Friday, 28 March 2008

Be still my heart

Could coffee and chocolate be the culprits in my recent fluttery chest syndrome? I have been told from several sources that coffee and chocolate can cause heart palpitations. Thinking back over Easter, I drank at least twice as much coffee as normal for me per day, and ate a lot of chocolate. I am going to the health food store today to buy more of that Barley Cup coffee substitute I tried a few months ago. If coffee is the culprit, I certainly don't want to drink it anymore no matter how wonderful it is. I HATE this fluttery feeling. It is scary.

I have an appointment to see the doctor today and will find out what her thoughts are. I will also ask about my long-awaited appointment to see a consultant about my hearing, as I have not yet received any communication from the hospital about it. Stupid NHS!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Shades of fatness

Weighed in at 136.2 this morning. All time high since around Christmas time. No one to blame but me--I'm the one who's been eating like it's holiday time on death row. Chocolate. Chocolate chip cookies. Doritos. Chocolate Hob Nobs. Dark chocolate Kit Kats. Coconut macaroons with chocolate stripes. All this and more did I eat over the last four or five days.

I'm sure there's no correlation but I have been having a swooshing, fluttery feeling on the left side of my chest since yesterday. It is really bothering and worrying me, and of course a brief foray into the internet seeking answers only flipped me out and I had to quit reading. I don't know what it is, and I just hope it goes away soon!It is not a pain, in that there is no actual pain associated with this feeling. It's just a sensation of swooshing. It feels like something gurgling quickly through a straw, but that may just be my imagination building a curious feeling in the chest region into something related to the heart, when in fact it might not be related at all.

Tomorrow I have an appointment to register for ECDL and the local Learn Direct centre. Hopefully I will be much more IT literate and hold a useful qualification by the end of the year.

Yesterday I bought a pair of Nike Women's Fundamental Training Gloves. I used them today when hubby and I did Cathe's Slow & Heavy Biceps and Triceps workout. The gloves were a little tight around the meaty part where the thumb goes into the hand (they left a mark that stayed in my hand for a few hours afterward), but the padded palm really helped in holding onto heavier weights for multiple reps. I wish I could have got a size ladies x-large, as the large gloves that I had to buy (because they were the only pair in the shop) don't quite come down over the wrist the way I would like. Still, they are just my first pair of lifting gloves. I'm sure in future I will try others!

So it's back to work tomorrow; a long day it will be, as I have to start at 8.15 and lead the library reading group meeting in the evening until 21.30! Ugh.

May all beings be at ease.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Women Who Think Too Much (part 2)

The message of Women Who Think Too Much is that we can stop doing this to ourselves, once we understand what we are doing, why we do it and begin to embrace the techniques that will allow us to overcome the habit of ruminant thinking.

Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema offers some practical suggestions for overcoming the root causes of overthinking (seen in my previous post).

Stop seeking role models in those who are too young and immature to be wise. Look instead to elders who have courage and persistence and life experience.

Stop frantically searching for how-to tips that can help us feel more whole. Switch off the popular media, politicians, family, friends, co-workers, who may be giving us destructive messages about who or what we ought to be. Look instead to spend quiet time discovering and refining our own values. Meditation or prayer for 30 minutes a day for example.

Stop peering at your belly-button and get outside yourself. Get involved with people who are committed to the same fundamental things you care about in this world, and give your life a focus above the banal events of the day.

Stop believing that you deserve whatever you want and that other people can't be allowed to get the best of you. Turn off TV shows that feed that entitlement value. Focus instead on how a situation can be resolved to everyone's benefit. Model an anti-entitlement value in your own life.

Stop seeking quick fixes. Learn to recognize when a quick fix is being offered (either in your own mind or in the marketplace) and reject these solutions in favour of ones that may take longer to implement but will endure.

There's a lot more to this book than I have shared here. I highly recommend it, and you can pick up a copy pretty cheap at Amazon or of course at your local library.

Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema has written a second book called Eating, Drinking and Overthinking: The Toxic Triangle of Food, Alcohol and Depression--And How Women Can Break Free. I am thinking about reading it, if I can get it through my local library.

Although this book focuses on women and uses women as examples in the anecdotes, I believe anyone with a problem with overthinking would benefit from this book. It is not a quick fix (!) but if your thinking spirals out of control in bouts of depression or anxiety, you will surely recognize yourself in this book and could find something of use here.

May all beings be at ease.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Women Who Think Too Much (part 1)

After a bit of a meltdown Wednesday night, I decided to re-read a book I first discovered back in 2004: Women Who Think Too Much by Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema.

If you've never heard of overthinking, check out these links, which will help you understand the concept:

Trapped in Reflection

Probing the Depression-Rumination Cycle

I found two sections of the book particularly useful on this reading, Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema's ideas about the cultural causes of overthinking and her chapter about overthinking in the workplace.

Causes of Overthinking

The Vacuum of Values
Previous generations seem to have had a stronger cultural tradition telling them what they should expect and want from life, and few deviated from that. People were more willing to accept their lot in life because they expected nothing else. Today, we face a myriad of choices. We question everything--religion, patriotism, and humanity in general. Faced with such a wide-open range of options, we can be overwhelmed by trying to make the 'best' choice for ourselves without a consensus of values to help us define what 'best' means. We brood and wonder and second-guess ourselves in the absence of clear-cut rules and ideas imposed by the community. We only have the vague notion of 'success' handed to us by pop culture, but being richer, more beautiful or more powerful than the next person is a moving target. As Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema states, most of us would not want to return to the stricter days, but our current cultural situation seems to lead some of us into floundering and overthinking.

The Entitlement Obsession
Somehow how in our current culture we've got it into our heads that we are entitled to being nothing but happy all the time. Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema summarizes it so well in three core beliefs:

I deserve whatever I want.
No one else has the right to make me feel bad.
Anyone who makes me feel bad should be punished, publicly if possible, so everyone else will know I am right.

I never really saw how this misconception has permeated our culture, and how I myself have so deeply internalised it. We have all somehow come to the conclusion that we are meant to be feeling great all the time, enjoying success all the time, and if we're not, we conclude that we aren't getting our basic human rights and someone had better answer for it right now.

The entitlement obsession has led to a litigious culture where small conflicts become major disputes ending up in court. Neighbours won't speak, or even physically fight each other. Parents argue and yell on the playing field. Everybody is constantly battling for their 'right' to be happy.

One problem with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement is that it keeps our focus on how we are not getting what we deserve rather than on what steps we can take to deal more effectively with our problems--and on how well things may actually be going. The second problem is it puts us in an adversarial relationship with everyone in our lives. A third problem is many of us will begin to doubt whether we really deserve the very things we thought we had wanted.

We can blow up at the perceived villains in our lives, and as Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema says, that feels good for the moment, but then we just end up back where we were before, plus having to deal with the results of expressing that rage.

The Compulsive Need for Quick Fixes
If we're feeling bad, we think we ought to change something right now. We jump into changing jobs, leaving our partner, breaking ties with family members. Sometimes, though, what is called for is a change in the way we act and think, not in the job or the partner or the family member. We act too quickly and this leads to us feeling like a quitter trailing a string of failures behind us.

Our Belly-Button Culture
Finally, Dr. Nolen-Hoeskema blames the pop psychology that emerged in the 60s for a lot of our trouble with overthinking. We've become so obsessed with analysing our every tiny thought, mood or interaction with others for a 'deeper meaning' that we can't tell the difference between something minor and something major. Not everything is the 'universe' trying to teach you some 'life lesson.' To put it bluntly, we all need to stop picking at our tiny little emotional scabs and get over ourselves!

I know I can see a lot of truth in Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema's observations. I think she is dead right about our culture and our self-obsession. In part two of this review, I will share with you her suggestions for overcoming these problems, and her insights into overcoming ruminant thinking in the workplace.

May all beings be at ease.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Roasted Sweet Potato and Red Onion Risotto

This is an unorthodox risotto, but so what! We had some leftover sweet potato soup and this is how I used it up.

To make the sweet potato base:

Roast some sweet potatoes in the oven. Roll them out of the skin and set aside. In a soup pot, heat some olive oil and saute one finely chopped red onion. Cook the onion over medium heat until soft and caramelized. Add the sweet potato. Use a hand blender to puree all. Add sufficient water to make a soup. Stir in some bouillon powder to taste, salt and pepper. Add one jar of tikka masala sauce, or flavor to taste with coriander, cumin, and lemon juice.

To make the risotto:

Boil brown basmati rice in water until half cooked. Drain the water and add the soup one ladle at a time, stirring until soup is absorbed before adding the next ladle. Continue until rice absorbs all the soup and the mixture is creamy and soft.

Friday, 14 March 2008


What the heck is that? It's when you grind, clench or press your teeth together, usually at night in your sleep, but sometimes during the day as well. It causes wear on the teeth and pain in the jaws, neck and head. Millions of people suffer from bruxism and guess what? I am one of them. The cause of bruxism is a malocclusion, or the upper and lower teeth not fitting together properly. The jaw wants the teeth to line up properly and will grind and clench away trying to fix it. The problem is compounded by emotional stress. The first port of call for treatment of bruxism is exercises to loosen the TMJ (jaw muscle) and a splint, or occlusal guard, to wear at night.

I got an occlusal guard a week ago, but it needed adjustment. I went back to the dentist yesterday and he adjusted it and last night I wore it comfortably all night and this morning I woke up feeling much better. I think I must have slept better. The dentist also told me two exercises to do for five minutes a day each day, and I am supposed to go back in three months' time to see how everything is going. If I feel my guard needs further adjustment between now and then, I am to call him. This was the big ticket item that was causing me so much grief. I was worried about the expense because the thing was so uncomfortable that I thought I'd never get used to it, but now that it's been adjusted, I think I can see that it will have true benefits for me. So that's a relief!

The exercises are:

1. Very slowly open your mouth as wide as it will go, pause, then very slowly close it again. Repeat this exercise at a very slow pace for five minutes.

2. Open your mouth not quite as wide as it will go. Move the lower jaw slowly side to side. Repeat this at a slow pace for five minutes.

In addition to wearing the splint at night, I am meant to pop it into my mouth during the day when at any time I notice myself clenching my jaw. This happens because the jaw muscle is so accustomed to being in a clenched position that it will try to go right back to it. The splint will help it return to a relaxed position, and as soon as it relaxes, I can take the splint back out again. If I do this during the day it will decrease the amount I clench in my sleep, because the jaw is being retrained. And as a result, my splint will not get chewed up as so fast a rate and will last longer. (Which is a good thing as it was bloody expensive!)

Here's a link to a brief article about it.

Teeth Grinding: A Real Headache

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

This is going to be a crass post, I warn you in advance.

We got our council tax demand today, in the amount of just under £1,000. Yes, that is one month's take home pay for me, picked from my pocket by the local council. I'm thoroughly pissed off that in six years' time my council tax has gone from £83 a month to £97 a month for this absurdly tiny flat, but that's not what made me angry. It was the leaflet I got with the demand, titled, 'What Did You Get from Your Council Tax Today?'The leaflet opens out into a series of five two-page spreads with large comic-style illustrations of council services, along with some charts and graphs of council spending. And according to this leaflet the five things I got today were:

1. Schools
2. Recycling
3. Carers for elderly
4. Fire-safety checks from the Fire and Rescue Service
5. Disabled parking permits

Well, here's the crass part.

1. I don't have kids in school here and I get sick of hearing about school here.
2. The council does not provide recycling containers to flat blocks, so we have to carry away our own.
3. I am not elderly; if I needed a carer would I get one? I doubt it.
4. I can check my fire alarm myself and don't see why my council tax pays for what other people can do for themselves.
5. I am neither disabled nor do I have a car, so that's another one that doesn't apply to me.

I told you it was crass!! But come on! One-tenth of my income has been taken off me to provide services for other people! What do I get, other than the 'joy' of providing the funds. It doesn't help to know that most of the people who use the services I pay for have not paid in to the council tax system themselves--I paid their council tax for them because they're exempt!

I know other things are provided by council tax, but those patronizing cartoons and the services they highlighted just REALLY ticked me off today.

So if you're healthy, middle aged, no kids, employed, have never missed a NI or council tax payment, what do you get? The bill, that's what.


*grinding teeth*

Don't give me that 'But you're paid by the council' line, either. They take one-tenth of my income!! How would you like to have to kick in some of your salary so your colleagues could get paid?

Look, I know I'm supposed to feel I'm contributing to a safer community and all that stuff. But right now I just feel robbed. It seems like people get breaks all the time for having kids, or a bad back or 'stress'. I don't have to be altruistic every minute of the day for God's sake! Wouldn't it be great if you could get a letter from the government saying,

Dear Mr. and Mrs X:

We notice that for the last six years you have paid all your taxes without fail, you have committed no crimes, you have made no claims upon the NHS. You have committed no traffic violations, caused no public disturbances, defaulted on no loans. In short, you have created no burden on society whatsoever. Had you made use of services, you surely would have cost us more than we are about to hand back to you. We therefore are happy to send you this check in the amount of £X,XXX, a tax refund in reward for your being truly good citizens.

Yours faithfully,

Alistair Darling

Okay, selfish and illogical rant over.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Carrot and celeriac tagine with bulgar wheat

I made this today because we got carrots 66p for a kilo, buy one package get one free. I also got a celeriac on clearance for 79p. Altogether, this entire dish cost under £2.00 and was lovely! This is exactly how I made it; if you can't find some of these ingredients, perhaps there are substitutes.

1 kg carrots, cut in chunks
1 celeriac, peeled and cut in chunks
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
olive oil
black pepper
1 can ASDA chickpea dahl

bulgur wheat
a handful of mixed sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and pine nuts
a tablespoon Swiss marigold vegan bouillon
boiling water

Toss the vegetables in olive oil and black pepper in a roasting pan. Roast at a medium high heat until they are shrinking, getting golden brown on the edges and going sticky and yummy. This could take up to an hour. Stir frequently.

In the meantime, combine bulgur wheat, seeds and nuts and bouillon. Cover with boiling water and let stand until bulgur is absorbed. You might need to bring to a boil and simmer for a time over low heat, depending on how soft you want your bulgur. (I actually wanted couscous with this dish, but there is none in the cupboard at the moment, so bulgur it was!)

When the vegetables are roasted soft, sticky and golden, stir in the chickpea dahl and possibly some water to thin it down a bit. Serve over the cooked bulgur with wholemeal pita breads that you have run briefly under the tap and heated in the microwave to make them steamy and soft.


Friday, 7 March 2008

The bum of Damocles

General anxiety has descended upon me. So what's the problem?

1. A surprise charge from the dentist for something I thought was going to be free on the NHS. I bought it, paid a high price for it, and have been having the usual angst that goes along with any big ticket purchase I ever make, from shoes to hair cuts.

2. DH has a new job. We might move. I might have to leave my job and look for a new one.

3. We're going to buy a car.

4. I still haven't heard anything from the NHS about when I might be seeing this consultant I'm meant to be referred to regarding the possibility of my having otosclerosis.

5. It's high time I saw an optician to see if I need new glasses. But after what I spent at the dentist yesterday I am loathe to shuck out for glasses.

6. I think I ought to get on with earning ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) to make me more marketable in admin posts for that possible new job search. That's another big expense, though, and for some reason I'm hanging back.

7. Driving lessons. Haven't had one in weeks and weeks. The thought makes my stomach turn. Haven't studied at all.

8. All these stressors (any stress at all) tend to send me zinging straight to the source of the greatest guilt of my life, the fact that I'm a voluntary noncustodial mother, and my son (who will be 17 soon) lives in the US while I live in the UK. So I might start out feeling unsettled about buying a dental appliance at an exorbitant price, but always end up staying up all night weeping and wailing this primal guilt. Poor DH. He's been through that scene with me so many times, but it is, as I said yesterday, the wound that never heals. It will be raw and gaping when I am 90.

Another mild irritant, a grain of sand in my shell so to speak, is the current situation at work. A member of staff there is a continual thorn in my side; she isn't performing her job competently and it's stressing us all out. It doesn't help that she is our supervisor! How this bit of grit will ever become a pearl I don't know.

So anyway. I am feeling a lot like that shaky little doggy under the big fat bum of doom!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Groanings too deep for words

When I speak about it now
I see November mist.
That damp afternoon of my life.

It goes with excitement
and fear: my body's truth.
Opening my freedom

like a letter bomb,
seeing everything

Surviving, I hear:
'You alright?
Where does it hurt?'

How do you measure
How do you tell of

amputations this invisible?
See, I smile, I talk,
I walk...

I even speak about it now
without a tremor in my voice
when I need to say their names.

And the reasons have faded too.
Like an old print in the sun.
Leaving residues of something

which isn't exactly guilt
but wears the same drab colour
and which jolts me awake at two

to choose and choose
and choose again
what always seems

and will remain so

--Maggie Mountford

Today has been a very bad day. They come around about every 3 months or so, so my husband says. This wound is profoundly deep and will never, ever, ever heal. In the deepest depths of myself, there is not, nor will ever be, self-forgiveness. These feelings are too primitive--primal--and so must remain unnamed. A tempest, then a hollow echo. An abiding ache.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

March Rotation

This month I've decided to do 3 strength workouts, 1 step cardio and 2 yogas per week. One of the yoga workouts will be quite strenuous, so as to count toward a cardio workout.

1 Mantra Girl Advanced Kundalini Yoga for Spiritual Warriors
2 Jari Love Get Ripped & Chiseled

4 Jari Love Get Ripped Slim & Lean
5 Ravi & Ana Yoga Bliss Hips
6 Jari Love Get Ripped!
7 Amy Bento Advanced Step Challenge
8 Ravi & Ana Journey through the Chakras
9 Rodney Yee Yoga Burn

10 Jari Love Ripped to the Core
11 Ravi & Ana KY for Beginners and Beyond
12 Amy Bento Advanced Step Challenge
13 Jari Love Ripped & Chiseled
15 Jari Love Get Ripped!
16 Mantra Girl Advanced KY for the Spiritual Warrior

17 Cathe Slow & Heavy Chest and Back
18 Amy Bento Advanced Step Challenge
19 Cathe Slow & Heavy Legs and Shoulders
20 Ravi & Ana Kundalini Yoga Ultimate Stretch Workout
21 Cathe Slow & Heavy Biceps and Triceps
22 Mantra Girl Advanced KY the Spiritual Warrior
23 Maya Fiennes Kundalini Yoga to Detox and Destress

24 Cathe Slow & Heavy Chest and Back
25 Cathe Slow & Heavy Legs and Shoulders
26 Ravi & Ana Warrior Workout
28 Cathe Slow & Heavy Biceps and Triceps
29 Amy Bento Advanced Step Challenge
30 Mantra Girl Introduction to KY and Chanting

31 Rodney Yee Power Yoga Total Body


I did my February assessment and here are the results:

Overall average weight--134 lbs

Measurements--Chest 33"
Waist 26.5"
Hips 36"
Upper arm 11"
Upper thigh 20.5"

Number of push-ups (on toes) in one go--20

Number of workouts in February--Sculpt 11
Cardio 5
Yoga 11

May all beings be at ease.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Mantra Girl Presents Advanced Kundalini Yoga for the Spiritual Warrior (AKA 'If You've Been Doing Ravi & Ana Ha Ha on You')

Advanced Kundalini for the Spiritual Warrior is KILLER! I just finished this workout about two hours ago, and my quadriceps are having post-traumatic-stress-induced flashbacks. Ouch!

The workout starts with tuning in, stomach grinds, spinal flexes and a long forward bend. Then the workout begins. *whimper*

You start with hands in gyan mudra out to the sides, standing up, and you do moderately paced knee runs while doing breath of fire. This goes on until the ends of your hair are dripping with sweat and your breath has gone from 'light sniffing' to sucking in and out through the mouth, with the occasional Amy Bento style 'Whoo!' to keep the spirits up.

Next you get in down dog, but instead of going into plank, then push up, then up dog pose (as with most of my yoga DVDs), you swoop from down dog directly into up dog. I found this terribly hard--and you do it about a thousand times (or so it seems). Sweat was dripping onto the mat and I was actually grunting by the time we finished this set.

After that, you sit in easy pose and hold your left arm out straight from the shoulder and hold it out there while breathing deeply. My heart was pounding and sweat still coming out of my hair during the left arm, but by the time we moved to the right arm I was beginning to feel human again. (Sort of).

The rest is sort of a blur, but I think the next thing is the dreaded froggy squats. On this section I could not keep up. In fact, if I had pushed myself any harder, I feel sure my quadriceps would have cramped up and I would have fallen, crippled, to the floor. Seriously. I did my best, which was nowhere near what the unflappable Mantra Girl was serenely doing. After that set, you stand up on your knees with hands on quads, sit on your heels, stand back up again, sit back down again, over and over and over and over. This actually wasn't so bad and helped stretch out the quads after the torture of the froggy squats. Then you get in down dog and do breath of fire.

Somewhere during this blur, you attempt to do the impossible: sit with legs out as far as you can, put your hands on your thighs and do spinal flexes, then after that set, put your hands on the floor in front of yourself and push down into the floor, lifting your entire bottom and legs off the floor and dropping back down again. Mantra Girl and her cronies were all doing it. The modifiers in the back were just pressing into the floor, but they were doing better than me. I was just sort of leaning forward a bit. And my version of having my legs out to the sides is nowhere near their version. Let's just say they're more flexible. (The little tramps).

At some point around this time, you lie on your belly and clasp your hands behind your back, pull your chest up off the floor and do breath of fire again. Then you do what I call the 'walrus flop', where you put your chin on the floor and thump your pelvis up and down against the floor while doing breath of fire. (This was the only part of the workout that got DH's attention; the rest of the time he sat on the sofa reading a magazine.) Then you hold your right foot behind your back and rock back and forth on the belly, hold your left foot and rock, then hold both feet and rock. Then you do breath of fire while kicking yourself in the butt one leg at a time. (I told you it was a blur--the order of these sets is probably not quite accurate).

At some point we did the other thing that I absolutely could not keep up with: you sit down cross-legged on the floor, get up without using your hands, switch feet around, sit down without using hands, stand up no hands, switch feet, sit, stand, sit stand, sit stand, so on and so forth, never using your hands to help. It was during this set that I called Mantra Girl that bad word from 'Atonement' and complained aloud that Yogi Bhajan was nothing but a cab driver anyway. (Okay, so my serenity and loving-kindness need as much help as my strength and flexibility. It's why I'm working on it with this stuff!)

There are some leg lifts in this workout somewhere; can't remember where! There's also a 'washing machine' twist set with hands interlaced at the solar plexus.

The closing meditations are wonderful--Adi Shakti and Ra-ma-da-sa sa-say-so-hung.

The First Shakti Mantra tunes into the frequency of the Divine Mother, and to primal protective, generating energy. Chanting it eliminates fears and fulfils desires. Adi Shakti means the "Primal Power," Sarab Shakti means "All Power", and Prithum Bhagawati means "the power through which everything manifests". Mata Shakti is the Divine Mother. Namo means "I bow to".

is the Siri Gaitri Mantra, and is chanted for healing. Ra is the sun, Ma is the Moon, Da is the earth, and Sa is Infinity. Say is the totality of Infinity, and So Hung is "I am Thou". "Ra Ma Da Sa" is the Earth Mantra. and "Sa Say So Hung" is the Ether Mantra.

These mantras are mesmerising. When I finished the second one, I felt as if I was waking up, and I looked over at the couch and saw that the hypnotic sounds had put DH right sleep.

All in all, a wonderful and invigorating set. I bet I'll be sore tomorrow.

May all beings be at ease.