Radical Self Love

I posted this picture to instagram at the end of May:

A post shared by Jem (@jemjabellargh) on

The general gist of the caption was that, while I don’t agree on everything my mum says & does, I did appreciate her “don’t give a fuck” attitude growing up and it helped me develop a similar approach to society’s pressures to look a certain way.

Of course, this wasn’t the full story (because seriously, nobody wants to read a blog post in an insta caption).

While that is mostly true, as I said on instagram, I have poked at wobbly bits with an element of self-doubt. In the depths of PMDD-fuelled anxiety I have questioned whether my own husband could truly love me with all my scars and stretch marks. I liked myself most of the time, but I’m not “perfect”, and I knew it, but I accepted who I was.

When I got sick in early May, and a week of excruciating gallbladder pain stopped me from eating, I dropped ~10lbs quite quickly. Any other time this would be cause for celebration, but I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise the person looking back at me. My skin looked pale, my stomach was shrivelled up like a weird dry prune and I felt myself shrinking: the opposite of what I want to achieve. I looked like shit, and it terrified me.

I hated it. I hated how I looked, I hated feeling weak, and I hated being less ‘me’.

As I got better, I had what can only be described as an epiphany. It hit me: when I’m not ill I can run, I can lift heavy weights, I can kick arse in the dojang, and I am strong, capable and confident. Weighing 10lbs less didn’t give me superpowers, it didn’t make me suddenly more attractive or physically fit (quite the opposite in this instance).

And so I realised that if I hated myself like that, I had no choice but to love myself when I’m 10lbs heavier, when I’ve not shaved my legs in a fortnight, when I’m bloated to all hell because I’m due on, when my brain is telling me I suck because my hormones are going haywire. Merely accepting myself wasn’t enough. I accept bills, and taxes, and having to get up at 7am to get the kids ready for school and those things all SUCK. And so that caption also said something quite radical: I think I love myself.

I gave myself permission to enjoy the comedy of the wobbly belly, to celebrate the origins of the stretch marks, to find mystery in my scars. I gave myself permission to say fuck yeah, I actually look pretty good. And I’m cool with that.

Detox teas, crash diets and the gallbladder

I recently supported a short instagram campaign by the UK Fitness Bloggers highlighting the dangers of so called ‘detox teas’ and their call to use “teas for biccies, not weight loss”. Here I am post-run and covered in sweat, enjoying my ‘biccie’ (admittedly I had a cup of coffee, not tea, but the sentiment stands):

A post shared by Jem (@jemjabellargh) on

Detox teas — under brands like Bootea and Skinny Tea — claim to “spring clean” your body, “eliminate toxins”, as well as aid in weight loss.

Firstly, let’s be 100% clear here: detoxing is a marketing scam. None of these teas (or any other products marketed as “detox”) do anything for supposed toxins in your body. If your body had a build up of toxins, you would either a) be dead or b) in need of serious medical attention, because it would indicate kidney and/or liver failure.

These teas generally contain either a laxative, or a diuretic, or in some cases both. In other words, they’re designed to make you poop or pee. If you’re lucky, you’ll spend the duration of your “teatox” on the toilet shitting water or pissing it. (More on if you’re unlucky in a moment…) Yes, you’ll be slimmer at the end, but only because you’ll be dehydrated and have lost water weight. A few days of normality and you’ll put it all back on.

Crash/fad diets generally involve heavily restricting calories or eating only certain food groups but the result is often the same: dehydration and potential digestive upset. Unless you’re unlucky.

I spent last week in various states of agony. I was in A&E doped up with morphine twice:

A post shared by Jem (@jemjabellargh) on

I haven’t been on a crash diet and I sure as hell haven’t succumbed to any detox marketing, but I have had some of the busiest weeks of my career on top of running races, half marathons, training for a taekwon-do grading, kids, pets & all that entails, volunteering, work outside of the home, a wedding anniversary and general social calendar chaos. And I wasn’t careful: I missed meals to fit in meetings, and forgot to take lunch on volunteer days. I drank coffee instead of protein shakes post-workout and I fell into bed at the end of the day too tired to cook.

Like people who drink detox teas and risk crazy crash diets: I was stupid, and I was unlucky, and I pissed off my gallbladder.

When you don’t take in enough calories to meet your body’s demands, your body starts to eat itself — stored fats — for energy. This stimulates the production of bile; a liquid produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder that helps break down fat. If you lose weight (because of restricted calories, or shitting all your food out before it’s properly digested because of your laxative tea) too fast the amount of cholesterol in the bile increases and it turns into thick “sludge” which can prevent the gallbladder from emptying properly.

Even worse, as bile salts accumulate, it can crystalise, turning this thick sludge into hard lumps: gallstones. Which, if you’ve known me for long enough, you’ll know I have past experience of thanks to a little bastard of a stone that blocked a bile duct when Isabel was a baby, putting us both in hospital for a week.

So anyway, back to me pissing off my gallbladder… when your gallbladder gets annoyed, it gets REALLY annoyed. Gallbladder pain is excruciating. Anecdotal reports (including mine) put it as one of the most painful things you can experience, and I say this having been through a “natural” birth to a boy with an abnormally large head which was PAUSED MID WAY so that the midwife could unwrap the cord from his awkward bloody neck.

I was in so much pain last Monday that I had cold sweats, I was delirious and at one point I thought I was hallucinating. I drove myself (stupid decision, don’t do this) to A&E and was rushed through and hooked up to morphine. The first time in my life an A&E visit hasn’t taken over 4 hours.

Just over a week later and (one further visit to hospital) and I don’t really have any news on my situation. My agonising pain is gone and I’m back to eating (properly!) but I have bloating, discomfort, and persistent indigestion type pain. I’m due an ultrasound at some point in the next week to figure out what’s going on, and to make a decision on whether or not my gallbladder needs taking out.

Is it really worth this pain, ill health, and potential surgery to lose a few pounds a bit quicker? Is a stupid marketing trick worth risking your gallbladder for? I was stupid, and I was unlucky: you don’t need to be.

I Feel Old

I’ve spent that much time in and out of doctors and hospitals recently, I feel like I should be cashing in a pension.

I had to see a dermatologist type doc a fortnight ago for The Suspicious Boob Mole. It’s no longer suspicious, mind you, as it’s completely harmless.

Then Tuesday this week I had the follow-up appointment with the cock of a surgeon who told me I’d have to stop breastfeeding Isabel after I had the problems with my gallbladder/jaundice last year. I want to say “haha, fuck you, I was right and you were wrong”, but felt that might have been petty.

Anyway, turns out I still have a bunch of stones in my gallbladder and they want to take it out to sell on ebay. This of course meant we had to get in to the whole “I’m actually still breastfeeding” conversation, which was fun. Anyway, long story short, I will probably be booked in around the end of Nov/beginning of Dec for the op. Isabel will be 2 by then, so even if we assume she’s still feeding, she should (hopefully) be more than content to go without overnight. If not, Karl is going to have to grow some “bubba”s…

Adventures in Hospital Land

AKA what a bloody ridiculous week and a half.

First off, my Internet dies and nobody seems to know who’s at fault. BT says it’s not them (phone line/exchange) and Plus.Net say it’s not them and everything is fine at their end. We change cables, test alternate router, etc. End up having to make several calls to Plus.Net who elevate the call and eventually find the problem.

Just as that’s mid-way, I start getting abdominal pains… and how am I supposed to diagnose myself with Dr Google without the interwebs? Anyway, cue call to Mum and have her advise me to go to A&E. They tell me I have gallbladder colic, fill me full of paracetamol (they wanted to use pethidine but I refused because I’m breastfeeding) and send me home.

Cue two days of gradually increasing pain, doctors appointments, pee and blood tests before I head back to A&E and get admitted – this was last Thursday (Feb 25th). They’re telling me they think I have gallstones floating about somewhere inside and that’s causing the problems. Not an issue in itself, but because I’m breastfeeding, they suddenly have lots of problems with finding a solution.

Now, bear in mind that we have big campaigns in the UK to encourage mums to breastfeed. Every NHS maternity ward/baby clinic is plastered in posters lecturing on the goodness of boobie juice, telling us we’re doing best by our babes etc… and yet a hospital, full of well-educated medical sorts, can’t seem to find their arses when it comes to treating a breastfeeding mum. I was told, point blank by some jobsworth bitch who obviously didn’t think I should have taken Isabel with me to A&E, that hospitals were dirty places, the medication too strong and that Izz would have to go on to formula.

I don’t particularly enjoy breastfeeding — it’s a means to an end — but I cried. How dare this woman, who didn’t know me, start making demands of my baby and our feeding. She wasn’t the last person though… all of the doctors/surgeons start lecturing me about how Izz would need to go on formula.

I had to fight to be treated with breastfeeding-friendly antibiotics. I had to fight to keep my baby on the ward with me. I had to fight to breastfeed her on demand, whilst nurses and doctors were prodding me every 5 minutes with needles, blood pressure checks, temperature checks, etc.

After x-rays and scans, piss tests, blood tests etc they came to the conclusion that I had a gallstone blocking the bile duct. It was causing the liver to dump bilirubin out into the urine and through my skin, turning me yellow. They wanted to remove the gallbladder and were pushing me to put Izz on formula so that I could have the operation because they insisted that I’d not be able to feed for 48 hours post-op (yet, caesarean mothers can feed straight away?) It was total bollocks.

In they end, they shipped me off to another hospital to have an endoscopy. After fighting with yet another childness staff nurse about how I should be feeding my child (“you must express now”) because she assumed the drugs would not be breastfeeding friendly (we had to hand her printed research, which she refused to give back; she ended up calling the pharmacy to confirm we were right) I had 2 gallstones removed. I soon returned to normal colour and, yesterday, I was able to come home.

Throughout this I’ve had nothing but sarcasm, bullshit and pessimism from a stream of predominantly male doctors/surgeons. I spent 4-5 days worrying about my daughter’s digestion, diet etc before we finally got in touch with the hospital maternity department and had our argument and theories backed up by one of the lactation consultants who came to my ward and kicked arse. I am so angry about my experience with a so-called pro-breastfeeding NHS that would have caused any less than stubborn mother to cave and change feeding method against her wishes.

And on that note… it’s time to change her nappy.

* edit 23rd May 2017: entry edited to remove insensitive wording re: formula feeding … we live and we learn