Finding some calm and peace in this frantic world

I’ve been working with a psycho-motor physiotherapist for the past few months. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking:

“Fieran, what in the world is up with you? First you give up gluten and stop writing about real food, then give us strange photos of weird food that probably doesn’t even taste half as good as a croissant or pizza; now you’re talking about physiotherapy.”

Well, what happened was that I started seeing a doctor and a nutritionist. Then I started to heal. It started with my eczema clearing up. I had eczema for 10 years, off and on it would show up, then disappear. But the last round was difficult because it refused to go away. I had managed to cure one leg, but on the other leg, it remained there: a large patch of dry, itchy skin that just wouldn’t heal. It looked quite scary. And then it started to heal! Today, I no longer have eczema. No more itchy, flaky skin and I can actually wear a pair of pegged boyfriend jeans without having to feel embarrassed about my skin. I have a slight discolouration left from what used to be a scar – but I’m convinced Rosehip oil will heal it. Then the acne started to heal. My skin is nowhere near clear. I have a lot of scars and still get pimples from time to time but they are not so bad. Gone are the large cystic pimples that took weeks to heal. The texture of my skin has improved and I’m lucky enough to not have much pitted scars so I’m confident that in a year or two, I will have much better skin. I don’t plan to do any laser resurfacing because I would like for my body to heal on its own. Time is something I definitely have.

Food-wise I’m completely gluten free for more than a year and eat varied but nutrient dense meals. I try to keep a close eye on what I eat; the whole carb:protein:fat ratio. I can’t have more than 1/4 of my plate with carbs, the rest have to be fat and proteins. I’m pretty okay with that, but I do have my slip ups. I also try to avoid sugar, but that’s a bit of a challenge some days. The next step is to change how I think and learn to be less stress, harried, pressured – but more calm, cool, and centered. This is why I’ve been seeing a physiotherapist who can identify what my body’s stress signals are and teach me how to handle them. A few months ago I started meditating with Headspace. Sounds very commercial, I know. But it actually works. I feel so much calmer and relaxed. I can see the pitfall that I sometimes fall into and then think “this whole day is rubbish” and I am slowly learning how to avoid falling into that dark hole. Last month I started yoga. Honestly I don’t want to be that new-age type of person walking around in tie dye clothing. I know that’s the stereotype. But I really, really need to find a way to survive this crazy world.

You know that feeling, when you wake up in the morning in a nice, happy mood. And then it dawns on you that you’re stuck with a particular problem that you just can’t fix? But you would do anything to fix it – though the solution eludes you. From then on the day just feels bad. You find yourself constantly thinking about the bad things, but not the good things – despite having some good things to be grateful for. So I started yoga and it’s been going okay. I’m neither flexible nor nimble. I look really silly at class, but since it’s a class where I know nobody — and more importantly nobody knows me, I figured it’s okay to look silly.

Remember my Bell’s palsy? Technically  I healed, but I still see some asymmetry in my features which bothers me. I know it sounds vain, but I never really appreciated the symmetry in my features. I took it for granted but when it was gone, I felt so sad that I didn’t look nice any more. I’m actually somebody who obsesses about symmetry.  I like lighting fixtures to be exactly straight; I love a well organized bookshelf. So losing my facial symmetry was hard to deal with. Lately, I see some improvement in my facial symmetry. So that’s a good thing :) Ultimately, I’m the same person; but also different. Why be the same, if you can progress and be better, right?

The person behind the scenes

When you live far away from your group of family and friends, you often end up being the person behind the scenes. You know about some of the things that are going on and as much as you would like to be more actively involved, it’s not exactly possible. I remember when I first moved to Norway, there was this wonderful cake delivery service in Malaysia where I could order a cake and deliver it to my parents’ doorstep. I used that service quite a few times. Then they stopped offering that service and I was dumbfounded what else I could do to show that I cared and would have liked to take part in some special people’s celebrations.

But that’s the burning question:

How do you show that you care despite being so damn far away?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. I used to think it was by showing appreciation in the form of special treats like those cakes that I used to send, small gifts, trinkets, etc. These days, I think it is time. When I’m back home I try to make time for all the things that I’m normally not around for. When I’m away, I try to have time to chat with the special people via messaging apps so that they know that I am there. Though I don’t think it’s enough, sometimes because by time you find out about stuff it’s too late to step in and help. Honestly, it sucks to be the person behind the scenes. It would be so much better to be the person who is part of the scene. Then again, we can’t have everything, can we? Can’t have the successful career (starting to believe this doesn’t really exist), the four seasons, the slightly better work/life balance, and the elusive “expatriate luxurious lifestyle” (doesn’t exist, I swear) — and still be the person who is part of the scene. This is just one more thing I didn’t consider when I moved from home – being the person behind the scenes.

Current Favourites

Recently, my skin has improved. It’s a bit of a miracle and I’m hoping that writing about it here won’t jinx it. *shudder*

Here are my current favourite products that have been really helping my skin and giving me that extra bounce in my step.

  1. Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Miracle Cleanser  – You know how when you use a cleanser and your skin says “Ahhh” the moment the cleanser touches your skin? This is one of those cleansers. It’s a nice cream texture (I’ve completely sworn off foaming cleansers because a certain Mrs Hirons has convinced me.) and melts into the skin beautifully. I try to find some patience to massage it into my skin slowly. This cleanser is too precious to use as a makeup remover. I use it as a second cleanser, after I’ve removed my makeup. My skin feels all soft and looks glowy once I’ve washed the cleanser off.
  2. Neal’s Yard Wild Rose Beauty Balm – I started off using this beauty balm as a cleanser and while it worked, my friend K told me that I should try it as a mask or a moisturizer. I heeded her advice and gave it a try. All I can say is – Wow. Picture this: your skin is a little bit parched and you want to moisturize it quickly with one product. This is the one to use. As you massage it into your skin – I use a teeny tiny bit – your face just starts to glow. It’s a rich, solid texture that melts in contact with your hand. I use this at night before I sleep as a serum + moisturizer combo and I (usually) wake up with calm, quite clear looking skin.
  3. Aesop Oil Free Facial Hydrating Serum – This serum is quite interesting. My skin, now that it’s no longer oily but more dry/combination drinks it up. I was advised by the sales assistant at the Aesop store here to combine this with their Fabulous Face Oil and then apply it to my skin. The result is soft, hydrated skin. (Are we sensing a trend here?) I use this combination every morning and it keeps my skin hydrated for most of the day.
  4. Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel – In the mornings, I like a light cleanser that is easy to use and wash off. This cleansing gel is really good for that purpose. I’m a bit naughty as I use two pumps, not one, for my face. I find that the cleanser calms my skin a bit, if I have some red spots or clogged pores.
  5. Ole Henriksen Blue/Black Berry Enzyme Mask – If you’re looking for a mask with a slight zing that also moisturizes the skin a bit, this is a good one. I use it once a week when my skin is looking a bit dull and I have clogged pores (the bane of my life). It reduces any swelling and leaves my skin feeling soft and clean.



The Birthday Post

Ah birthdays. That nice feeling of becoming older. *Grumble*

That said, I was very lucky this birthday. The husband took me to London – my favourite city! Previously, when we went to London in 2013, the trips were very wedding-focused. We bought my wedding sarees, wedding rings, etc. in London. This time we had almost no plans; just a list of what we wanted to do, see, eat, buy, and that’s it. We knew we had some friends we wanted to meet up with, but that was depending on whether they were available or not. Strangely I didn’t really feel like shopping much this time. We spent more time sightseeing and trying out restaurants that had amazing gluten free food.

I have three wishes this birthday:

  1. I would like to have a wee bit more peace of mind, to stop feeling so out of control of everything around me.
  2. I would also like to be a successful person. Success is so fleeting; sometimes just when you think you have it, you realize you actually don’t have it.
  3. Lastly, I would like to be healthy. For once it would be nice to have proper nutrient levels and not have to eat so much supplements. That’s something I’ve been working on, but it seems hugely dependent on how I view myself as a person and handle difficult situtations.

For some reason, I seem to be constantly chasing after peace of mind or success…and then I let health slip away. So yeah, would be nice to achieve them this year. They say “Ask and you shall receive”. So, I’m asking.

5 Things

I have updates :) Let’s start with the bad because I’m a pessimist.

  1. My vitamin levels are still messed up. Despite taking prescribed amounts of supplements, I don’t seem to have enough of it in my reserve. So I’ve been prescribed even more supplements. Oh joy. <sarcasm>
  2. As a result of #1, my Doctor has put me on sick leave for a few days. She thinks I need to reduce my stress levels as my magnesium levels have dropped. According to my Doctor, when you’re stressed, you’re draining your magnesium. I’m hoping this time off work will help my health – though it’s a strange feeling to not go to work. My leave starts Monday but I’m still going to go to work that day as I have some loose ends to tie up. I really hope my body heals during this time off.
  3. I have to study Mindfulness. I started out with a book on it but then I got a bit distracted and didn’t continue. But now I have little choice, so let’s see if I can keep at it.
  4. I’m in love with Aesop’s Camelia Nut Facial Hydrating Cream. It’s so soothing and moisturizing that my skin drinks it up. Literally. I apply some, look away from the mirror and look back into the mirror — poof! I cannot tell which part of my face I just moisturized. I usually add a few drops of facial oil with the moisturiser though as my skin has become dry instead of oily. The human body is such a mystery :)
  5. I’m in love with Aesop. They recently opened a store in Oslo and I have been dropping by from time to time to find out more about their products, get some samples, try them, *cough* buy them *cough* and then enjoy what I’ve bought. As mentioned above, the Camelia Nut Facial Hydrating Cream is amazing in winter. The Control gel heals pimples without any burning or stinging sensation. It does take time, but the area of the skin where I apply it doesn’t flake or dry out. The pimple usually shrinks after an application or two, and doesn’t scar as much. The Parsley Seed Facial Cleansing Oil is very effective to remove face makeup but I use a separate eye makeup remover. This oil really loosens my face makeup and then I go in with a second cleanser as I’m a huge fan of double cleansing. I’m obsessed with clean skin. If you live in a cold country, the Geranium Leaf Hydrating Body Treatment works wonders on dry skin. I apply a generous amount post shower onto my body and my skin doesn’t feel dry at all, despite the sub-zero temperatures here in Norway.

So there you have it. 5 updates from me :)

What I do when I get a reaction

Many people say many things about non-cealiac gluten intolerance. The bottom line is that, for me, it is very real. When I accidentally eat gluten, I get a reaction. I say “accidentally” because I have given up gluten completely. Unfortunately, there is something called “cross contamination” in that even if you don’t actually put gluten into your food or order a dish that has wheat or other gluten containing ingredients in it, gluten still sneaks into it. This can be possible when service staff use the same knife to spread butter on both normal bread and gluten free bread, or when sweet potato fries are fried in the same oil as flour battered onion rings, etc.

There are many types of reaction from gluten ingestion. For me, it is pimples and sometimes inflammation. Not that pimples aren’t caused by inflammation but since I’m not a doctor, I’m not the best person to talk about that.

I get whiteheads and really bumpy skin (with clogged pores in them) on both of my cheeks. For some reason, my left cheek is always worse than my right. I also get pimples on my chin and jawline. Sometimes I get pimples on my forehead. As for inflammation, I sometimes get tendonitis in my toe. This was something I struggled with for a few months, a few years ago. Eventually it went away – though my chiropractor couldn’t figure out why I was having pain in my toe. Oh, I also get an inflamed Achilles tendon or a strange muscular pain in my arms or legs.

That’s the nice thing about being slightly healthy – being pain free.

OK, so I have a list of things I do, like my counter-attack for when gluten is irritating my system.

  1. I eat as clean as possible. No processed food, minimal sugar, no new dishes or recipes, no new restaurants, etc. I go back to my safest food options. I also try to avoid large amounts of dairy.
  2. I drink lots of fluids. I try to visualise the fluids washing out the gluten from my system. It’s quite therapeutic :) Basically I drink tons of water, tea (especially chamomile tea as I find it very calming), and sometimes Kefir as I hope the probiotics aids my digestion.
  3. I work from home. A face full of pimples plus dehydrated skin begging to not be covered with makeup is my body’s way of asking for a break. So sometimes, if I don’t have anyone depending on me on a particular day, I work from home so I can keep my face makeup free and let my skin heal.
  4. I use gentle masks and healing oils. There are a few options here. Origins’ Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask, Aesop’s Primrose Facial Cleansing Mask, or just plain full-fat yoghurt work very well for me. My reaction lasts for about 5 days typically but with some patience and lots of pampering, I can reduce it to 3 days. I use a good mask, and then apply lots of moisturiser and healing oils to calm my skin down. Some good facial oil options are Pai’s Rosehip Bioregenerate Oil, Aesop’s Fabulous Face Oil, and Fresh’s Seaberry Moisturising Face Oil are some oils that work well for me.
  5. Less is more. I am tempted to slather on as many things as possible to heal my skin instantaneously – but that never works. I end up clogging my pores even more. So I try to be a bit cautious and apply a few drops of facial oil followed with a good moisturiser and then leave my skin alone.

Ultimately, it does heal. And then I try to promise myself that I will not eat whatever dish caused that reaction.

What I learned in 2014

A small sneak peek into our wedding.

A small sneak peek into our wedding.

I write a post like this almost every year. I’m a little bit surprised to see that I have written so few blogs this year. I think this is because I spent 2014 on introspection. The husband and I got married, but in the midst of this, I was halfway into my food intolerance testing as well as trying to figure out what really makes me happy and where I want to go from here.

In 2014 I learned:

  1. How to eat without annoying my body. I have spent a lot of time with my doctor and nutritionist trying to figure out why I had acne, why my cortisol levels were so low, why I had eczema and why I had excess belly fat. It turns out there are multiple reasons – but I may also never find out all of these reasons. One important reason was that my carbohydrates:protein:fat ratio was wrong. So I learned to eat again. I learned how to eat more fat instead of carbohydrates and to increase my protein intake generally. This has been annoyingly documented on Instagram. I know, there are only so many chorizo scramble photographs that I can post after some point :) Another reason was that gluten and sugar are bad for me. I am one of those people with non-cealiac gluten sensitivity which is not something that you can prove medically from what I understand. But it seems to be the best way I can get my skin to not breakout in acne or eczema. By eating no wheat or gluten, cutting my sugar intake dramatically, and watching my carbohydrate portion, I can feel better, have clearer skin, and actually have enough energy for the day. I’m much calmer and less irritable. I also no longer have severe PMS mood swings.
  2. How to keep my individuality despite being married. I’ve never really mentioned this much, but this was my biggest concern about getting married. Like many people out there, I have invested a lot of time in defining myself. Trying to learn who I am, who I want to be, and how to get there. Part of this process was to move away from home to see how to achieve my ambition. When relatives used to ask about marriage, I used to get panicky as I was worried I won’t be able to be “me” anymore. My typical response was “There are many things I would like to do before getting married.” and nobody understood that, so they kept pushing. It was very uncomfortable, and I used to get very anxious about it that I dreaded going back home. I really dreaded these situations such that 2-3 weeks before trips home I would be upset and unsure about everything around me. There’s a lot of  “we” in marriage that I was concerned I would feel stifled or claustrophobic if I got married and couldn’t be myself anymore. Thankfully my husband is just as particular about this so we have managed to keep our individual traits and interests but also develop mutual interests in things like traveling, cooking, working out at the gym, TV series, making new friends, keeping old friends, and learning new things about the world around us. But I’m still interested in makeup and skincare, Indian movies and music, fashion, photography, and tea, while my husband maintains his own interests in gadgets, computers, beer, jazz music and winters sports.
  3. How to save money. We did our civil marriage, moved in together, planned a wedding, a honeymoon, and a few smaller weekend getaways within 2 years. It’s been crazier than 2013, to be honest. Which is also why the blog has been quiet. There just has been so many things to do and the corresponding financial aspects to consider. But it is such an achievement, when we look back, to see how much we can achieve when we put our minds together and work towards a common goal.
  4. How to be kind to myself. This is still work in progress, but it’s a lesson that my doctor pointed out to me and I’m still learning it. She actually wrote it down on a piece of paper where she listed which supplements I had to take and the duration. Sometimes you want to do everything in life and you forget about your health. And it takes somebody else to tell you that you have to be kind to yourself. Many years ago I read this post from Karen who runs MakeupAndBeautyBlog. It was about how we talked to ourselves. I hadn’t realised how harsh my self-critic was. I used to think I wasn’t deserving of a lot of things and would be very strict with how I treated myself. Strict schedules, possibly running on little sleep, high expectations of output despite low input, you know? So I started to talk a bit less harsh to myself, but this was years ago. After working with my doctor and nutritionist since last year, I’ve started to actually be kind to myself. Somedays I don’t feel like doing chores – so I just don’t do them. Somedays I also don’t feel like going to the gym then the husband and I sit on the couch, drink tea and watch TV series back to back — and try not to feel guilty about it.
  5. How to switch off from work. I have huge difficulties with this but I believe I have made some progress. I’m constantly “on” with work running in the back of my mind. It’s a bit weird sometimes and it’s not very respectful to other people around me because it means I’m not “being present”. So I’m trying to work on this, and it does involve putting away my phone from time to time to show respect to the people around me. But more importantly to respect myself enough to not be mentally at work all the time. That would just be a recipe for burnout.
  6. How to listen. I’m actually quite a bad listener – not because I want to do all the talking, but I’m generally quite impatient. I do notice that I’m starting to listen more when people talk. It’s actually quite relaxing to listen to somebody else talk. Especially if the person has a soothing voice.
  7. How to accept my body. If you have been plagued with acne, eczema and then Bell’s palsy – health issues that alter how you look, it is very difficult to accept yourself. While my eczema has healed completely (I really hope it does not reappear.), my acne is still healing slowly. As for Bell’s palsy, I feel like I have lost the symmetry in my face. While I don’t look scary, I find that I look a bit weird. This is very obvious when I take a selfie on my phone camera because the image might be reflected vertically before it is shown to me on the screen. So my lack of facial symmetry is very obvious there. I’m thinking it is either that, or it is that my eyes are more forgiving of my new features, than the phone camera. Either way, I am slowly starting to accept that this is just how I look and it is okay to not have facial symmetry. It’s a bit upsetting some days, and I was quite worried about it at the wedding, but the photographs that resulted were okay from a facial symmetry aspect so for that – I am very, very grateful. Another aspect about accepting my body was to buy new clothes. While many people think this is a lot of fun, I had to drag myself to do this. Because it meant giving up my old clothing that I was utterly in love with and investing in a new “me” that may not be permanent as I am still losing weight [which is not my plan, really]. I still have some pieces that I have difficulty parting with, like a limited edition Camel coloured wool coat that the husband got me years ago. Or my favourite blouses from Gap that I have bought over the years. But at the end of the day, I try to tell myself that they are just things that can be replaced. But health can’t be replaced.
  8. How to prioritise. This has been tricky because it involves not being on good terms with some people. I know I may have upset some people as I have been less interested in their lives and in taking the time to connect with them. Unfortunately, such is life. Sometimes you have to strictly prioritise and even cut out things that you may have liked to do because there were other things that needed to be done. To these people, I do apologise – but I also know that true friendship does make room for these times.

So there it is – what I’ve learned from this year. In many ways I’m very glad for this year to end because it has been a painful year for many people – especially where flights and natural disasters are concerned. I actually am slightly nervous about flying these days, despite my love for travel. But ultimately, it is all fated. We just have to live each day to the fullest and try to be happy. At least that’s what I plan to do :)


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