Archive for the ‘health’ Tag

Turning Fifty

When I turned 40, I embraced it. I felt good. I was a lot more confident and ‘together’ than I’d ever been before, I had a novel coming out, and I felt ready to face the world.

2009 Sara

Me in 2009

That was 10 years ago. In a few days I hit 50, and I don’t feel quite so enamoured about that number.

The main difference between 40 and 50 is the reality of having to face my own mortality. I always looked to my grandparents as the genetic marker of how long I had, biologically, to live on this earth. They all lived well into their 80s, but none of them made it 90. In addition, I am not aware of anyone in my family who lived long enough to get that birthday card from the Queen. So logic would dictate that I now have more years behind me than I have in front of me, and that’s a somewhat sobering thought. There is also the unescapable fact that age does tend to catch up with you. Every time I look in the mirror I see more grey hairs and more lines on my face. I have arthritis in my knees, and when it’s cold and damp they ache. I am firmly in the midst of the perimenopause, a life stage that royally sucks and I really wish there was more discussion around this, instead of it being hidden away as a taboo subject.

Being 50 seems to mark a significant life change. I am most definitely middle-aged. I move into the age range for Saga holidays and the ‘over 50s’ funeral plans, the ones with the appallingly patronising adverts on TV with Michael Parkinson. But I am unable to stop time from marching on and this birthday will arrive whether I like it or not.

There are some significant changes I’ve made over the last couple of years to try and deal with impending old age. One of them is to start an exercise routine that involves a personal trainer. Exercise and me are not friends, as I’ve often said. But one of the undisputable facts of getting older is that you get to a stage in life when your body starts punishing you for not looking after it properly. Exercise – like vegetables – is necessary for good health, and I endeavour to tolerate both. But apart from swimming, which I do try to do on a regular basis, I hate all forms of exercise and find any excuse not to do any. So now I have a weekly 25-minute one-to-one session with a personal trainer, and I have to go because she’s expecting me. I still don’t enjoy it, but it’s only 25 minutes. And I have to say after nearly a year in, I am seeing some benefits. My knees don’t hurt quite so much. I am able to take stairs a lot easier. I have a bit more flexibiity – something as simple as doing up a dress with a back zip I used to struggle with, and now I find I can reach behind my own back in a way I couldn’t before.

2019 Sara

Me in 2019

I am also once more on the Weight Watchers plan, in an attempt to lose a few of those excess pounds. My sweet tooth is most definitely my downfall, and sometimes I feel like I’ve been playing ‘hide and seek’ with the same twenty pounds all of my adult life. I successfully lose those pounds. Then somehow I slip back into the old habits and they find me again. So I get on the wagon once more and lose them. Well, you get the idea. Since re-joining WW in the summer, I am down about ten pounds. So roughly halfway there. I have to say, it’s taking a lot longer than it used to to lose the weight this time, and not just because the Weight Watchers plan has changed – that’s another consequence of my changing middle-aged body.

But, gradually, I am getting there. For the last twenty years I’ve had a ‘thin wardrobe’ (UK size 12) and a ‘fat wardrobe’ (size 14). It’s time to go back on the diet when I struggle to get into size 14 clothes. I am not yet at a point when I can fit into my size 12 dresses, but the size 14s all fit a lot better.

However, despite feeling rather old some days, I am actually hitting my fifties healthier than I’ve probably every been, and I will be celebrating with a big party. Music, dancing and food. And alcohol. Lots of it. If I must enter this decade, I will do so with fanfare.

I bought the party dress back in June, as I found it on sale and decided it was The One. It actually didn’t fit at that point. I tried on the size 16, which was slightly too big, and the size 14 was too small. I bought the size 14 and pledged to myself I would get into it by October. I tried it on the other day and it’s now a perfect fit. This might be a small win, but it’s something else to celebrate.

50 is round the corner. I see it there. I am facing it down and saying, come and get me, then. I am ready for you.

Exercise and Me: Reaching An Uneasy Truce

I make no secret of the fact I hate sports. I have no hand-eye co-ordination and no dexterity. I can’t catch, I can’t throw, I can’t run without falling over. It’s been this way for me since childhood. I was always happier curled up reading a book than I was running about outside.

I hated physical education lessons and I was always last to be picked for teams. And because I am assuming this barbaric practise doesn’t happen in schools any more, let me enlighten those of you too young to experience this. ‘Picking teams’ was when the teacher couldn’t be bothered to divide the class into teams, so they would get the kids to do it instead. The teacher would choose two team leaders – generally those who were good at sports. The team leaders would then take it turns to select the people in the class they wanted on their team. Naturally they picked their friends first. Then the kids who were good at sports, and the cool people.

When it came down to only the unpopular and nerdy kids that were left, the choice for the leaders became more difficult. After all, you don’t want your street cred to suffer by picking one of the kids everyone made fun of. Whenever this ritual happened at my school, the outcome was always the same, regardless of which school it was (and it happened at several). At the end there were always two kids left: the special needs kid, and me. The special needs kid was a bit clumsy and a bit slow, but he or she had a reason for being that way. The special needs kid got picked before me. And as if being the one no one wanted wasn’t bad enough, as I made my way over to the team that was stuck with me by process of elimination, I had to listen to none-too-subtle complaints of my team mates. “Oh no. We’ve got her. We’re going to lose.”

This is why I hated PE. And then we moved to Canada when I was ten years old, and my misery was exacerbated in a country that places a great emphasis on sports. Canadians are born knowing how to play baseball, it seems, and they all get put on ice skates at the time they learn to walk. I was made to play baseball with the school, but I didn’t know how to play and I was too shy to ask, and everybody shouted at me when I got it wrong. A few weeks into our new Canadian life my class went ice skating. It never occurred to anyone to ask me if I’d ever been skating before (I hadn’t). I spent the session holding onto the side of the rink, and my classmates were fascinated – they had never met anyone who didn’t know how to ice skate before.

Things came to a head with my eighth grade gym teacher. She felt I was being wilfully lazy, and singled me out for punishment. Her name was Mrs Parker, and she still appears in my nightmares sometimes with her shrill cry of, “come on ladies, hustle!”

All this led to an insecurity that persisted through adolescence. Because I was no good at sports, I was somehow inadequate as a person. An inferior human being. Worthless.

When I got to high school I was able to drop gym class, which I did, like a stone. But it took me a long time to get over those feelings of inadequacy. That not being good at sports did not necessary make me worthless. That it was OK to be a non-sporty person and that there were other things I was good at instead. Like writing stories.

The psychological scars of all this are still with me. But I have learned to regard exercise the same way I regard vegetables. I don’t like either, but they are a necessary part of a healthy life, so they must be tolerated.

I have spent all of my adult life trying – and failing – to get fit. I have listened to all the advice: “look for an activity you enjoy”. But I don’t enjoy anything. Some things I can tolerate, like swimming. Some things I can’t, like pilates. “Stick with it, and you’ll eventually get that buzz from a good workout”. For over 35 years now I have been embarking on various forms of exercise, and I have never once experienced that “buzz” that people talk about.

But I am turning 50 this year, and I am now worried about the consequences of poor health in old age. So I am trying a new tactic. I am going for regular sessions with a personal trainer.

I was very nervous about starting this. I was imaging someone like Mrs Parker, who would shout at me for being lazy or not trying hard enough. Thankfully, this fear proved to be unfounded. For a few weeks now I have been doing weekly one-to-one sessions of 25 minutes, in the local park. I haven’t been particularly enamoured about this – as well as not liking exercise, I’m also not a fan of the outdoors. But Karen has been very supportive. Each week we try different types of exercise and she guides me through what I need to do, being mindful of what my limitations are (arthritic knee for instance) but always trying to get me to push just a little farther. Today she said she was impressed with the speed at which I was picking things up. The exercises involved a medicine ball, with some throwing and catching, which I was better at than I was expecting to be. “Who said you were rubbish at games?” she asked me. “Everyone”, I said. And she said that I just need more confidence.

So far, then, this mode of exercise has been going quite well but I am aware it is early days. Having someone who’s expecting me to turn up has helped me stick to this, and I do appreciate the one-to-one session, as Karen can focus on my technique and correct me when I’m not doing something right.

So, a shout-out to Karen of Be Epic, for her patience and tolerance and willingness to help me improve my fitness level. It might be slow going, but at least I’m doing some form of regular exercise now.

And to finish, because it sums up my attitude to exercise and weight loss, here’s a spoof of Adele’s ‘Hello’ by Dustin and Genevieve, called ‘Hella Cravings’. It makes me smile and nod every time I watch it.

 

New Year Reflections

The start of the year is a time to reflect on what’s past, on where you find yourself at the present, and where you want to be going in the future.

We are now a couple of weeks into 2016 and I find myself, on the whole, to be in a pretty good place. I have several publications under my belt including three novels and another coming soon (SUFFER THE CHILDREN, my first novel, due for re-release from MuseItUp Publishing later this year). I’ve got two more novels in progress, and ideas for a few more. The day job is going well, and I’ve seen significant improvements in my health since taking the decision to drop twenty pounds in 2015.

However, my life is also pretty packed. The day job pays well but works me hard, and I spend not only eight hours a day five days a week there, but three hours a day commuting to and from London. I have my bass guitar lesson once a week and am doing regular open mic gigs with Hubby. I am trying to develop a regular exercise routine, we play Dungeons and Dragons twice a month, I run the T Party writers’ group which meets once a month, and this is before we start talking about fitting in the writing, the promotion, the conventions, and holidays.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not a whine. I am where I am in my life because I chose to be there, and I do not regret anything. However, there is always room for improvement, and the start of the year seems to be a good time to look at what I  can do better.

First of all, this blog has been neglected for the last couple of years, and I am going to endeavour to change that this year. Monday will still be the guest blog feature Monday’s Friends, as it has been for some years now. Wednesdays will be a writing-related post, cross-posted on the WriteClub blog. I hope to pick up the Ten Commandments of Writing feature, which rather tailed off halfway through last year. Friday Fears will feature with more regularity, and I would welcome contributions of two-sentence horror stories from anyone who feels inclined to send me one – credited, of course.

In addition, I’d like to feature other posts on the blog, about more general subjects. I can’t promise this will be weekly – it’s more likely to be once or twice a month. But when I started the blog, I was talking about commuting and London and weather and travelling and all the things that I deal with in my everyday life. And because I don’t want to be the kind of writer that only comes online to say ‘buy my book’, I’d like to get back to this again.

So, that’s one resolution: more regular blog posts. A second, more personal one, relates to the aforementioned weight loss. This was something that I didn’t really discuss on the blog, but those who follow me on Twitter will be aware of it, since I was Tweeting about my weekly weigh-ins.

This was something that came about when I went on a short holiday to France in June and couldn’t get the zip of my favourite summer dress done up. Coming at a time when I’d lost several family members and friends to cancer within a fairly short period, I was more mindful of needing to look after my health and decided the time had come to get a bit healthier. The weight loss was all about trying to shed bad habits, as well as a few pounds. I hate the gym, I hate vegetables and I love all things sweet and sugary. But sometimes you have to do things that are good for you, whether you want to or not. I aimed to get back to ten and a half stone (that’s 147 lbs for the Americans amongst you), which is what I was when I last lost weight, in 2009. The intervening years had apparently seen a gain of over twenty pounds, which I wanted to lose again. I managed to hit my goal just before Christmas, but then came all the eating and drinking and not moving from the couch for two weeks that accompanied the holiday season, and I’m now a few pounds above that goal again.

However, I resolved at the beginning of this year to try and go back to the good habits I’d adopted at the end of last year: regular exercise, more fruit & veg, fewer sugary treats, fewer takeaways, less red meat. I’ve ridden this whole weight-loss roundabout before. The weight comes off, I go back to eating what I like to eat, it comes back on again. This year, I want to try and keep the weight off – especially since Hubby bought me several new dresses in my new smaller size for Christmas, and I want to be able to keep on wearing them.

It can be quite difficult as a writer to stay fit, since writing generally involves sitting on a chair for hours at a time, moving only to get more tea and another couple of biscuits (favourite food of The Muse, apparently). And I am inherently quite lazy. I have no trouble getting up early to write, especially when my early morning writing sessions involve a yummy breakfast muffin at the coffee shop I set up in, but I am much less inclined to get up early to go for an early-morning swim.

There, then, is Resolution Number 2. And then there are the writing resolutions, which I discussed in the December round-up post. I have two novels to finish. I have to crack on with them.

There’s an additional resolution that comes in to help me with all the others, and that’s to be more organised. I’ve got a rather anally retentive personality anyway, and I love lists. Lists are the key to staying organised. I have to do lists for every week, involving both writing and non-writing related goals, and they get dutifully ticked off as I complete the tasks. Finding time to write, or to exercise, equally involves noting appointments in my diary and making sure I turn up when I say I will – even if not doing so lets down no one else but myself.

It’s always dangerous to declare one’s intentions in a public forum, since you have a lot of people to answer to if you fail to fulfil them. But it also provides a good motivation to sticking to your resolutions.

Hence, I start the year full of good intentions. I guess we need to come back here at the end of the year and see how well – or otherwise – I’ve managed to do!

Whatever you wish for this year, I hope 2016 delivers.

End of the Pity Party

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I’ve been rather neglecting this blog of late. I don’t really have any excuses to offer – I’ve been off my game but that’s not an excuse.

Since the end of December I’ve had a lingering persistent mystery virus that’s left me feeling permanently under the weather. It’s been an unusually long cold winter in the UK. Generally by March we can expect temperatures to be rising into double figures. March this year we were still getting snow. In fact we were still getting snow in April. Now we’re into May, and it’s more like March – cold and wet.

These things have all contributed to a general feeling of malaise that has gripped me since the beginning of the year. The upshot is, I haven’t done nearly enough writing. When I’m not feeling happy I don’t sleep. When I don’t sleep it’s harder to get out of bed early, and I spend the day feeling fatigued. And this leads to not being able to concentrate.

These are all pathetic excuses. The facts are, I have two WIPs on the go (actually three, since I’ve decided to get back to the second Shara Summers book – but more about that at a later date) and I’ve not done any work on any of them for weeks.

In the meantime, my last new release was over a year ago, I have no new books out in the foreseeable future and the book-buying public has a very short memory. Sitting about feeling sorry for myself will not get any books finished. It’s time to give myself a kick up the backside.

There are no more excuses. Writing is about discipline, about getting it done, about putting in the hours for word counts and the promotion. I’m leaving this pity party now. I’ve got books to write.

Stressed

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Generally I don’t post when I’m stressed. When I’m stressed I get grumpy, and I don’t want my blog posts to turn into long whinges. However, I am doing so today for reasons I hope will become clear later.

I’ve had a couple of holidays this summer, which were not stressful in themselves, but coming back to work after time away always makes me regret going away in the first place – the work piles up when I’m gone, and suddenly there isn’t enough time to do everything.

I seem to have been struck by a series of ailments over the last few weeks – nothing serious or long lasting, but it has meant I’ve spent altogether too much time sitting in hospital waiting rooms.

We are in the process of buying and selling property, which is a long, drawn out and stressful process. I’m not going to say too much about this at this stage, because English property law being what it is, nothing is set before exchange, anything can go wrong – and frequently does – before that stage, and so it’s best not to assume it’s actually going to happen until the keys are in your hand. However, the process involves dealing with estate agents and solicitors, which is stressful enough without all the other stuff going on.

Most crucially, though, I am still wrestling with the WIP. I am mired in the “my writing is rubbish” stage, believing the whole thing needs dismantling and putting back together, and I am not sure where to start.

However, I am starting to think that life stress is connected to writing stress and vice versa. When the writing is going well I am in a much better frame of mind and can pretty much handle whatever life throws at me. When it’s not going well, suddenly all kinds of other hassle creeps in – notably, things that wouldn’t be bothering me quite so much if the writing was going well. I started today with an early morning writing session that didn’t go at all well – I spent much of that hour staring at the page thinking what I had written was complete rubbish. Hence, I didn’t have a good day at work, either. When I start the day with a good writing session, the day job is much easier to handle.

So the only stress in my life I should actually be focusing on is my troublesome WIP. If I can kick that into submission, everything else should be a breeze. Even the house move…

Can We Start Again, Please?

2012 has not got off to a good start. My NetBook dying on New Years’ Day was the first bad portent. A sore throat the following day was the next.

This had turned into a cough by the time I went back to work. If like me you have asthma, coughs are never good. They take ages to go, and often turn into something far nastier.

After two weeks of struggling along and coughing like a plague victim, I went to see the doctor, who decided I had a chest infection. She prescribed antibiotics and signed me off work for the rest of the week. This was on Monday of this week. So I have spent the majority of this week cocooned on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. And playing Dragon Age, my latest video game obsession, which was the only thing I found I could concentrate on and at least it distracted me from thinking about how rubbish I was feeling.

I am not a good patient. I hate being ill. I hated the fact I was coughing so hard, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus on anything, and I had to put ordinary activities on hold. The antibiotics, although helping clear up the infection, have side effects, the most annoying of which is stomach pains. I also developed a constant niggling ache in my lower back, which I suspect is caused by straining some muscle or other through coughing too hard.

Now we are at the weekend, I have to say I am feeling a lot better. I am no longer waking up in the night having coughing fits. The back pain seems to be easing. If I eat something with the antibiotics – even if it’s just a couple of biscuits – the stomach pains aren’t as bad. The coughing is still there, but not as frequent, or as violent, as it was.

Frankly I’m tired of being ill, and I am keen to get back into the usual routine. I’m going back to work on Monday. I aim to do some writing this weekend. I’d even like to get back to going to the gym.

I would like to write off the entire month of January, as I got nothing accomplished during it. Well, I made quite a lot of progress in Dragon Age, and even managed to score a couple of trophies. But I’m not sure that counts.