My Journey To Better Health

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I swear, dear reader, that I often thought I’d never be sitting here, in compression stocking, an abdominal brace and drain no less, talking about my recent abdominoplasty. Firstly I have to admit that the site won’t be the usual hive of activity, Jack is still a busy bee, but now his time is taken up shuffling around and healing. But, there’s so much here that has never been viewed, take a little time to explore the recipes, the posts, maybe you’ll find something to intrigue you, to enlighten or just give brief chuckle. Perhaps I’ll lose a lot of my readership, the recipes won’t be coming too soon, this is a long recovery and dinners are fast, healthy and repetitive for the foreseeable future. The blog, like the garden is something I’ve grown through hard work and through great dedication, I’m abandoning neither, but my life is changing and for a good few months I won’t be able to give them the same attention. What happens happens, I will return full time, it’ll be sporadic and based on boredom for the interim, and whoever is here when I do, we’ll just carry on as before. I did meander into the garden with a camera in hand, I don’t want to lose the chance to document what I can, the greenhouse is off limits as I can’t step up, but I can still potter about the rest. This is in a way the story of me, my weight-loss, my success, my life, it’s general in parts, forgotten in others, it’s the happy side, but there will be truth, I never shy away from truth. It’s: The Story of Jack. One many asked for, is it what they wanted? No, I can never see myself as the hero others seem to think me, but I’m grateful, that’s why I’m sharing this. Returning kindness, or trying to, seems to be a hobby of mine. Let’s go, dear reader, a journey of seven and a half years with a second three and  half year journey.

I’m often told to write a book, I know why they want me to, some are curious, many are proud and think me important enough, others just a want a quick fix to weight-loss. This isn’t a how to post, nor a guide, it isn’t about you, dear reader, just me. That’s gong to be difficult, I’ve always been shy and have blushed, mumbled thanked and shuffled in embarrassment with each generous portion of praise I’ve been  allotted. I’m just a normal person in my own mind. Not the hero of a story, no great chosen one, so I’ll just tell this in my own words, my own way, my own patchwork style. I’m not writing for any one person, well maybe myself. I want to look back in the future, when the mists of time have shrouded these days in obscurity and uncertainty. Write a book they tell me, the story of me losing, what is now, ten and a half stone, one hundred and forty seven pounds, not a guide, not a altered, dramatised recall of those days, just the raw, unvarnished truth. Full of holes where time has eroded, bloated in the parts where I find the most interest, but as whole as I can possibly make it. How does one start that, dear reader? Something catchy, something superlative to grab the reader from the start, right? Nah, how would I start? Let’s see.

I’ve heard it all. From “You weren’t that Fat” to “Oh My God! You were huge!”

I was huge. Morbidly obese I’d say.

Not that you ever fully accept it.

I used to be fat. I can’t take you back to that person, dear reader, I can’t tell their story in their own words. They’re gone, reborn perhaps, I like to think I wasn’t just the weight I carried or the illnesses that ravaged my body. The soul, if there is such a thing, it has to have been more that that, doesn’t it? There has to be more to a person then what’s outside, but in my case those things were stopping the person inside from shining. Below the fat, between the sickness, beneath the pain there was someone, I would like to say waiting for a chance to come forth, but rather they were just resigned to their place, no fighter, just a smuck like anyone else, dealing with the hand they had been dealt. This was life as far as I knew. I was heavy a for a long time, I’m typing this with some semblance of a waist which I haven’t had in eighteen years, give or take, the reasons I know now. There was all my issues with food, a litany of intolerances, allergies and chronic diseases. We’ll get to that in due time too. But what’s important here was that all I had was pain, was hurt, that was my life, there was some good, but many other issues were stopping me really living. Depression, mistreated, agoraphobia, social anxiety, probably many more conditions, They’re still with me, but I’m doing better. I think of the weight as a covering, insulating them, making it harder to get at them, to begin really coping with them. That’s my other story and it’s not for sharing. The reason I mention them is because they’re crucial. I was at a point in my life where my days were spent with constant pains, back, abdominal, joint and who can really recall what else. I spent my days in pain and my nights were slowly becoming nightmare fuelled, night terrors, having to drag myself to the downstairs bathroom to spend an hour dealing with panic attacks, bladder issues and vomiting. I don’t know even now if it was all of my conditions working in conjunction, but when I started the diet they started to fade. I’ve never experienced anything like them since, but for two years, at least, that was my life. We’re always told we can talk about mental illness and suicide, but so rarely do people want to grapple with it, I’ve lived with what I think is called suicidal ideation. It confuses people that I can want to live if all I can think of is dying. It’s complex in many ways, but these days I just tell them that we’re something inside a piece of meat with electricity running through it, the brain is a lot of witches and some get flipped the wrong way. I don’t think myself so grand and complex that I can’t be a walking contradiction. I’ve looked at myself often enough to know it’s possible. So, that’s where it started, the beginning, I wanted to either get better or die. No enlightened moment, no communion with a higher power, no false front of positivity aimed at selling you on a diet plan, just a scared man who’d been through too much. More than I’ll ever write here. Sitting on a shower stool with a indescribable pain shaking his frame, terror in his heart, a desire to die…or to change. Where the resolve came from is what I always struggle to say. What is it that makes humans live through wars, through famines, through countless indescribable horrors? I don’t know. I’m sorry if that disappointing. I only know it as hope, it’s no grand thing, it’s a quiet whisper in a cacophony of voices, all screaming such awful things. Why did I listen? I think when something other than pain was offered I took it, however slim a thread of hope, it had to be better than nothing. That’s all I had left, I really believe if I had carried on the way I was I would have ended up dead, either by the many problems plaguing my bodily self or the torments that wracked my soul, if you will. I could always kill myself if it failed was my rationale. That’s not a joke either, it’s the truth. People don’t like hearing that, but it’s what was, that’s all this story will be, from here on, we’re onto better things, there’ll be hurt a plenty, it’ll also be far more muddled, I ran headfirst into a lot of things and the holes in my memory are pretty bad, but we’ll get there somehow or other.

I have to say that though I did this all by myself, there are many factors as to why, the main on is that there just wasn’t help in the usual places, I had no doctor I could go to that would help, but get help if you can and be safe if you can’t. Too many people assume they can just read an article and follow some bogus diet and they’l be fine, you may very well, but you might also do irreparable damage. It’s not just your health now, it’s the you in the future that careless in the now will hurt. Be safe, please. I started with potatoes, I have always struggled with them but never thought to stop eating them. They’re a staple of the Irish diet and any deviation, and I’d deviate so much in the coming years, from the norm can exert a pressure to conform. That’s a social issue to do with food and diet and a whole wealth of other issues, one that can’t be addressed here in enough detail. To this day I’m still asked if eat potatoes No, not even a little). No, I stopped, I stopped cold turkey, I also stopped deep frying foods at that stage, that was seven and a half years ago, give or take, when this was written, I think those two decisions were the vital start to this. There was an extreme difficultly in what I did, the willpower needed was immense, looking back I see it that way, but at the time, and probably the reason I was able to do it, it was just two things. Deep frying and potatoes, two things, not counting all the ways they’d impact my life with their absence, a simple mental trick but effective. So, did it help? Yes, I felt he elation that comes from being extremely sick and getting a reprieve. That elation is a doubled edged blade and one I’ll expand on later, for now let’s focus on the other  problem. Though I felt better than I had, I was still extremely sick. I was still struggling. I could’e given up there I suppose, but I had made up my mind to push ahead, so what else could it be. Here I draw a blank, I can’t recall what I looked up, I poured over webpage after webpage, never take one source as truth, dear reader, take at least three and fact-check them like a madman, the more fanciful they sound the more weary you should be, the best advice is that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. I somehow stumbled onto the idea that it was the high carbohydrates in foods that was doing it, or rather in my ignorance, I thought carbs in themselves were the problem. You have to understand I knew nothing about nutrition, I really don’t think many people do, we just eat, we don’t think much of what we’re eating. I firmly believe better education on food, not via the extremist fad-fools that extol the virtue of any arbitrary food methods found all too often online, but simple facts, I did’t know a carbohydrate from gluten, maybe if I had I’d have fared better. Speaking of those two, a case of extreme serendipity, in looking at the carb content of pasta I saw this thing called gluten and to this day I cringe when I see a “What Is Gluten Post”. Had I seen those early on I really believe I’d have had a much worse time of it. Copy and pasted articles, reworked only slightly with little personal experience are of very little value in my estimation. But what this lead to was an article on coeliac disease. If the world was kinder I would have had a diagnosis and all would have been easier, if not easy. Never is my life easy, I denied it three times, searching for a better fit, but whenever I returned to read up again I came to the conclusion that it fit to well, that it seemed too good, but what made me try it was that it sounded terrible. Confusing? I know, but as I said above if it sounds to good to be true it is, in this case it sounded hellish, so much food was to be denied me, had I know how much more would be denied in time I may have stumbled, but not stopped, never that. So, what had I to lose? I stated a gluten free diet, by myself, looking at it I made the same mistakes as many others, but because I was the only one I could turn to and hold accountable I had to learn more, I had to gather so much information that in a was I became better than many people who are diagnosed officially. That’s not arrogance,it’s just truth, I did something spectacular looking back. How I didn’t do damage I’ll never know. Being careful I suppose, I treated it like a minefield. every step could be deadly. So, I suppose the next question is obvious.

What is gluten? I’m kidding, but I think the reason that when I see articles like that I’m infuriated is because it’s the wrong question, it’s also piggybacking on thousands of similar articles, but that’s neither here nor there, the question is where is gluten. The biggest problem I’ve seen is that there is no understanding of cross-contamination. I might seem to be getting ahead of myself, but that’s here I stumbled the most, is May Contain Okay? (No) or what if it doesn’t listen gluten either as an allergen or ingredient (No), but obviously naturally gluten free is okay? (Nope). There is so much conflicting information, but as I started with the idea of myself being coeliac, the hardest path again, but obvious worthwhile, I had to learn and as I’m never satisfied with just one answer, especially if poorly backed up. I did learn and eventually I knew better than many bloggers these days. That’s not a slam to my fellow bloggers, it’s alarming that you can be in a group of people just like you and they can all share information that may be right or wrong, ultimately it’s on you to confirm anything to the best of your ability. I can’t recall how many times I was told spelt was gluten free, it isn’t, it’s wheat, but stupid people are dangerous. So there I was adrift on a confusing sea of information and misinformation. The other problem I had to tackle was the various myths and fallacies of the healthy side of eating. I was eating rice cakes with packet lasagna, disgusting and useless, whilst dealing with withdrawals from my diet. That’s something else I have to touch upon before preceding.

Fats, sugars etc, so many of the elements that make up our meals can be addictive, especially in the quantities I once consumed them. I can only describe the process of removing vast amounts of food in a matter of weeks in vague terms, it’s too personal, too raw to translate it to a general sentiment without losing what it was like. There was a constant hunger, at all times I wanted to eat, but I wouldn’t give in, that’s all it was, I felt naked against a hurricane, my brain demanding and I having to deny it. Fighting with myself took months, I really believed I’d never see the end of it, I thought I’d live forever with the clawing hunger. I think that it was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do, it was the make or break moment, even if I had failed after this I still would have accomplished something amazing, but obviously I didn’t fail. I can never get anyone to understand what it is to literally feel you’re starving to death. To give an idea of how much this occupied my mind I’ll share a humour anecdote. I was walking to the shop with my Mother and the wind was rather strong, my tracksuit, tee-shirt and hoodie were ballooning behind me. I angrily (Sorry Mother!) told her she’d washed them incorrectly, she snapped back, you can’t talk back to Irish mothers, that I’d been losing weight, yeah right I remarked, get a scale she told me and I did. After a few months trying to find a balance in my diet I finally stepped onto a scale, why bother I wondered at the time, I still felt the same, still fat. I checked and found I had lost four and a half stone at that stage. Four and a half stone and I never noticed, imagine how preoccupied my mind was to let that happen. I’ve often said weight was never really a reason for my weight-loss journey and this is and always been true. I thought of it as eating healthy, even when I didn’t know what that was, but as you can imagine I learned. Speaking of that.

Just a brief aside. How we perceive ourselves can vary wildly from the truth, yet the words we use seem to be true. We excel at fooling ourselves. I could accept that I wasn’t thin, I could realise I wasn’t an attractive shape, but there was always the but, the subtle buffer that kept me from fully realising just how bad things had gotten. I had muscle on, you know? A lot, it was hard, muscle is hard and therefore I had muscle on. The fat couldn’t be hard, fat is soft. That was the logic I followed on with, it kept me sane in a  way. Visceral fat was a term I came to learn much, much later. Obviously I came to learn about the many ways our minds change our perceptions of ourselves. I ended up on both sides of this, when heavy I was convinced I wasn’t and when, still seems strange to say thing, funny that, thin I was often convinced I was fat. As cliched and samey as it sounds the most vital part of all this is to love and accept who you are. You won’t necessarily become who you think you will be, but I’ll get to that later, for now it’s onto the murky mess of multiple unknown food issues.

As the weight went the skin loosened, this was the start of a lot of pain to come.

From the moment I started researching and learning I never stopped. I still haven’t I suppose. You hear how someone read an article and became an expert overnight a lot these days. For me I read and read, literally thousands of articles, posts, anything I could find and instead of becoming an overnight expert I came to the conclusion that there’s a lot of misinformation out there, so I checked, doubled-checked and triple checked everything then checked that against my own feelings and experiences. When I say I didn’t go into this lightly I wasn’t joking, I was alone in this and I knew that I needed knowledge to survive and thrive. When people ask me to condense what I know, to simplify the methods this is why I can’t, this is what’s needed. Of course you refine it and put it back out, but more people will have to find it and refine it again and again. You want simple answers? The simplest ones are the ones we so often ignored. Eat plain vegetables I say often, people roll their eyes, or prevaricate  because they want the “real” answer. That is the real answer, there are man paths to better health, but the further on you go, the longer you stay on it he narrower they become, slowly joining together towards a simple single truth: Eat good food. But you still need to know what that is. So I read and am still reading and learning.

Me at 27.

In a way what I had started would be referred to as an elimination diet. I was taking out foods and seeing what effect hey had on me, of course you only realise later that with new diets come a laundry list of new issues, many resolvable, that can be mistaken for every other symptom. I’ve often wondered how many glutenings were just me eating he wrong food. So, for a year or more I stuck to a modified gluten free diet, it was stricter than the usual celiac diet, but as I’ve since found with many others, I still didn’t feel well. I was losing weight, feeling better, but there were still issues. I could’ve just stopped there and accepted my lot, taken what I had and given it up as the way things were going to be, but I didn’t start this to be a bit better, to be okay, I started it to be as healthy and happy as much as I could. The next hurdle would be nightshades, though I knew about potatoes I never thought of looking into the nightshade family. Which isn’t that surprising when you see how little information is out there about it, a nightshade and gluten free diet plan? Forget it. A handful of bogs exist, but again I was on my own. Funnily what prompted me to try this was a pure fluke. A stomach bug hit me when shopping and I was very ill, I did what I had been doing and looked at the new additions to my diet. I was living on a better diet at this stage, but still not comparable to what I’m eating now. Jars of curry, curry pastes, chillies, all foods I’d never used or even considered. Pasta, Rice and Quinoa, were my sides and still are. So, I looked at the new foods and wasn’t sure, you have to imagine the thought of another huge set of restrictions was daunting. What pushed me? I mad an extremely spicy soup and promptly threw up. It was loaded with nightshades, so I went back again, testing, checking, basically eating enough of something to see if it’d make me ill. Slowly it became apparent that nightshades were out. This was a huge blow, my new diet, torn to shreds again. This would be where many just fold. I can’t tell you why I didn’t. I suppose I just didn’t want to go back.

One decision that helped me to where I am was deciding that I should learn to bake gluten free, or perhaps I should say that I decided to do better than what I had been seeing as gluten free. I’ve had my say on how I feel about the general side of gluten-free baking, it’s rife with untapped potential. Where I differed at first was that I couldn’t use or eat potato starch. Eventually I found the starch and gums didn’t agree with me either. Here I was again, all alone and confused, so I took all I had learned and pushed ahead. I modified mixes and eventually abandoned them never returning. It’s a point of pride that I only ever bought one gluten free loaf. So, since we’re on a positive part and one you can see the result of on the blog. Nearly five hundred recipes, most of them originals or heavily changed. This is the part people who don’t bake don’t really grasp. “You just do this to bake a cake right?” You can, but the difference between a person using a mix and someone who bakes from scratch and again someone with a knowledge of the processes and properties of the whole changes everything. Your taste-buds and inexperience colour your perception too. I had experience with wheat-based baking and that gave me a leg up, not be be cocky, but I was good, really good. I do wonder what it would’ve been like if I had been able to keep at it. That’s the nice part of the unknown, you can never be certain that you’d have failed. Now, I’m not going to list cakes and breads and what have you, but what I started with and what I have now is pretty telling. The bread I started with was egg-laden and soggy, edible and like water to a person lost in the desert to a new baker with little choice, but now I have breads of all textures and tastes, many better than can be bought or made from wheaten flours. That’s years of trails and error, of research and testing, many of the discoveries I’ve made I’ve never seen repeated. I was lucky to find a baker similar in style to me and I was even happier to be able to learn from her. I don’t say I’m that unique out of a sense of pride, it’s just there are so many 1:1 bakers, which has its place, but they also seem to correlate with the people who still have problems. Balancing my diet was improved by baking, by knowing every ingredient, but removing and adding, balancing meals and a meal plan took time, but it was time well invested. Once started I never stopped any of this, each step snowballed as did my success, but before I was done with for the most part, you’re never quite done learning, there was one more hurdle, there always seems to be to me.

At 28.

Histamine intolerance was the last of the issues I’d have to tackle, the final wall to break through. The problem is the symptoms are so nebulous and similar to other issues that it was hard to say for certain, but, I want to say thankfully, helpfully rather there was one surefire sign: Dermatographic Urticaria. Also know as skin writing. I spent at least a year in a constant state of itch and any scratch mark would rise up in a red mark, perfectly marking where I’d scratched. You know my methods, I’ve outlined them above, but because this is my story and I apparently have to face even greater difficultly there is one note and it’s a doozy. With histamine intolerance the diet can vary depending on the person’s personal tolerances, you have to stick to the diet a long time before you’ll notice any improvement, it takes months for the histamine to clear to a safe level. The indicator that prompted me to start is also what is in a way just cruel. I was allergic to oats. That staple of free from diets everywhere and coupled with the fact I couldn’t eat chocolate, haven’t in years, I was yet again adrift, this time instead of searching for help I just helped myself and took a very important step: I acknowledged the struggles I faced, the adversities and the accomplishments I’d achieved. I was three major food issues in each with individual complications and I was a far cry from the person I was when I’d started this journey. This is the story of my finding my way to better eating, a slow journey and not one that ended here, but the next is another part. Dealing with massive weight-loss. A three and a half year wait to be free from pain, that journey is still ongoing, but it’s near the finish, so let’s look back at what it’s like to lose ten and a half stone, shall we?

Me in 2016. The drill that built a garden.

It hurts. That’s the part that hit home for me, thought I felt better in ways I never thought possible. I had separated abdominal muscles and excess sin. Which sadly worsened as time progressed, there came a point where I could no longer believe that it would improve, that the skin would magically pull up and stop hurting. I never stop hurting, dear reader, it’s not he part people want to hear and I’ll be sharing other aspects of this, but this is the part that needs to be impressed upon you: I was in pain, I was unhappy because I’d lost so much weight that my body was damaged beyond repair. It’ll never be what I’d have had if I’d never put on the weight, but I don’t regret losing it, I honestly can say I never have. It’s only after you lose that much weight that you really understand the strain it was putting on your body. My knees improved, my breathing got better, my energy improved. Over time you tend to forget these things and take them for granted. You can’t recall what it’s like to be heavy any more, no more than you could imagine what it’s like to be thin. What made it a struggle was that I wasn’t just dealing with, I repeat that phrase a lot, but it’s all too true, a bit of skin, seven pounds of skin hung from a damaged abdominal wall, for four or more years, remember the muscles loosened as the weight came of, I carried it, it swung, it strained I was often in tears with the pain. This was the hardest aspect of it, partly due to the mistaken view people have of loose skin. The really gruesome, but all too real, skin drooping stories are held for reality TV, where they’re fixed promptly to fit a narrative. How often was I told it’d tighten up if I exercised. How little it was understood. I’m free from that now, but I’ll never forget it. I’ll also forever cherish the first steps I took without it. Hunched, with drains swing, IVs in my hands throbbing, but free and unfettered. Until you’ve lived it you’ll never know that feeling.

There isn’t as much order in this part of the narrative, but as the same events repeated often through the years so I’ll deal with them in sections. One, thing I do want to talk about before I carry on is the way we treat men’s weight-loss. I read up on every issue I had as they cropped up and it hit me that there isn’t help for men regarding body image, or at-least not enough. There’s an idea that women are the only ones who deal with it, sadly thanks to societal pressures too many do. But if you’re a man who doesn’t like how he looks, well, go to the gym. Get ripped was the answer I found everywhere I went. Useless! I was dealing with what I’ve been since informed was phantom fat, I couldn’t move, but I felt that I was still carrying around all that weight, thankfully in time the feeling faded. In dealing with my diastasis recti I was either met with guides for minor ones (Gym, bro!) or pregnancy forums. It was humiliating to say the least. Where was the place for me? Was my struggle less real? As a man, I know how that sounds in this day and age of false equivalences and misogyny, but bear with me, I was supposed to be either fat and accept it or ripped. We need to get away from the twisted ideas we have about gender and weight. Our bodies, whether male or female, share so much in common. Making it a woman’s problem or a men’s issue is ridiculous and hurts people. It hurt me. Lose the baby belly?! I was in agony and that’s all I got as help? The world is improving, but if we keep gendering pain then we’ll never get anywhere. I hope that in years to come this improves and no one has to face what I did. We’re all people and we all deserve to be happy.

One part of all this that I’m extremely grateful for, and still unable to react to appropriately, shyness is something I’ve never lost, is the outpouring of congratulations. You’d be surprised how many stories I have of people approaching me to congratulate me. It is a double-edged sword as you do run the risk of getting too used to the attention and reverting to old ways when it starts to dry up. For me I, even to this day, am never sure how to feel, I become an embarrassed and slightly incoherent mess whenever I’m showered with praise. I do appreciate it, it was and is a help when times and tough and it still shocks me when someone will approach me out of the blue congratulating me, I often have to remember why they’re approaching me. Weight-loss was never at the forefront of my mind you have to understand, that’s why this isn’t titled: My Weight-loss Journey. It was health and happiness I sought and have found a fair measure of both. Not to say I don’t have my struggles still, but things tend to balance in time.

There are always events that mark the end or beginning of an epoch in stories like this. Mine don’t really lean towards the dramatic, they’re quietly honest and unadulterated as I’m not here to prove anything or convince you of anything. The moment that marked the shift between trying to balance my diet and losing weight and finally become well versed in health and getting away from weight-loss was when I found that I had kept my weight stable for a year. You have to realise I never put any weight back on, the only fluctuations in my weight were the usual few pounds that went and came, so moments related to weight-loss were usually just weigh-ins to confirm the weight was still going. Then, on August 2014, one year after the weight seemed to have finally stopped I stopped onto a scale and the weight had remained the same for a year. I cried, dear reader, to this day I don’t know if it was sadness, joy, fear or a mishmash of emotions. it was an ending and in truth though I was far better than I had ever been, I had loose skin and diastasis recti to contend with. I was bitter. I had done so much, hadn’t I? I had fought when life looked hopeless. I had dragged myself through the burning remains of who I was and now I couldn’t do any more. Was I to live like this forever? This was the start of a very long wait to get to where I am, I can’t recall the start exactly, I think it was before I was fully sure the weight had stabilised, but after it stopped. I approached my doctor, or rather another first, every step always has to be more than it should, doesn’t it? A week later I approached my own doctor and he gave me hope. Hope can be a cruel thing at times, I’m better now, but in those years I knew emotional hurt that almost broke me time and time again.

In a way those years are still very fresh, very raw. I don’t want to have to pick at them this soon, but we’ll look over them anyways. It started with a consultation, I had to wait between meeting my doctor and this first meeting. I can’t recall how long, but I went in terrified, would they do it? Was there even anything to do? I remember it clearly, I was told it’d be done. I’d get the surgery as soon as possible! There was effusive praise from the head of the plastic clinic. I was over-awed to say the least. Not only that, the’d also sort out the other skin issues, I overheard that rather than getting it directly, until recently that became a gaping  void where hope feel into and ever returned. What if I was wrong? What if they weren’t finishing it all? But that’s later and thankfully turned out to be true. So, out I staggered, I was in shock. It was happening! I remember now, it took a year to get that appointment, but he assured me it’d be done as quickly as possible. That took two and a half years to transpire. Two years I waited and fretted. Every day dreading a cancellation. I think there were a few phone calls asking if I still wanted the surgery, bureaucratic necessities, but still chest-tightening experiences. Wondering if I’d been forgotten. Calls were made on my behalf, inquires were constant. We heard nothing. You just sit at home and wait for a letter. I still had pain and it was getting worse. The skin was giving up the ghost, any elasticity was giving way to gravity and time. I know that he meant what he said, but we really believed it’d be a matter of weeks, months perhaps, but not years. It wore away at me, so much effort and I was trapped in a body I hated. I never slipped up, I pushed every day to keep going, to survive just one more day, but I say it anything but lightly, those suicidal thoughts cropped up and intensified overtime. This was the first part of this journey, another, even crueller part is coming. I’m so close to it I really feel sick just thinking about it. Let’s look at the saving grace in those years, well one of the biggest. A supportive family, and you know Naru is counted in that, were a boon.

2009.

2017

Just wait until next year.

You know me, dear reader, you knew this was coming. The arrival of Jack if you’d like. Naturally I’m talking about the garden, the effects of which are further reaching than I ever though possible. I started out wanting pesto if I can recall correctly. Just a few simple pots of basil. I went from never having eaten or used basil to growing a bountiful crop every season in just a few years. Food has become less important as a comfort and much more a vital part of my health, my choices in food led me naturally to thinking of growing my own. I again threw myself into something new and for maybe the first time I started to realise that I had worth, that I could accomplish things and I could do something alone, but not feel lonely. I suppose the weight-loss was finally having an effect on my confidence. It’s not to say there weren’t doubts and fears, but I kept pushing them aside. The garden gave me more than the blooms and crops, it gave me another view of my own worth. I was doing things I had never seen done. I was learning sills and perfecting my craft, ever humble I sometimes forget to praise myself. I’ve learned more in this garden, taken more pleasure, have had more knock-on joys than I’d ever had believed possible. It’s a wonderfully hobby to have, a great interest, but what’s struck me most is what I could do if I just tried. If I ran with the fear, instead of sinking under it. I do like to think that in the early stages, when the work was hard and gruelling that it was Naru in part that kept me going. She loved the outside and was always nearby whenever I was out. I often asked her, deaf or not I talked with her, what she was doing out in the rain getting wet, while I myself was getting soaked. A couple of happy idiots. I’ll always have the garden, gifted in part from myself, in part from Naru, in part from the friends and family that left in plants and helped out and in part from the genes passed down from generations of gardeners. The gestalt is something far more than I can put into words. If I hadn’t started my journey I’d never have it. Now, if ever I need to break away, to feel a connection to the Earth. to get fresh air or just potter about I have a sanctuary of my own creation. In it, there’s a little sectioned square, a small angel amidst flowers. A promise made to my best friend. She helped me keep going in my darkest times, it was the least I could do as thanks.

Now, we’ll be getting onto the last leg of this journey soon, I know I’ve probably left a lot out, but I can always return to rewrite. Can’t I, Dear Reader? Speaking of you, once gentle reader if you read back far enough. the blog started as a very simple idea: To say thank you to all those who helped me indirectly. All the recipes, posts and ideas that helped me along. I started without a style, with no idea of what it is I’d be doing with the blog. Would anyone even visit was the question at the forefront of my mind. What happened was much like the garden, I took the fears and crushed them to me as I ran towards an unknown future. Thanks to the kindness of fellow bloggers and my own efforts I’ve made this little blog something to be proud of. I’m not the best blogger, but I’ve stayed true to myself in every post, avoided the temptation to follow the usual crowds, when have I ever? I again found myself finding that if I tried I could accomplish so much. There are recipes here by the dozen that are unique to the site. There are techniques that I’ve never seen repeated anywhere else. Bragging? Yes, I’m wonderful. Kidding of course, but I am starting to realise my own worth. I created this site to say thank you, in time it’s become more than I’d ever have expected. It has become a regular part of my life, encouraging me to try new things so I could share and help others and in turn I ended up helping myself. Every part of the new life I’ve made for myself has flowed into another aspect of the whole. The garden pushed me to create new recipes to utilise ingredients, in sharing the recipes I developed a more consistent style, which in turn encouraged me to communicate more with my readership affording me many wonderful interactions online. It goes around and around each positive thing feeding the other, all having their start from a decision to be happy. It takes time, but it does work, maybe not exactly as you expect, but it’s worthwhile. Now, for the final part. The surgery for which I did all this as I waited. It starts very dark, sadly, but it’s necessary to be honest. I’ve never had it easy, but at times this whole thing seemed cruel. But, there is a happy ending, so let’s carry on.

So, after two and a half years I was suddenly on the fact track to surgery. There was a consultation and it was all set for May seventeenth. Can you imagine it, dear reader? The elation that it was finally happening. The crushingly close dead-line to get everything done. I made eight dinners, breakfasts and teas in that one week, then I made dinners and breads for after-wards. I pushed myself so far I was exhausted every single day of that week. There are still black rings around my eyes. It would be worthwhile, I cold rest when I was done, or so I thought. Then, as per a letter we called up to confirm a bed, standard practice, we were rudely told there are no beds and hung up on. We managed to contact a kind Secretary who informed us there was a huge emergency. What of my emergency? Selfish, perhaps, but I ad waited so long and this was just to much to bear. My stomach hurt for the entire day as I couldn’t unclench the muscles. When would it happen? I had to wait again. Waiting without any word, no idea if it was cancelled, spending every day waiting again, worse now that I was at the limits of stress, telling friends who were as disheartened to hear it as could be that it had been cancelled. I can’t tell you the depths of misery I endured and it would get worse. I’d then end up getting multiple meetings again with no idea if I’d ever see this surgery, again I was on the fast track, but still there was nothing certain. To cap off the cruelty I received three appointments in two days, each cancelled and rescheduled. I was suicidal at this stage, I couldn’t keep hurting and it seemed like it’d never be done. As if it was all some elaborate joke at my expense. You couldn’t write a more horrific three months in fiction as I endured. I can’t even put them down here. Let’s just go to the end. Finally it was set for August 17th, three months after the first cancellation. I had received letters, which I still have and plan to plant in a pot and grow flowers over. I had secretaries apologising constantly over the phone, one was so upset I told her not to apologise as it wasn’t her fault, scared the poor woman half to death with my deathly calmness, numbness really. I met everyone possible and I answered every question a dozen times over. I really didn’t believe it would happen. So, this time they were to call us. The phone goes and I hear it, I couldn’t even answer it myself, there is no bed. Had I been holding the phone I’d have thrown it through a window. There is no bed, that phrase will haunt me, dear reader. This time though, it was followed by the words: There is a trolley. It was happening, come hell or high water they were determined to get me in there. Every stage  from here on out it was obvious I was a priority. So, that Wednesday, I sat for hours waiting for a bed to be prepared, they didn’t even have a trolley, when finally I got a bed I slept fitfully, thinking all the while they’d come and tell me it was cancelled. It was set for afternoon on Thursday. A young nurse popped up early in the day and told me to get dressed, r undressed rather, I wonder still if that was to stop any nerves by making it sudden. In true fashion it had to go a bit wrong, thankfully more silly than anything else. I strode down the corridor, in just stocking and a gown, until we met the orderly, a school-friend strangely, who said I was supposed to go down to surgery in a bed! Back I strode. Shockingly you know what happens next, but let’s share, it’s a happy part from here on out so why not devote some time to it?

Dreary views were all I saw for five days.

As I say I was wheeled down to what they term the recovery room, a large area with staff bustling to and fro. I was pushed into my curtained area and met one of the many surgical staff that would be handling my surgery. Every one of them was kind and each congratulated me on my accomplishment. It was so surreal. People popped in to see and tell me how well I had done, strangers all of them, but friends in a way too. One lovely woman, German I think, talked of someone losing fifteen stone with a gastric band, then she was told that I did it without a band she was shocked. She couldn’t stop praising me. It was wonderful, in-spite of the needles, the prodding, probing and fear, it was so amazing. As they rolled me into the theatre, the lights above me all I could see. I was patted on the shoulder, congratulated. I remember thanking them all, I was grateful and overawed. They told me that I should be the one thanked for saving them so much money! I was patted on the shoulder, had a mask slipped over my face and away I was. If ever there is a movie of my life, that journey on my back, the lights above and the praise from all sides will be the highlight of this arc. It was overwhelming, I gad waited so long and here it was, but I wasn’t just to be gotten over with, I was someone special. I’m never going to forget how I felt that day.

The stay in the hospital was like any other. I awoke in the recovery room, a nurse offered me a pill to help with the pain, which I took, though I felt fine. They explained the morphine pump and she offered me another. I refused, didn’t need it, she insisted, no need to be in pain, we bantered back and forth and finally I said: I’m fine, but you keep that for yourself. She nearly wet herself. It was over. I would spend almost a full day, with special leg circulation-pumps, six in all, tightening and releasing in order, legs raised, sitting up, but happy, dear reader, a strange calm had settled over me, not the drugs, they didn’t do what I had hoped. I had hoped for a wonderful high, but sadly no. It was the calm that came with journey’s end. I had reached my destination. There is a journey ahead of me, quite a long one, but at that moment I was content in a way I hadn’t been in along time. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better place to recover, though harried and overworked every single member of the staff from the nurse’s station to the canteen was so kind and considerate. The part that will stick with me forever, as clear as the moment it happened, is when I was left to walk as best I could. I with two IVs in either hand, two drains, compression stocking and slippers, shuffled my way, arduously, I don’t mind saying, out of the small four person ward, slowly, a few feet out I realised, or rather felt the absence of the drag I had grown accustomed to. To feel an absence is hard to describe, I’ll never feel it again, not exactly, I’ll feel the freedom, but the muscle memory will fade. I had no pain, I was bent almost double, had wires trailing out of me, but I have never felt freer in my life.

I’m sure I’m leaving out details here and there, but it felt timeless when I was in there, one day I spent something like six hours doing crossword puzzles, donated by a very kind friend, and it hardly seem to matter what time passed. It was only when I left that I felt time again, it felt as it had happened years ago. Time is strange when staying in hospital. So after five days I was free to go home, the recovery will be long, but I’m prepared. Slowly things are starting to come to a kind of normality. I’m grateful to a fellow blogger who suggested freezing cooked meats for cold meals, that combined with pasta and quinoa with nut and seed sauces kept me fed, the breads, scones, crackers and cookies I prepared helped too. I wasn’t left wanting. I had planned it well. The journey home was strange, I was still groggy and being outside after the calmness of the ward was scary. I’m now two weeks from the surgery. It’s slowly getting better. I’m making a faster recovery than expected and the surgeon is pleased. I hope to have the drain removed soon, but even then I’ll still be recovering. Six months and I should be back to normal, or rather better. Though I won’t share photos I can tell you with certainty that they did an amazing job, to turn what I had into a normal stomach was nothing short of a miracle. I have other surgeries to come to correct the rest of the damage, but this was the biggest. It was a huge operation. Losing the, well now ten and a half stone was pretty huge too. I’m still me, dear reader, but happier, once I straighten up and start coming back to myself I know I’ll be elated. Slowly does it. This is my story, many have asked for it, perhaps it’s not what they expected, but, well it’s mine. I’m proud of it, typed in my own words. Perhaps I’ll go back eventually and add to it, or continue it, but this is it for now. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have work to do. There are gardens to plan and recipes to create.

At home two days at this stage.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it dear reader? Or rather it hasn’t. Only a few months later and I’m finally adding to this. The journey will be continuing for quite some time. I’m resuming this on the tenth of December, twenty seventeen. On the eve of my next appointment. All should go well and bar something heart-rending you should see this continuation of this journey. When I last typed this I was hunched, bandaged and still had a surgical drain in. This part is where the craziness of the aftermath winds down, where normalcy and better days start to appear. In saying that I will have to start and stop a few more times. I hope to have word of what the next stages entail. There are at-least two more surgeries in the cards, if my legs can be fixed then that’ll make four in total. Four surgeries to mend some of the damage that the weight gain caused. I really can’t envision a day when I can look back at all this and not have to do it again and again. For now I’m grateful, scared, happy and just generally befuddled. Let’s resume my story, dear reader, it’s not all that exciting, but it is important, at-least to me. This is written a little more compressed and might tend to jump more as it’s a recap of the months after surgery split into the different aspects rather than a chronological look back.

So, surgical drains are a pain, both literally and figuratively. I had to keep the second in a week beyond what was necessary, mostly due to trying to find someone who could remove it. I will say that it was ultimately for the best, but in that moment all I wanted was to have it removed. My G.P was the one to remove it and, not getting too graphic, I was given a first hand-view of just how large and long that drain was. I’ve heard of the viper in your bosom, but the snake in your…anyway, as soon as it was removed, relatively painless, though I think the longer it stays in the more it wants to stay, I was standing much straighter immediately. I can’t tell you of the relief, there was a fear that I might end up needing to get my abdomen drained or another drain put in, a very extreme contingency, but your mind goes to all the worst scenarios. A jump to the future can cure you of any fears, everything was fine after and here was no need for anything to be done. So there I was still bound and bandaged, but much more mobile and starting to feel myself again.

Excuse the messy kitchen. The studio was busy (And imaginary).

It is hard to revisit these little pockets of time, they’re self-contained, you feel in the moment they exist that that’s it, this is life, then the bubble bursts and you find yourself in another. I’ve possibly said it before, but it really does feel as if you’d lived lifetimes in those short few months post surgery. The next big event was the formation of pressure sores due to the binder. To cut it down, what happened was I had to visit the hospital for an examination, the head surgeon came in to see me, which surprised the person examining me, as I’ve said, though it bears repeating, I’ve been extremely fortunate in the kindness of everyone involved, found out it’s a common thing when something that bulky, remember I had two binders on, is pressing into something numb. The nurses took care of me and I later started to remove the binder periodically which lessened the pressure and once it came off the sores healed in a flash. I’d like to talk about the binder in more detail. Not like you can stop me, heh.

A binder is an elasticated compression garment. I had to wear two due to my my size and the swelling. It was only when I neared the end of my need that I was able to wear just one, but I’ll get to that. I didn’t know anything about binders until I had to wear two for several months. The best advice is the same as I found early on and that is simply: Wear your binder. It will be itchy, perhaps smelly, it will probably cause pressure sores, but it will help you heal, keep you supported and I tell you honestly that I needed that support. In the very early stages after surgery even removing it for a few minutes was a mixture of anxiety and tired strain. I’ll never forget the first time I had it removed, lying on my back seeing my new stomach for the first time, then you jump ahead a few months and I was terrified to sleep without it, but managed, a month later again I had weaned myself off it and the muscles were strong. I may be repeating myself here, but I’m sure a lot of the people reading this or having heard it still know little about it. I wore those binders alongside a pair of compression stockings for so long that it feel like they were a permanent part of the new me. Now? It’s slowly fading away, I can hardly imagine being bound up like that. Strange how the mind copes and forgets, isn’t it, dear reader? To wean myself off it I started slow, as per the surgeons advice. I took it of at night, and yes you do feel as if your stomach will fall off, no joke, then left it off in the mornings after a week for a few hours, which was exhausting, both mentally and physically. Slowly I can to be able to do without, using it as needed, until a month or more later I was more comfortable without than with. Once it was off the pressure sores healed and that was the end of bandages and binders.

So, where am I now? Well, the scars are still itchy, the muscles still a little tender, slightly swollen, worsening as the day progress or as my activity increases, but the scars are softening. I have itching inside which is unpleasant. It means nerves are regrowing. For a while it was hard and swollen, now it’s softening and less swollen. Still, I haven’t taken a single pain killer since the one after the surgery. It’ll be a full year before I’m back to where I was, better really. I have further surgeries to go, the new year will start the appointments again and then I find where I go from here. There may well be more to share in my little story, that’ll be for another day, dear reader. For now, I just look after myself and give myself the peace of a little forgetfulness. I’ll buy clothes that I could never wear, have a hope for the future I haven’t had in a long time and start to realise that there is an end to this, it will take years, but there will be a finish.

Thanks for reading.

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46 thoughts on “My Journey To Better Health

    1. I found you because you “liked” a post I wrote. Interesting how things go. I have just recently given up eating night shades to try to see if they are the culprit in regular migraine headaches. Have ’bout near eliminated everything trying to figure it out. This comes at a handy time. Don’t think I’m celiac. Have been tested and not indicated. Though have been diagnosed without inflammation and I don’t know what else can be behind arthritis and most other aliments. Doctors!!! Anyhoo, will be checking things out here. Signed up for emails too. Thanks.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. It’s funny how things work out. I’m really glad you stopped by, I hope you’ll be able to get the help you need to get better. All the recipes here are nightshade free so you should find something to suit you. Thank you for your support.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Hey Pep,

    I am also Coeliac & it’s really so hard to find recipes! Alot of what’s on my blog I just switch normal ingredients for GF ones but I am always on the lookout for true GF cooking that I don’t need to thibk about! Looking forward to exploring your kitchen 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Love that your recipes are moderate in their yield and do not require a million different odd ingredients. Looking forward to trying many of them. So glad you have worked through some major health issues.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It’s one of the problems I faced when first starting out, everything required so much and made way too many. So, I decided I’d take a different approach and I’m very glad it’s helping someone. Thank you, I’m glad to say I’m in much better health these days.

      Like

  3. Thanks for the like on my blog! I look forward to reading more of your blog. I found out sugar was messing with me. I stay away from processed flours because they’re so much like sugar in my system. Best wishes to you!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. 10 stone?! Good work and I’m so happy you liked one of my posts (thank you so much for that) that led me to find your blog! I had never realised night shades could be an intolerance. Looking forward to reading your posts and trying your recipes.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you for visiting my blog and liking my posts. Although I’m not gluten free, I feel your pain. I own a bakery specializing in gluten free cakes and cookies, and most of my customers are in the same boat with you (more or less). You have some very nice recipes in your blog, and you do a great service to many people. Keep it up!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Hi, I have nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award. I love your blog, and I sincerely hope you accept the nomination. However, you are not in any way obligated, and if you don’t have the time or inclination to participate, I understand and will not be offended.
    You can see the rules in my post One Lovely Blog Award. Jo x

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for visiting my blog. And I thought we had it bad, with my gluten sensitivity, and my husband’s problems with sulfites and dairy… Seems like a lot of us have to watch what we eat all the time, while the medical profession isn’t always ready to consider food as a source of health issues.
    I will be taking a look at your recipes!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for the return visit! It is a struggle, but it does end up helping a lot of others as I cover a wide range of free-from choices and ingredients. I know food choices can be vital from my own experiences. I hope you’ll find something to suit you and your husband.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Spent a month in Ireland last summer & worked on an organic farm for part of the time. Fell in love with Ireland & your gardens/farms! Love your nightshade free recipes. They aren’t so good for lots of people. Good luck with your surgery & glad to have found your blog!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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