’ll be able to have cheat meals eventually too which, will be nice. That’s something I haven’t done all year!

Anyone else eating 80/20? I’d love any tips on how to do it as I’m a apparently not too strong willed when it comes to chocolate as I should be.

Smiles and Sunshine
Katie