27 September 2011

How’s health for small talk with strangers?

On the 31st of August, I joined the long queues for the check-in desk at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Everywhere around me, there were older people, and all carrying huge suit cases with luggage labels of the travel organisation.
I couldn’t help to smile - people around around me greeted each other as old friends, started talking about spa therapies, about Montenegro and about memories of spa therapies in Yugoslav times. No one talked to me or asked me if I was joining the spa therapy holiday too. Later, I learned I was supposed to have the organisation’s luggage label fixed on my bag and suitcase, and, I definitely didn’t fit the age category.

After checking in, I bought two extra books to make sure I wouldn’t be bored in case it would rain, I wouldn’t meet any nice people or if I had to eat alone for dinner.
At the gate, I was surprised. Three quarters of the travellers appeared to carry Fontana labels on their luggage and everywhere you heard talks of spa therapy. Moreover, the craziest thing for me was, everyone’s first question was what health condition brought people to spa therapy. Basically everywhere around me I heard strangers having spa application interviews: ‘Do you have rheumatism?’, ‘Do you also have AS’, ‘arthritis’, or .. ?. This was mostly followed by ‘Oh yes, I know what you mean, I have … already for a long time’ and a long introduction to the health CVs. Also the history of medication was very interesting: ‘What kind of medication do you use?’, ‘Oh, no, I had these and these side effects, you?’.

It was crazy. In my day-to-day world, my illness and health issues are the last subjects for conversations, and when, only with dear friends or family. Definitely no small talk subject with strangers, and here it was! The current weather was clearly not interesting enough. It was hilarious, I was sitting in a gate surrounded by people, 2-3 times my age, talking very openly about their health, illnesses, and I felt young, and weird.

Two flights, 20˚C, three passport stamps and two border checks later, a bus drove us to Igalo in Montenegro. It was sunny and warm, mountains were high, the sea was blue and the palm trees were everywhere. 

Spa therapy 2011 in Montenegro

This year's spa therapy led me to Montenegro. A tiny beach town called Igalo would be my guest home for 3 weeks. After months of working too hard, sleeping too little, irregular exercising and a general lack of a regular lifestyle, I decided to spend this year’s summer holiday to my health’s benefit.

Because my health insurance is supporting a spa therapy for Ankylosing Spondylitis, I had to choose from a list of spas and travel organisations, and it appeared I had to join a group spa therapy holiday. Not really my first choice, but as it appeared the only way for my health insurance, I decided to give it a go. 
Nevertheless, I had a couple of wishes for my spa therapy. Firstly, because this summer had seen nothing but rain, I wanted to go somewhere south. Also, after last year’s success, I wanted a spa therapy, which focused on AS. Lastly, I wanted to go for 3 weeks. There were quite a few spa therapies and spas that matched those criteria, but I chose for Igalo in Montenegro. Sadly, without radon therapy, but a country I’d never visited, a coastline that pictured the Mediterranean, and moreover, a good climate for a holiday in September.

Grotere kaart weergeven

I booked my spa therapy with a Dutch travel organisation specialised in spa therapy holidays. I have to say I don’t really like group holidays. Even though I love chatting to and meeting new people, I don’t like group dynamics, particularly in holidays. I love to undertake journeys on my own, meet new people, but also to have my own space when I need it. 
The pictures on the website of this travel organisation called Fontana showed old people, the descriptions of the spa therapy in Igalo were clearly written with older people in mind, and lastly, the website was very outdated too. 
A week before my flight, I received the travel information (by post!), and the booklet even advised the most obvious things which you definitely know if you’ve travelled abroad just once before. So, I prepared myself for an old-school holiday, including lots of patients with grey hair, group leaders who would guide you everywhere, and no need to think yourself.
On 31st of August, my spa therapy was set to begin.

18 June 2011

Disappointed friends

I hate being disappointed about something, or someone. I hate someone being disappointed about me. A few weeks ago, I wrote an email to a dear friend in which I told her that I didn’t like her being disappointed in me but that I was disappointed in myself too.

What happened?
I cancelled too often on her during the past 3 years. While the 1st year was marked by such severe hip pains which (chronically) prohibited basically all fun stuff, the 2nd year was marked by the blessing of my own little wonder: great meds. Suddenly, I was nearly pain free and nearly all cautions were gone. Nearly. I got a big ‘but’ instead.

It wasn’t visible anymore. It didn’t come with sharp knives anymore. It made people forget about my health issues. But it became my new daily fight – low energy and a weak resistance. Too little sleep? Low energy. Too much work? Low energy. Too much stress, unhealthy food, too many good/long/dancing nights? Lower energy. A combination of these? Lowest energy ever. So I had to start taking care of myself and get myself a great resistance.

But that’s a tough thing to learn. I have a ‘normal’ career job, a little less ‘normal’ social life, and combined with some ‘normal’ travelling, it feels like I’m a normal 27-year-old girl. That’s what I want. I want to be normal. I want everyone to treat me like I’m normal. I do everything to act like all is going normal.

With all the acting and wanting to be, I sometimes neglected my health big time and myself. Working over time and running behind a diary filled with appointments turned into sleeping on the couch instead of dancing at night and sometimes even being too tired to eat healthy. So, multiple times during the past 3 years, my body wanted me to slow down. And showed that rigorously. I got two big infections, a few weird bugs, continuous tiredness, crazy recurring headaches, and sometimes, hip pains. And it caused that I had to cancel quite a few times on friends.

My friend set her limit on my cancelling. And told me so. 

I hardly ever set a limit. My health does. I don’t like talking about health stuff. I don’t like to complain about my tiredness. I don’t want to be a pity-case. I want to be ‘normal’. So my friend couldn’t read my mind when I cancelled, nor had a clear idea how I was really doing.

However, thanks to my friend, I have learnt my lesson. I should take my health and problems to the stage once in a while, so that I don’t have to act ‘normal’, and my best friends become actors in my ‘so called life’ show. They get the big roles they deserve and that I (secretly) would love them to give. 

So, I’ve started being more honest about how I’m doing. Revealing my real feelings. It takes friendships to another level, and myself too. But, of course, sometimes it’s also great to leave heavy stuff back stage, and put on a nice dress, some make up, killer heels and wear nice jewellery to forget about life as I know it.

Share the happy moments with your friends, but do also try and involve your friends in the rest of your life. They are the ones who can support you in the rougher times. If they know.    

07 March 2011

About neglect, antibiotics and jumping

It’s been a while. Not only did I neglect this blog for some time, I also neglected myself for a while. I devoted myself to work, work and work. My loyalty towards my colleagues, my bosses, my projects and the office itself didn’t know any limits, whereas my loyalty to me, my health, my social life, my family and friends, and even my cooking, cleaning and laundry was overlooked big time. My priorities were set, but they turned out to be the wrong ones. My biggest asset, a good health, left me and punished me. Rightly so.

After a week filled with meetings, dinners and other work events, I was very happy to visit my friends and meet their newborn baby in the weekend. It was such a delight to see such a beautiful little boy and his proud little big sister. It was such a lovely and relaxed afternoon but suddenly I started feeling stomach cramps. After my visit, I took the train to my family for a birthday dinner. I didn’t feel like eating, even though the food was great, but my stomach was seriously upset. It felt like my inner organs were eating for me.

And then it was Monday morning again. My alarm clock did not take a bad night’s sleep into account and I had to pull myself out of bed to go to work. The inner eating didn’t stop and cramps worsened over the morning. During a lunch meeting I ate two bread rolls, which turned out to be the last bit of proper food for the rest of the week. 
The next morning I went to my GP and not an hour later I was at the hospital for a suspected appendicitis. It turned out not to be. Several scans, blood testing and x-rays later, I just had two serious infections. I was sent home with some heavy antibiotics, a booklet on ‘what to eat and not to eat’ and, most important, rest as special doctor’s orders. 

Making a nice meal out of fluid food became my own daily master chef assignment. I wasn’t a master chef, nor a haute cuisine customer the following days. Antibiotics hit hard and my temperature went up. There was a serious battle going on between the antibiotics and the bacteria’s and the used weapons were cramps, fever, sleep, dizziness and a steady supply of big pills. After four days, I was able to eat some normal potatoes again. Great stuff. After a week, fever went away but my temperature remained high. After 10 days, the supply of antibiotics dried up and delivered the result that cramps were gone. Now, 13 days later, my temperature has finally dropped, but I’m still incredibly tired and not worth much.

What have I learned after being ill for nearly two weeks? I did do some thinking. Much needed and serious thinking about my work, my loyalty, my priorities and my life. What is important in life? A good health, friends, family and passions are my four answers to that big question. My work is of course part of my life - I love that I can pay my bills with my work. But what did I do the last three months? I lost all my four answers and set all my priorities on work. Even though I realised that I was missing out on all the fun stuff life can offer.

Yes, I did reflect. And I know that I should change some things in my life, set my priorities right and a good health-work-life balance. It’s no rocket science, but my difficult question now is: where do I start? A girl with fear of heights is now standing on a high platform above a swimming pool filled with deep blue water. Whether it’ll be a dive or a jump, and how deep I’ll go is only to be told afterwards. 

To be continued.

04 January 2011

The end of the zero years

It’s 2011! It feels like the start of a new decade, whether you agree or not. I hope it will bring lots of joy, happiness and a little luck and success too. I hope that we’ll be strong enough to conquer new battles, come to grip with disappointments, cope with diseases and losses, and deal with difficult situations and people who we don’t really like. I wish everyone a great and joyful new decade, starting off with a happy and healthy 2011. 

How do you look back on all the zero years? 

The first decade of a new millennium has passed.  In 1999, the world was afraid for a digital hick-up, the millennium bug. Hospitals, banks, stock exchanges, schools and shops – they were all afraid of a digital standstill and invested in ways to make their digital systems and clocks millennium proof. And nothing happened. Clocks continued ticking away and the year 2k was a fact.
In the following zero years, the digital world really took off. During my first years of study, I used a phone line to get online, which started with a lot op beep-beep-beep-ing to connect to the world-wide-web. During the last zero years, which were my first working years, I was able to catch up with (international) friends, colleagues and random people on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter by connecting to the web on a gradually turning smarter phone.

The zero years included my final exams of secondary school, a Bachelor study, an Erasmus exchange program, a post grad Master’s study, an internship, a traineeship and my first years of working. It also included moving 11 times within 10 years, to and within 6 countries and living in, among other cities, 4 capital cities in Europe.  The zero years meant a start of my adult life. Suddenly, I became responsible for making my own living, my grades, my financial situation, my (food) shopping, my cooking, my health, my taxes, my driving and my government, as I was able to vote.

The zero years made me increasingly serious. 9/11 had a huge impact on my life, as I knew it. I spent a whole day watching TV and didn’t make it to the swimming pool where we were supposed to get healthy that day. Another one of those days is the day when terrorists were found in the block I used to live. That morning, I bounced my head to the wall when I woke up from a very early phone call, after spending a long night dancing. People, societies and countries turned insecure and less tolerant due to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, attacks on the London tube, a financial and economic crisis, Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’, and the murders of a Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn, and a Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh.

Thankfully, the zero years also included the global Live 8 concerts, the interconnectedness on Facebook and Twitter, the awareness of climate change and sustainability, the election of Obama as president of the US, the end of the floppy disk, Harry Potter, iPod, and Ugg boots. 

The zero years also made me aware of the importance of a good health and life. Relatives and friends, older and younger, had to fight cancer. Fortunately, my brother survived, but unfortunately, an old friend died of it. I myself got to know what a diagnosis with a chronic disease means for plans, ideals and wishes for the future. Living with my new best friend Humira meant the world after having suffered from daily horrible pains. Carpe diem.

The zero years brought me to a lot of cities, countries and even continents. Flying became cheaper, I rediscovered travelling by train, and I thoroughly enjoyed studying, living and working abroad. Speaking and learning other languages, cultures, traditions and habits while learning simultaneously more about my country, traditions, perceptions, beliefs and myself.

It was a decade filled with expectations, wishes, anxiety, experiences, travels, difficulties, pain, happiness, surprises, losses, music and silence. Basically, it was a decade I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
Yes, there were some tough situations, some life-changing decisions (after moving 10 times, I bought my own apartment ;)), some very difficult mornings to get up for work, some new friends and some lost friends, and some doubts about my future work, life and health.. But all in all, it was a decade filled with life, my life. Welcome 2011.