Day 5: wandering and wondering #40daysto40

Oxford, 2006: Feeling unworthy. Tired all the time. More down than up. Overdrawn, heading deeper into the red. Overweight and gaining no matter how far I cycled. Trying to do all the things, then not being able to get out of bed nor open overdue bills. Although I didn’t have a name for it at the time: I was depressed, completely burned out. My doctor at the time, rather than throw antidepressants at me, prescribed: getting out ‘into nature’ and going for lots of walks (plus, consider changing job). Then he gave me a copy of The Guardian newspaper. . . Walking: along the Isis to Iffley lock avoiding vicious looking geese, squidging through Port Meadow, walking near ‘The Kidneys’, cycling to the various college parks – sneaking in and picnicking next to heavily scented and bee busy flowerbeds. Swimming in the canal near Donny Bridge, in the river during full moon. Boating adventures with ‘borrowed’ canoes near Magdalen college.

Todmorden, 2018: Still overweight, still slightly skint, but so much happier.

Sunday walk: through Buckley wood and around The Ridge, headed – almost vertically! – up towards Woodfield top, following country roads with whimsical sounding names: Doghouse Lane, Parkin Lane, Sourhall Lane.


Descending to Gorpley Clough and following the slightly busy Bacup Road. Then, following the brook as if backwards and against the course.


Through Gorpley Woods (deemed ancient woodlands).


Up to Gorpley reservoir and the vista. Windblown and walking along the shallow wall of the reservoir – admiring the meld of late Victorian engineering, the human-shaped landscapes, the geological formation of the hills.

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Gathering leftover pieces of fleece to felt, the sheep gently munching and slightly inquisitive.


Then home again via a pint and some chips! It reminded me that when I can – time and back willing – walking helps clear my head. Shared walking is even better.

Walking has helped me. Getting out into the woods and beyond does offer what author and naturalist Richard Mabey calls the ‘nature cure’. I think emerging oneself in wildlife is helpful but, for me, it’s not quite a panacea. (Sometimes I can’t walk as my lower back won’t let me. Sporadic sciatica, not bad enough for prescription drugs and never for ignoring without the addition of over-the-counter painkillers and some light stretching.)

Hopefully the next forty years, back and health willing, there will be more walks, more green, more lanes to tread, hills to climb and wildlife to meet.

Day 2: let’s get the heavy stuff over with #40daysto40

It’s still raining today, more vertical than diagonal today. The back garden is slowly turning into a marsh. I wonder whether Calderdale will turn into a giant lake with its own Nessie myths. I’m feeling rounded, fleshy, the feeling that I’m gathering hibernation weight for what could be a long winter ahead. Ah, the ingrained fatphobia that’s been handed down, matrilineal.

Let’s get the heavy stuff over with, this post comes with a bit of a content note: it will be about body image, about weight, about that feeling when you feel like you don’t fit. About fat. About perceptions of fat. About trying to control fat in questionable ways.

I have always been overweight. Even at my thinnest I had a soft peach belly roll that pushed against the size 10 jeans I’d borrowed from a friend and just about managed to squeeze into with shallow breaths and a sense of shame. That shame. That bloody shame from those who don’t matter, or the shame that has come from two generations of women ashamed of their bodies. Taking supplements, starving, being sick to fight the flab, to be considered, perhaps (whisper it) sexy.

I tried to fight back against this learned behaviour. I did my best to question the crappy images fed into my head from the TV and make-up promotion heavy magazines aimed at young women. I tried to ignore the ribs and rounded orbs of Eva Herzigová looking down from those 90s roadside Wonderbra adverts. In my early twenties, I got my belly button pierced, I (sort of) embraced the curves on the good days. And I wrote: poems, feminist poems about ‘getting grief from a lettuce leaf’, a news article about posing naked for a charity calendar – modesty protected by three cardboard bees Penned a performance poem about not giving a toss about body shape and embracing body hair (performed with some serious beer courage). I ended a relationship with someone who made me feel awful and like the worst person who dragged herself across the surface of the earth.

And yet. And yet. And yet.

The familiar feeling, the fat-shaming, the magazines located in what I call the ‘Self Hate’ section of newsagencies. (You know the ones: the magazines where one week they’re celebrating curvy celebrities, the next pointing out the stretch marks, every single line of cellulite, expressing mock concern and barely concealed disgust.)

Of course, it’s all rubbish; it’s about being healthy (and hopefully happy) whatever the size of your thighs. As I enter into my fifth decade, I am hoping that I care less about how I look and more about who I am, how my actions affect others, how I can speak out and listen and champion others who may feel similar.

And as this sign puts it:

how to get a bikini body for summer: 1. put a bikini on your body 2. stop giving a shit about what others think

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(I’d add a 3 which is it’s no-one else’s flipping business what you’re wearing! Whether it’s tankini or mankini!)

Oh, Jenbee, don’t be a clot…

The needle slips into the vein in the crook of my right arm, a pinching sensation, then there’s nothing until, when flicked accidentally, the pain is like the needle: small, slim, silver, sharp. I had a blood test on Wednesday and now I am waiting for the results. This is not a new phenomenon for me but this time, I thought, that I would write about it. I thought that maybe someone might find it useful if they’re going through something similar.* Besides, I love a good pun and ‘clot’ is thick with possibilities, platelets, and plasma.

I hate having the blood, or any other fluid, taken out of me physically or verbally. And, since 2011, after my Branwen was stillborn**, I’ve had quite a bit of blood – not gallons here, obviously, but certainly millilitres – taken and tested. Then taken and tested some more. Then, after a document was somehow lost in the ether between two hospitals less than 10 miles apart, taken and tested again. I’ve had cardiolipin tests, lupus tests, various other tests in the key of the thyroid. I was initially diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome, but this was later retracted by one doctor who did so because she wasn’t sure, another doctor – about a year later – more or less stated that I was a hypochondriac*** and perhaps I’d be better off on antidepressants.

Back to last Wednesday: the pastel blue consulting room, Charlotte the nurse, the mini bloodletting, and Charlotte’s conversation/diversion tactic with tales of rescued kittens. Three vials of type O+ sat in the tray, each stoppered with a different coloured top – yellow and white – to be packaged up, sent to the lab, and scrutinised. With a typed note on what to look for: tests on thyroid function complete with a load of acronyms and numbers that floated into then out of my brain (TSH, TT4 I think) plus seeking out whether there’s any urea in my blood (mmm yummy, possibly checking kidney function). I make a weak joke about sending some of it to Porton Down to check my red stuff for any biohazard.

I have so many unanswered questions as to why I get cold easily, why I put on weight just by looking at chocolate bars, why I’m often tired (although this could be a B12 deficiency), why my hair and skin are dry – I’m prone to eczema – and brittle as autumn leaves, why my blood pressure is low and why my heart rate is more of a laid-back hippie than I am. On WhatsApp, I tell my mate Michelle about adventures with weird sporadic mini mood swings and that, once again, I’ve had a rummage around some online advice.

At the risk of sounding like your mum, is Googling symptoms a good idea? You don’t want to fall down some gloomy rabbit hole. 

No, I reassure her, honest I promise. I am using a combination of ThyroidUK, WebMD (with shovel of salt), having a re-read of the NHS blurb, and having a peek at some of the science papers via university login. Michelle gave me a good idea, though, I thought: ‘why not, let’s see what happens when you type the following into Google, for a Gloomgle list’. This is what appeared when I began a sentence with ‘what happens when your thyroid”:

  • is high
  • is low
  • is removed
  • dies
  • is overactive
  • stops working
  • is too high
  • levels are too low
  • shuts off
  • is off

What a list! Like poetry isn’t it?! So far, so nearly William Carlos Williams good. In a rush of macabre curiosity, I went there with the “dies” search. *Shudder* In conclusion, Gloomgling is a bad idea, kids, don’t do it. Back away from that gloomy rabbit hole and the digital lagomorph of information doom.

Anyway, I have tried to compartmentalise all this for a long time now (SEVEN YEARS!!); I’m trying to finish my corrections in the midst of some heavy global political shenanigans, a dollop of the usual self-doubt, and slight, occasionally moderate family turmoil. Any possible superhero superclotting ability will, at least, require some mental reckoning with and I’m trying to ready myself for some sort of result yielding either some answers or, more likely, yet another round of questions. (On the plus side, ‘antiphospholipid’ would be a corker of a word to get on the board in Scrabble.)


* I’m not a health blogger and this is not a health blog. I am not a thyroid nor phlebotomy specialist. I am not a venipuncture expert although ‘venipuncture’ is a great word. Normal caveats apply – if you’re concerned about having similar symptoms, or are undergoing treatment and things are not going well, please contact your local, trusted health professional.

** Click this hyperlink to elsewhere on the WildWrites site for some explanation and links to good advice and support.

*** Nope, sorry lad but you were wrong: I love universal healthcare but don’t love going to the doctor’s and sitting in the waiting room and feeling all the feelings for those there who are sicker than I am and staring at a dog-eared, five-year-old Women’s Weekly and feeling like sometimes I have to justify my visit; I hate pain; I’m crap at taking and remembering to take pills; I’m not a massive fan of hospitals – big fan of the care and kindness that is given to others, many members of staff work tirelessly and, honestly, the food isn’t too bad in some of them (eating a la carte a la ward in Stepping Hill Hospital? Well then, madam, do try the vegetable soup), but would rather avoid, thanks.