24 December 2010

My thoughts for Christmas

It’s Friday 24 December. This morning, I was fully prepared with a big scarf, a hat, gloves and snow boots, but yet it was freezing cold. It didn’t keep me from going outside. Yes, I had to go to work, but it’s just beautiful, everywhere. In the city, the parks and the woods. It’s a winter wonderland with snow on roofs, on trees, on bridges over canals, on church towers and even snow-covered cars finally found a way to fit in these old characteristic city scenes. 

The only thing that you shouldn’t fit into these winter days, is work. Enjoying the snow means that you should not try to get to work by train, bus, car, or let alone, by bike. You shouldn’t be in a hurry for work, a meeting, a train, a flight, or even a theatre show. Streets, pavements, motor ways, rail tracks, runways - basically all means that normally help you moving, are now causing a major and country wide standstill.
Nonetheless, I’ve never enjoyed the incredible delayed and long journey home by train from a meeting in another city more than this afternoon. I left a city covered by snow and filled with a Christmassy feeling, and the landscape changed to snow-covered forests and plains with little villages in sight.

For the fourth time, the train stopped in the so-called ‘middle of nowhere’. Normally, such occasions annoy me terribly. It makes me feel out of control, it puts me under pressure time wise or I start waiting for the message why it’s taking so long. This afternoon, I was watching outside, saw birds fly, was amazed by how much snow trees can handle and was just generally relaxed by seeing this beautiful white wonderland. 

Even though I had my work very close by on my Blackberry, but my mind and thoughts couldn’t be further away. Why hurry so often? Why stress so often about day-to-day annoyances? Why worry so often about what a colleague did or didn’t say, did or didn’t do? Why is my mind so often occupied that I miss seeing what my eyes are looking at?
Today on the train, I didn’t stress. My mind went blank. I was just moved by the beautiful scenery, the silence in the compartment and the fact that by the time I would be home it would be Christmas Eve.

Why don’t I enjoy moments like these more often? Why do I need Christmas to reflect on the life I’m so used to? Why can I be so moved by this beautiful natural wonder that snow is, and how beautiful and clean it our country makes?
Of course, I don’t like all what snow does. I hate the icy streets. I don’t like needing to place every footstep very carefully so that I don’t fall. I don’t like waiting on a cold platform, waiting for a (delayed) train or bus to take me home or to work. 
But I do also notice that it does do something to unknown people, to colleagues, to me.

Last week, people who were unknown to me drove me home, as our train didn’t run. This week, colleagues didn’t mind that a meeting was rescheduled for the 4th time because I couldn’t make it. And me, I realised how great it is to become aware of the world around me, be it the view from the office on the woods, a filled platform, or the city with a Charles Dickens feel. 

Once I take the time to reflect, to really see what I’m looking at, to hear what colleagues are really saying and to enjoy little moments for myself, I could be a happier and more relaxed girl. Suddenly, sitting on a delayed train makes quality time, I hear my colleagues giving me a compliment, I can see the seasons change from the office, and I can enjoy a nice dinner or evening stroll through the city centre with friends.

And with those thoughts on Christmas Eve 2010, I wish you all a lovely Christmas.

23 November 2010


Wenn es anders kommt, als wir es gedacht haben,
dann kann es auch eine Einladung des Lebens sein,
es so zu nehmen, wie es kommt.
Mit Optimismus, einer Prise Humor und mit Gelassenheit.
Jochen Mariss

It was in a small bookshop at the station of Düsseldorf where I was looking for a birthday card and saw a card with a beautiful photo of a growing crop. It was when I read a few lines next to it, that this card touched me. I read it twice and then bought it for myself. Lebenskunst

Yesterday, I was reminded of this card after a much needed catch up with an old colleague. She got married on a beach in summer, and told me about the great party they had and how special that day was to her.
I asked her how she was doing now, and she replied that she was pregnant. A brilliant answer to such a daily question. It wasn’t really planned, and even though she was still trying to get used to the idea of becoming a mother, she’s incredibly happy with it.

I also was very happy for her and said that it was so nice to enjoy some great news. Then she sighted. Simultaneously to being incredibly happy about her pregnancy, she had a lot of worries in her life. Her mother heard two weeks ago that she was seriously ill, and that news made her life into some kind of emotional roller coaster.
One message about creating new life, and another message about a threat to life – it’s the circle of life, but very difficult to deal with simultaneously, and especially, within one family.

It’s Lebenskunst, or the art of living, or savoir vivre. These concepts get a whole different meaning while we’re living, while we’re getting older. “Suddenly, you're old enough" ... We’re adults. When did that happen?” were lines of Meredith in Grey’s Anatomy, when she reflects on the development of her life and worries, from being a kid to now, working as a surgeon.

As a young kid, I had some serious little worries. Did the other school kids like me?  Would I get invitations for birthday parties? In secondary school, the bit bigger worries about grades started, about the future, about wearing the right branded cloths and about being accepted in this cool group of friends. But also, I was confronted with big worries on life, as a girl in my year committed suicide, and my grandmother died of leukaemia.
It was in secondary school when my personal worries grew bigger. I got weird pains, and these pains started to influence or rather became the cause of my worries. 
At university, my worries as a student developed, and started to involve money, and insecurities about living on myself while dealing with these weird pains. My family became smaller after losing my grandparents, yet we were growing increasingly together. 

Now, I am 27. Work, health, insurance, finances, relationships with friends and family and the future, they’re all frequent or less-frequent worries in my so-called life. 
One thing has changed though, the varied ages of people I encounter in daily life. I’m the youngest in my group of friends. Quite a few have settled, are starting families and new lives. Some of them have had merely bright sunny lives; some of them have had to deal with some very heavy stuff in their lives.  At work, I’m the youngest by generation. I hear my colleagues talk about their teenage children with teenage problems, working towards their pensions, and more and more, talking about health problems.  I lost a dear colleague almost two years ago.

I did become an adult and it didn’t happen suddenly. Experiences roughly from my 5th up to my 27th birthday have shaped my character, responsibilities, thoughts, worries, and altogether, my savoir vivre, or the art of living.

Lebenskunst. The art of living. Colours, such as optimism, a bit of humour and serenity, could certainly make the painting of life look more beautiful.
I’ll try to make my own art of living better equipped to changes, and start trying to see an unexpected change as an invitation to take life as it comes.
This post card and the few lines of Jochen Mariss couldn’t explain it any clearer.

19 November 2010

Insomnia - "I can't get no sleep"

It was 1995, I was in high school and dance was played in clubs throughout Europe. One particular song reminds me of that time, although I didn’t even like it that much when I was a high school girl.
I was 12 or 13 years old, and I was always a bit frightened by Faithless’ dance song ‘Insomnia.  I’m not sure if that was because of the intense song, or also because of the music video. I can’t remember what music I particularly loved, but it would probably be anything but ‘happy’ hardcore, trance and this kind of dance music.

This changed when I was a student. I went to big clubs and rediscovered Faithless’ ‘Insomnia’ hit. It was one of those songs, which seemed to keep going on forever, but gave a great excuse for dancing, and losing yourself amid all these people on the dance floor.

Now, it’s about ten years after that time, and quite often, I’m being reminded of that song when I’m lying in bed. While I’m lying awake, wishing to sleep and getting annoyed by watching the clock counting the minutes of sleep to be lacked. “I can’t get no sleep” and "I need to sleep, although I get no sleep", are the sentences of this Faithless song, which gets a totally different meaning when you’re not dancing in a club. Suddenly, it’s not a song that I like for dancing around at 5 am in clubs, keeping my sleep away, but a song reminding me how horrible it is when you wish for sleep.

“I can’t get no sleep” turns into kind of a mantra, not a positive one, but rather a pessimistic one.  
A lack of sleep, or not being able to sleep, even though I’m exhausted, means yawning and a lack of concentration throughout the following day. They developed into ongoing irritating habits of me and appeared to have a cause, or actually multiple causes, namely pains.

Pains made me turn around every 5-10 minutes, made me incredibly tired fighting against them, or acknowledging them, and these pains made me worry loads. Most of the time, not very surprisingly, at night.  “I can’t get no sleep”.

And what became my nightly habit when I was lying awake, or actually still is? I turn on the sleep function of the radio in my bedroom, spray a bit of lavender spray on my pillow, and make myself hot milk or just drink a glass of water. Lying in bed listening to ‘Chill FM’, ‘easy listening for the insomniacs’, makes me calm and sends me back to sleep before the 59 minutes are over.

Thankfully, very often this helps, and I don’t need all the stuff Faithless sings about when he “can’t get no sleep”.

13 November 2010

Hula hoop twirling, mud and massage - another day of spa therapy

It’s 8.00 in the morning when I leave the little pension on the hill for another day of spa therapy. Today, water gymnastics, a mudpack and a massage are scheduled for me.

It’s freezing outside with fog hanging over the little village of Bad Brambach. I like these autumn mornings. Even though these temperatures feel like winter instead of autumn. Frozen leaves are covering the path leading down to the spa. I’m very happy with the winter cap and thick gloves I bought a day before. It was so cold when I visited the little village of Bad Elster, that I fled into a cafe for a hot chocolate. Apparently, autumn is a little different in the mountains of Germany from the merely rainy and humid autumn in the Netherlands. I even found snow when I made a long walk around the village of Bad Brambach. 

“Good morning.”
“Good morning.”
A little group of five people is standing in a pool and saying hello to our physiotherapist, who will take us through the exercises in our water gymnastics class today.

She’s handing out big hula hoops. These hula hoops make the exercises more difficult but also more fun. I do have to laugh when I look around me and see an elderly couple and two older gentlemen trying to twirl and dance with these hula hoops in the water. I used to love this hula hoop when I was young, in the 1980s. Now, it’s 2010 and in this pool we’re composing a scene for the daily gymnastics morning show broadcasted on TV for 65 year olds. Nonetheless, the exercises with the hula hoop will make my muscles seriously feel hung over the day after. 

Thankfully, after this half an hour of stretching, twirling, dancing, and thorough exercising, an empty swimming pool is waiting for me to cool down with a few lanes of swimming. Yet, the best follows after: A mudpack and a massage.

While I'm waiting in the “Fangopackung” room, a lady comes in with a big bucket with mud. She puts, or basically throws, loads of thick nice warm mud on my back, hips and knees. It’s called fango and originates from the area. She wraps me in plastic and covers me with a thick blanket. With “Schlaf schön”, she wishes me a relaxing 20 minutes of sleep. I can’t sleep, lying in mud, but do close my eyes and concentrate on the warmth of this mud going into my muscles and warming my joints. It’s very relaxing, although it feels a bit weird, lying in a thick layer of mud. After a red light bulb warns me that time is up, the same lady removes the thickest layer of mud. I move into the shower and see the leftovers disappearing down the drain.

With a very sleepy head, I’m putting my green bathrobe on and wait for two minutes until the physiotherapist invites me for a massage. She’s trying to get all the knots out of my back and she’s punishing my muscles and joints for all the pains they’re normally causing me. My sleepy feeling is quickly transforming into a fully awakened one. It was a great massage, but I’m sure, by the time massage was over, my back looked completely red. She recommends going to the Ruheraum for fifteen minutes of ‘recovering’. Not a problem at all. Five minutes later, I’m lying down in a comfy chair with a heavy red blanket over me.

Certainly, one of the best things of this spa therapy holiday is the time I spent on thinking, reading, watching clouds moving and birds flying or just noticing the silence. And all that was already possible in my daily time in the relax room. It’s now two weeks later and I’m working in a big office with four colleagues around me and are chatting continuously, and I miss my Ruheraum incredibly.

31 October 2010

Bubbly radon baths

Twenty minutes in a hot bath with water bubbling around you like you’re bathing in champagne. Nice! It feels very luxurious, very bubbly and, above all, very relaxing. The smell is not champagne, but more like metal. Still, it’s not a bad smell. It adds to the experience. A long window shows mountains and trees in autumn colours. 

After long months of stress, work and lots of obligations, I was very much looking forward to leave the Netherlands for a two-week holiday of spa therapy, wellness and much needed relaxation. I left early Monday morning for a 10-hour train ride through Germany to a very little town in southern Saxony, Bad Brambach. It’s literally the last village before the border, as Czech borders surround the village. To get there by train, you even have to go through Czech republic in order to arrive at the station of Bad Brambach. It’s a tiny village but it’s well known for its high amounts of radon gas in its waters. Research has shown its levels of radon are even the highest in Europe and among the highest in the world. That said, if you would have these levels of radon in your house or cellar, you had to leave your house immediately because of health risks. Luckily, there's no radon in my hotel room, and I'm only trying out natural radon gas in baths. It supposedly has a good effect on patients suffering from Ankylosing Spondylitis. 

After waiting for exactly 2 minutes, a lady picks me up and brings me to a room with ‘CO2 Radonbad’ written on its door. The water is still forcefully splashing into the bath and I can wait in my bathrobe in this warm room until the bath is full. Before I can go in, she puts a little box in the water.
While I'm carefully climbing into the bath, I notice the heat of the water right away. But not only the heat, it’s also something with the water itself. There’s a kind of force in the water, which makes it difficult to first sit, and afterwards lie down. It feels a bit like you’re starting to float. Now, I understand why the little box is put into the water, it helps a smaller girl like me, against floating and makes me lying perfectly under water.

With a little pillow under my head and rays of the sun on the water, it’s perfect. Perfect to relax, to clear my thoughts, to leave my work at home and solely focus on the bubbles. These bubbles come to the surface of the water and then explode. It’s fascinating to see. Because there’s no distraction of music, people, voices or pain, I’m watching the water and the play between the bubbles and the sun. I can see bubbles on my whole body, but as soon as I lift my hand out of the water, they’re gone.

The gas smells, well, healthy. It’s not difficult to get used to. Very silently a clock is ticking the minutes away. And then, a red light bulb indicates that time is up. The lady told me beforehand that after getting out of the bath, I should put my bathrobe on straight away and go then to the Ruheraum, the room to relax. No towels, no drying, just the bathrobe. Although the room itself was warm beforehand, the minute I get out of this bath, I’m freezing. I’m so cold. Putting my bathrobe on in record speed and walk slowly towards to the Ruheraum. I’m a bit out of it.

In the Ruheraum there are thick blankets, which help you getting warm again. The minute I’m lying in one of the extremely comfy chairs with a blanket over me, and socks warming my feet, I close my eyes.
Twenty minutes later, I wake up again and look at the view in front of me. Beautiful. The sun makes the trees shine in their autumn colours and the sky is incredibly blue. As a Dutch girl used to a flat country, I thoroughly enjoy looking at the mountains behind. I decide to treat myself and stay a little longer and start reading a book there. The lady advised me to relax for half an hour after taking this radon bath. I made it 1,5 hours.

05 October 2010

Relaxing with radon spa therapy

My final week before holiday!

This summer I initially wanted to go to Greece, but due to some unforeseen events (a graduation ceremony in my family and a new job for my friend) it would only be October before our holiday could start and the Greek islands would have shut down by that time.

Nonetheless, I still wished to change my office life for some mountain and nature scenery and leave my e-mail inbox unanswered for a little while. The sole question was, where to go by myself?
The answer became: Germany. It will not only include a holiday for me, but also spa therapy for my body.

I'm going to Bad Brambach, a little Saxon village in the south-east of Germany and bordering to the Czech republic. I'll be leaving Monday early morning and travel to Bad Brambach by train, and am looking forward to ten hours of watching changing landscapes and reading books and magazines.

 This spa resort is already famous since the first medical   
 research in 1812 for its natural spring water and since   
 the early 1900s as spa resort with the strongest radon 
 gas in Europe.

 The medical treatments and rehabilitation services in
 Bad Brambach are known by -mainly German- patients
 diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid

 Radon is a gas used since the early 1900s for the
 treatment of rheumatic diseases. Recently, research has
 been conducted on the effect of radon and spa therapy
 on AS patients, hopefully more research will follow.
 This radon gas is found in caves, mines and natural
 spring water. The Austrian village of Bad Gastein is one of the most famous spa resorts in Europe with radon caves. 

I have looked at many websites of spa resorts, offering spa packages for patients diagnosed with rheumatic diseases. In the end, I chose for a 2-week package in Bad Brambach, including 8 radon baths. 
I will try out staying at a spa resort and therapy for the first time, and see for myself if I notice any difference in my body afterwards. I hope my health will benefit from all the physiotherapy, massages and other treatments and I will enjoy the two weeks of fresh air, mountains and baths fully, in addition to all the free time to read, walk, cycle and relax!

I'm very curious to hear any of your experiences and tips regarding spa therapy and health benefits!

29 September 2010

Crossing limits

You would think having hip and back problems for over 12 years would mean that you know your limits..

When I went out in my teenage years until 4am, I was very sure to be suffering of major aches the next day. When I had to study intensively for my mid-term exams, I was sure to be running out of order the next week after, and not being able to walk.
When I worked a few weeks odd or crazy hours, or my work involved lots of stress, I was sure having to ask myself the same question every morning how I would be able to work, and the question following, how on earth I would get there.

One season especially gives its yearly share of problems, autumn. Unpredictable weather can turn a day into cold, rainy, warm, humid or chilly weather, even within one day. I've been developing a real talent, as I'm now able to be my own personal weather woman, and predict the weather according to her knees and hips every morning.

Now, it has turned into this yearly season again, and work is crazy. Working 40 hrs a week is normally OK, but combined with rainy weather and a major lack of sleep, I feel I'm crossing my limits every day.
Even though I'm on some proper medication, which helps against the worst of the worst, the last weeks are getting tougher and tougher.

It's time for some proper relaxation, leaving my limits untouched and getting hours of extra sleep. It's time for my very own rehab programme.
Two weeks of work madness left, and then I will do everything, or rather absolutely nothing, to unwind.

See you.

26 September 2010

Starting off an exciting new blog challenge this autumn!

The last couple of weeks were filled with rain, with some sunshine, but it definitely gives me the feeling that summer is over. Unfortunately. The summer we had was incredibly hot, but also incredibly short.
I do feel that I still need a little more summer and sun. The feeling that a (long) winter is arriving cannot make me as happy as a (long) summer would do.

In the autumn, work will be a lot more intense again with long weeks, short days and more stress. And autumn means that I will be able to predict the weather again, just by feeling my joints.
Yesterday, I decided to give myself a new challenge for the upcoming long, dark evenings - keeping a blog. A blog on living and working with a chronic disease, in my case the Ankylosing Spondylitis disease.

It will give me a chance to think clearly about my health, learn about new developments in health and medication, reflect on my life and work, to focus on my future, my wishes, my ambitions and finally, how to reach after them. Also, I do hope I will find more young women who are daily battling between careers, health, ambitions, and making choices: living well in the future and/or today. Please, let me also learn from you!

To introduce myself, as writer, a little more: I am a young single woman in her twenties, currently living alone and working in communications. My memories to a past filled with international travels and living abroad are becoming more and more nostalgic. If living abroad was still an option..

See you.