Picture of Health

Learning the signs our bodies show us can paint a beautiful picture of health

The power of gratitude and self-compassion

The concept of gratitude has been thrown around for a few years now. As a cynic, it kind of makes me frown, say ‘pffffft’ a lot and get even more cynical.

I tried the whole gratitude journal/list thing – several times, in fact. I had an app, a little notebook, but nothing seemed to stick – I couldn’t ‘feel’ any difference with this gratitude thing.

Plus, I kind of thought that letting myself wallow in whatever negative, emotional, anxious state I was in was important to feel it and move past it, rather than trying to gloss over it with gratitude.

But a recent experience changed all that.

My boyfriend went on holiday without me (*sob*), which totally triggered my ‘I get abandoned by men’ issues. My anxiety started to peak the week or two before he left, and didn’t subside until a couple of days after he had departed, when I began to settle down and enjoy having the house to myself.

During the peak of the anxiety, I reached for my Kindle. When things feel like they’re going wrong, I tend to buy things, namely supplements and/or books, so I have quite the collection of Kindle books to assist in situations like these. Example titles include: ‘Self-Compassion’, ‘How to change anxious attachment’, ‘Toxic parents’, ‘You’re not crazy. It’s your mother’ – you get the idea.

I tapped into Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff. I hadn’t looked at it for well over a year and was about two thirds of the way through. It connected with me instantly and where I was in that moment. I felt much more able to connect with the ideas and suggestions, and for some reason when Neff approached the idea of the gratitude journal, it didn’t feel quite so fluffy and fake.

For one thing, she provided detailed information about studies where people had utilised a gratitude journal against a control group. The results in two weeks were impressive.

Seeing as there was scientific evidence for this, I thought I’d better give it a go. Again.

Neff said to turn the gratitude journal into less of a list and more of an explanation of the feelings you felt when you saw/felt/had the thing you were grateful for. This for me was transformative. I love writing and have kept a journal for years now. I find it so therapeutic, and maybe that’s why I couldn’t connect with the list-making – because it wasn’t heralding the juicy, yumminess, or explaining the feelings, the savouring, the joy.

So far, this gratitude journal thing has been working for me. Finally. Even when I have a crappy day, there’s this thought at the back of my head that I know there are things that have happened that I am grateful for, that have brought me joy. It is so comforting and makes me feel less doom and gloom about the tough stuff.

And the whole self-compassion thing… I realised during this latest bout of intense anxiety and self-doubt that the majority of things I am anxious about are created by my own intense overthinking brain! They’re not even real things or real situations! They’re imagined things and imagined situations that haven’t happened and probably won’t happen, or things that I have zero control over.

How ridiculous.

How can I have spent multiple years – like four at least – worrying, stressing and tormenting myself over things that might not ever happen, things that haven’t happened and things I cannot change?

I feel embarrassed and ashamed, but also so empowered to take steps to make a change. I have to stop the thoughts before they become overthoughts. I have to stop myself before I launch into a place of deep, dark overthinking. It’s not healthy and I don’t want to do that to myself anymore. I don’t want to hurt myself repeatedly and beat myself up because of things about myself that I cannot change or things about the world and those I love that I cannot change and that might not ever happen.

This is a revelation for me, and I am overwhelmingly grateful (see, gratitude!) to be at this turning point in my life. It feels new and scary and fresh, like when you step out of your front door after a big storm to see if it’s stopped raining, and the sun starts to peep through the clouds.

There is so much to be grateful for and so little to overthink. I have so many assets that are good and worthy and beautiful. I don’t need to overthink my big nose, or my frizzy hair or my slightly-larger-than-hoped thighs. What about my compassion, understanding, talents and loyalty? The love I show to others that I am working on showing to myself? What about those things?

And I can’t stress and worry that my boyfriend would rather be with someone else… I cannot do that to myself. He more-than-likely doesn’t – he tells me all the time that he loves me and wants to be with me. So why do I overthink everything, torture myself, tell myself that I am wrong and awful, and convince myself he wants to be with someone else? It’s so painful and unnecessary, and I do not want it in my life anymore. It is not creating the life I want for myself or the life that I deserve.

I have Kristen Neff to thank for this, as well as a whole bunch of realisations, a good dose of joy and a bunch of gratitude for all the good in the world and in my life.

Change is possible, and I hope this is here to stay.

With love.

Do you need some support?

We all have a love-hate relationship with Dr Google, don’t we?

You can pretty much diagnose yourself and find a remedy in less than 15 minutes these days. But if you’re anything like me and love reading and researching your symptoms, trying to find different causes and reasons for what ails you, then sometimes all the Googling can get a little confusing.

And by a little confusing, I mean catastrophic levels of confusion and anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed by the sheer mountain of information and possible causes of your itchy skin, red eyes, mood swings and acid reflux.

When I get to this point (and I tend to regularly), my options are:

  • retreat to a soft, comfy spot and pretend like there’s nothing wrong
  • panic and freak out to the point of tears
  • give up

Lately, though, I’ve been looking at a fourth option: seeking support and finding someone to help me, namely a licensed and registered professional, with a lot more experience and background than myself (and Dr Google).

It seems silly that I wouldn’t have chosen this path in the first place, but I’m always conscious of my budget and sometimes/most of the time, I put the healthcare appointments in the ‘splurge’ basket. (Plus, I also feel like I can DIY my health – which may or may not be a good thing.)

During those months when splurges just can’t happen (a lot of months), then the healthcare appointments don’t happen either.

But recently, when all three of the above options following too much research and reading occurred, and I felt overwhelmed beyond belief, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t put my health in the ‘DIY’ basket anymore.

So I booked an appointment with a naturopath.

I had seen a naturopath in New Zealand, when my eczema was covering my arms, legs and face in bright red, itchy, angry splotches. She sent me off for testing and changed my diet, my life and my skin in the best way possible.

You can understand how hopeful I was for this recent visit to a new naturopath. And I wasn’t disappointed.

She indulged me for 90 minutes and listened to all the concerns I had and all the things that I obsess about and agreed that they are all worthy of being considered in terms of a holistic evaluation of my health. She was compassionate and caring, and I felt reassured that we were totally on the same page.

I’ve seen her twice now and have had some new blood tests done that I am awaiting the results for, but she thankfully pulled me right back to basics and put me on the diet that the NZ naturopath had me on. I was getting so confused with what to eat and what superfoods to include or exclude that I was forgetting I had firm data (from previous blood tests) that showed me what I could and couldn’t consume for my allergies.

A few weeks later and my eczema has cleared up immensely, my acid reflux is subsiding (thanks to some clever potions, no coffee and some slippery elm powder) and I think my mood is balancing out (although the jury is still out on that one…).

I also had a Skype session with a natural fertility educator, and I can honestly say it was one of the best and most enriching experiences. Again, she was totally on the same page with me, she reassured me and helped ease my panic about all the cervical mucus and the interesting temperatures. She told me that my charts were actually really easy to read considering I’d just stopped the Pill six months ago. And I hung up our Skype call feeling so alive and comforted and excited for all the things we had discussed.

Support, people. We all need support. We can’t do this thing called life on our own. We can’t journey along the roads we’re on without someone beside us, cheering us on, holding our hand when we need it, answering questions and just talking things through.

We all need a support ‘team’. We need beautiful relationships with people we love. And support from a group of professionals who put our health and wellbeing on the highest pedestal.

So I encourage you to seek out support and not to put your health in the ‘splurge’ or ‘DIY’ baskets. You have nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.

Take care and be kind to yourself.

Letter to my younger self

Dear me,

You’re 16. Sweet 16, although I know you’re not really one for celebrating birthdays. You’re a loner, and that’s ok. You prefer your own company and your headphones and the radio and learning all the words to all the songs you love. You don’t want to do the big parties like the other girls. You don’t like the other girls. You don’t even like enough people to invite to a ‘party’. And that’s ok too.

I want to tell you that it will all be ok.

Pretty soon, you’re going to go to sixth form college and you’re going to meet some awesome people. You’re going to feel like you belong. And then you’re going to meet someone who turns your world upside down, back to front and left to right. You’re going to sacrifice a lot for this person. You’re going to take artificial hormones and chemicals for this person. You’re going to give up your beloved dancing for this person. And you know what? That’s all ok too, because if you didn’t do all that stuff, then I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I love where I am today, so thank you.

But I have to say one thing: he lied. Condoms ARE ok. Condoms are awesome! Condoms DON’T feel like shit, and if they do, just shop around and find a new brand. Don’t listen to some little punk who is an absolute shit of a person – why would you believe him anyway? I know why, but still… It’s frustrating to see you do it.

I wish I could empower you with strength and an epic sense of self so that you could totally put your foot down with these little arrogant boys, but you won’t and it will hurt, but I will be here for you when you come to your realisations.

I want to tell you that it will all be ok.

It will feel like the world is imploding over the next few years, but you’ll be ok.

Looking back on it, I can see that the choices you will make in the coming years will affect your future health. You will starve yourself to the point that you only have a bowel movement once a week. And a painful one at that. You will deprive yourself of so much food that you binge eat every Friday without fail, from weakness and starvation. You will binge eat entire packets of rice cakes and whole jars of peanut butter and marmalade in one sitting. You will keep eating flapjacks and yoghurt and honey and cereal and pita bread smothered in butter and hummus. Yes, it’s all ‘healthy’ stuff, but not in the quantities you will ingest it.

And then you will try to go to the one dance class you kept up, every Friday. But because you have binged so bad, you will look at your bloated stomach in the mirror and painfully criticise yourself, and you won’t be able to dance properly because you feel sick and you’ll pass wind because you are so bloated you can’t hold it in.

And through all this pain, malnutrition, depression and dis-ease, you will smoke weed every night so that you can fall asleep despite the hunger pains.

Right now, I wish I could reach out and envelop you in the biggest, softest, gentlest, longest embrace you have ever known… It breaks my heart that you are in so much pain.

In hindsight, I can see that all this was probably induced by a number of things: rejection and a broken heart that triggered painful childhood memories that you won’t process until years later; artificial hormones from the birth control pill; cannabis ingestion by someone with a family history of mental illness; intense criticism that is inherent in our family; and many other things that I still don’t quite know how to put into words.

I can’t promise you it will all be over soon, but I can promise that once you get to a place where you are able to deal with it, you will be able to process it and get the answers you need, and find the anger that’s inside of you, the rage, the outrage, that will allow you to project forward at great speed.

In between, though, you will swing backwards and forwards like a pendulum, between healthy and unhealthy habits, the unhealthy ones being more destructive and damaging to your health than just eating the odd chocolate bar every now and then. You’ll rely on drugs as your escape, as your means of acceptance, for yourself to accept yourself and for others to accept you too.

The damage done to your brain and your insides is not worth thinking about, but we are lucky to have the most incredible bodies in history that want to heal, and I know our cells are beavering away just waiting to heal you.

I love you, 16-year-old me. I love your spark and vigour. Your zest and excitement and unapologetic ‘you-ness’. That will fade and die soon. But you will realise how bright it was in years to come. And you will praise and honour it and look for ways to shine just as bright following the pain.

Good luck. Strap yourself in! It’s going to be a wild ride.

Yours with greatest love,


Stressed about being stressed? Me too.

We’re in an age where stress, sleep and mental wellbeing is moving closer to the forefront of our consciousness, which is fantastic and completely necessary, but it does have the tendency to set up a bit of a negative loop for some people.

I remember one of my very first therapy sessions with one particular counsellor. I was an absolute mess, bawling my eyes out because I felt so anxious about being anxious. And I was anxious about being anxious about being anxious. The layers kept piling up and up and up until I hit breaking point.

It’s kind of humourous now I look back on it, but it certainly wasn’t at the time and I have complete and utter empathy for anyone going through the same thing.

The thing is, I’m now starting to experience something similar with my stress levels. I’m stressed about being stressed and about not being able to not be stressed, about not being able to be calm and not panic or freak out or get angry about things.

At this point, I probably need to make a confession. I was nicknamed ‘stressy Shinead’ at school. I actually don’t really know why. I could probably guess it had something to do with the fact that I strive for perfection, am incredibly sensitive and have a fairly short fuse when it comes to things I’m passionate or sensitive about. From the inside, it felt like I wasn’t stressy at all! But from the outside, I can totally see how others could have perceived me.

Those characteristics have followed me through childhood and adolescence, and straight into adulthood. Sometimes I can manage my emotions and other times they come pouring out my mouth, my eyeballs and/or my face. (I blush furiously or go bright red — charming and hardly discreet.)

If I’m honest, I get stressed out and worked up more than I like to admit. It bothers me. It doesn’t sit well with me. It doesn’t feel good.

And I’ve put these stressed responses under the microscope even more lately since I’ve started charting my menstrual cycles.

I can see elements of my cycle that are out of balance that I think might be related to stress. For one thing, a stressed-out body is not a good place to house a growing baby, so why would my body be perfectly fertile and ovulating regularly when it would mean growing a child in a stressed environment? And for another thing, when we’re stressed, our bodies produce high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. The precursor to cortisol, pregnenelone, is also the precursor to progesterone. So, if you’re stressed and producing high amounts of cortisol, you can be fairly sure that your stores of pregnenelone are not being used to make progesterone but cortisol instead.

Progesterone is produced in the final part of the menstrual cycle, called the luteal phase, following ovulation. If you have a short luteal phase, you’re going to be short on progesterone, too. And guess what the main, glaringly obvious feature of my cycles is? A short luteal phase.

So that’s why I’m stressed about being stressed. Because every time I feel my body reacting to something in a stressed-out way, I start to panic that more and more pregnenelone is being stolen by cortisol, preventing my body from producing progesterone. And then the more I stress — the more I stress about being stressed — the more the cycle continues, and on and on…

Looking back on the times in my life when I was anxious about being anxious, one of the tactics that really worked for me was to try and climb back down the ladder — to try and remove some of the layers of anxiety. I had to stop being anxious about being anxious. I had to sit with my anxiety and accept it and just roll with it. Anxiety is a part of who I am and I had to (and still do have to) take deep breaths and accept that I feel anxious sometimes.

So maybe I can take those learnings with me into this new challenge with managing my stress levels.

We all encounter stressful situations day to day — job, home, traffic, money problems, feeling unfulfilled, family. But it’s how we manage them that makes the difference.

For me, work is a big stressor. I don’t like my job. I acknowledge that I don’t like my job. I certainly want to like my job. In fact, I want to love my job. I want to be in love with my job. I want it to align with my passions. But right now, practically speaking, I need to stay where I am. And so the best thing I can do for myself is know that I won’t be where I am today forever and that stress is ok. It’s ok to not feel content and to feel cranky and to hate the tasks I have to do and to feel like I just don’t want to talk to people. It’s ok. It’s acceptable. That’s where I am right now, and I won’t be here forever.

I’m allowed to be stressed. You’re allowed to be stressed. We’re all allowed to be stressed. It’s totally cool and fine and normal. But let’s draw the line at being stressed about being stressed.

How do you deal with the stress in your life? Do you find yourself in a negative loop too? Do you have tips and tactics for coping with stress?

4 reasons I should stop drinking alcohol (but haven’t yet)

I love wine. Like, really love wine. More than is healthy to admit.

I also love gin. Specifically gin and Campari mixed in equal parts with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and ice in a martini glass. Holy cocktail.

As it stands, I’m fairly strict with myself Monday to Thursday, but along comes the weekend and I pretty much let loose, and that’s where my health hits a bottleneck.

I have mild OCD a habit of counting the units of alcohol I consume, you know, to keep track of how out of control I’m getting, as backwards as that sounds. So my head fills with terror when I compare my weekly intake with the weekly recommended intake for women of seven units. (That’s not even a whole bottle of wine!)

And it’s finally becoming something I cannot ignore, especially now that I’m charting my menstrual cycles after coming off the pill and am seeing hormonal imbalances that are potentially being affected by my intake of pinot noir.

So, I’m writing this blog post partly for you and partly for me. If you drink/love wine as much as I do, I hope this post prompts a question or two about how it’s impacting your health. And as for me, well, I just hope that by writing down all my key findings from all my obsessive Googling that the message will start to sink in and that I’ll quit seriously cut down.

1. Alcohol ruins your sleep
Whether you love white, red or rose, one thing seems certain: a few glasses of wine of a night and you’ll be wide awake at 3am. For me, I experience disrupted sleep when I drink any and all alcohol. I wake up dehydrated, hot, flustered and cranky at 2.30am/3am and getting back into a deep sleep rarely happens. Pfffft, who needs sleep. Well, getting seven to nine hours of deep, quality sleep in a cool, dark room allows your body to rest, recuperate and heal, so you can feel good and operate at an optimum level, rather than just feeling average. (You deserve so much better than average.) Please have a listen to Shawn Stevenson from The Model Health Show on the Fertility Friday podcast. He talks at length about the benefits of great sleep and how just one night of little sleep or disrupted sleep can throw off all sorts of bodily functions.

2. Alcohol destroys your hormone balance
I’m learning as much as I can about hormones. They’re amazing. Tiny amounts of hormones can have the most enormous effects of our physiology, emotional and mental health, and overall wellbeing. When we nourish our bodies, get good rest and reduce stress and toxins, we allow our hormones to paint a perfect picture of optimal health. So how does alcohol throw things off? As I understand it, alcohol can lead to a huge spike in insulin, while also dampening the production of cortisol from the adrenal glands. These disrupted levels of insulin and cortisol on a long-term basis can tax our hormonal system and lead to serious imbalances. Alcohol also affects the sex hormones and has been reported to be estrogenic. Numerous studies have shown that the liver does a lot of processing and converting of the different estrogens in the body, so while the liver focuses 100% on processing the alcohol, it’s not processing anything else, leading to a backlog of estrogen. For someone trying to balance their hormones, especially after coming off the pill (hello, me) hormone imbalances and excess estrogen are definitely not part of the plan.

3. Alcohol gives you the munchies
No Googling needed here — I can tell you from many, many first-hand experiences that alcohol makes you want to eat. Two glasses of wine and the floodgates open. Despite being massively nutrition and wellness focused, I can and will eat as much as possible when I’m tipsy. These days, it’s normally high volumes of healthy foods, but a few years back I was in a painful habit of drinking and binge eating junk food, not helped by my history of disordered eating. So what’s the problem with eating heaps of the good stuff? Well, I’m still eating more calories than necessary (sometimes upwards of 3500 in one day) and I’m still overloading my digestive system with too much food. Years of this repetitive and damaging behaviour has no doubt reduced my stomach acid and contributed to the burning acid reflux I suffer from almost daily.

4. Alcohol stops fat burning
If you’re on a weight loss or fat loss program, this is a bit of a scary one. When you drink any amount of alcohol, your liver focuses entirely on processing the alcohol and actually chooses to burn the alcohol for fuel instead of the food you’re eating. So what happens to the food? It gets stored. You know that weekly wine and cheese night you enjoy with your girlfriends? Well, your body’s using the wine for energy and storing all the cheese and crackers! Yikes. Some people find they can enjoy a few drinks a week and not have their body goals interrupted, while some can’t have more than a glass. You can figure out what works best for you, but it’s good to be aware that if you’re seriously trying to burn some fat, alcohol is standing smack bang in between you and your dream bod.

There are a lot more effects that alcohol can have on your physical health and mental wellbeing, so I encourage you to do your own research if you’re concerned about what alcohol is doing to your body or if you’re not feeling as good as you want to and booze is a regular fixture in your routine.

But for me, these four things are the main ones that I’ll be reminding myself of when the pinot cravings strike.

Why did no one tell me?

When I first started learning about my fertility and about the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) as a form of contraception, so many questions popped up in my head, but the main one was ‘why did no one tell me?’

Why on earth is this information not made more readily available to more women (and men, for that matter)? We should be empowering all human beings with a knowledge and understanding of their bodies and their internal processes so that we can make informed choices and decisions about the foods, medications and products we use and the way we choose to live. These things all have a huge impact on our hormones, which control those aforementioned processes. Doctors and medical professionals should be shouting this stuff from the rooftops, it is that powerful.

The pill
Before I knew anything about fertility awareness, I was trying my best to be healthy but was ignoring the big pink elephant in the room that was undoing all my good work: the hormonal contraceptive pill.

Every day I was taking a tiny little pill that threw a spanner in the beautiful workings of my hormonal system and made me feel consistently below average. But I had no idea that other non-hormonal options were available to me.

I had attempted non-hormonal birth control before (a copper IUD that did not agree with my body) and had approached a family planning clinic looking to get a diaphragm, but the female doctor there told me I was foolish to think it would work and that I should have a Mirena fitted. After Googling the Mirena and reading all the horrendous stories, I promptly said ‘no thanks’ and decided to stick with the pill.

We’re NOT fertile all the time?
So why did no one tell me that as women, we are only fertile a day or two each month when an egg is released? And that if you add the sperm-life factor to those days, you are potentially look at fertile days of between seven and nine each month? Why did no one tell me that condoms are fine? That they are a perfectly acceptable and reliable form of contraception? I had grown up believing that they were not reliable, that men hated them and that they felt awful. Why did it take me until the age of 31 to realise that: a) condoms are fine; and b) that we’re not constantly fertile?

To be honest, I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I do know that there is fear, anxiety and shame around menstruation and fertility, and this keeps being passed down generation to generation.

Can we talk the talk?
My mother never talked to me about sex and/or periods. We had a brief and embarrassing chat about the fact that I might need her to buy some pads for me, but that was about it. So as an 11-year-old, of course I felt it was something icky, something to be ashamed of. We didn’t talk about that stuff in our family, and I dare say I’m not alone in that experience.

Imagine if we actually told young girls growing up that these cycles are an incredible result of Mother Nature’s wisdom, and that there is so much to learn if you just pay a little attention each day to a few things. Imagine what would happen. Imagine if we took the fear and anxiety and shame away. We could teach young girls, young women, that it’s ok to embrace and celebrate and be amazed by our fertility, that you don’t have to hide from it and trying to shove a pill, a patch or an injection in front of it to try and make it disappear. In my mind, that is a much more valuable piece of education than algebra or cosigns…

The process of fertility is a frigging amazing part of what it is to be human. It is overwhelmingly fascinating and we should empower more people with the understanding of it so they can make the choice of whether or not to manage their fertility naturally or go down the hormonal route. Hormonal methods might work for some, but for others they don’t and it’s up to each person to have all the information and make the choice that works best for them.

I think it’s probably a long road before doctors, health practitioners and educators promote this information readily. (They might not even get taught it themselves.) So what can we do? We can arm ourselves with as much knowledge as possible, for our own health and wellbeing, and then share that information with others.

And we can start charting!


Welcome to my new baby, Picture of Health!

If you’ve stumbled across this blog, then I’m delighted you’re here. You’re probably interested in health and wellness, in transitioning to feeling great in your body. You’re probably wanting to know why your body is sending you signs and signals, such as skin irritations, digestion imbalances and menstrual cycle irregularities.

Well, so am I. And that’s why I created this blog. Because in the last three months, I’ve learned more about my body than I have in the last 10 years of fascinated research, and I’m still learning. And I really want to share it all with you and spread the word, because we all deserve to feel amazing in our bodies.

Learning to read the signs that our body is showing us is so powerful. Having a solid understanding of body literacy can help us depict the picture of our health that our bodies are painting for us.

If we can learn to love that picture and work with it to get it looking as amazing as possible, we’re onto something great.

I hope you love the journey and the pictures as much as I do.

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