Stepping into 2017

I’m around but I haven’t blogged. It’s been a busy year – one that we spent setting up a foundation for the next coming years in Berlin. You know how sometimes you think what you say is interesting or important, but then you start to realise that your interests, your opinions, they’re not really important actually. That’s why I haven’t blogged in awhile. I just didn’t think what I had to say or what I thought was important.

But I do admit that writing is therapeutic – for me, at least. I always feel better when I empty my head.

Living in Berlin is very different from what I’m used to, but I’m slowly getting the hang of it. I admit that I feel sad that the city is not clean and there are lots of homeless people outside. As an individual, there’s not much I can do and it’s hard to watch, some days. There were less homeless people in Oslo, and it was definitely cleaner. Berlin is chaos, a type of organized chaos. Me being the A-type personality that I am, it can be really hard sometimes. I get annoyed

The city is busier, we are busier. There’s more to do everyday. Somewhere in the midst of the chaos we found a gym that we like. So we now do spinning with weights, and sometimes I do some yoga. I’m still quite bad at yoga, but I’m stubborn so I will keep attending classes – even if I look silly. I dream of being able to do the poses smoothly. There’s a certain beauty in it, when you watch other people flit from one pose to another in a smooth and graceful way. Anyone who has met me in person knows that I’m anything but graceful. Hah!

I no longer buy much makeup anymore as I don’t have much time to apply smoky eyes in the morning anymore. It’s now a luxury that I hope to make more time for, but I’m not going to be too upset if I don’t manage to. I do miss it — not the makeup hoarding part — but the makeup application part. I still read about it on Instagram, but I don’t obsess about limited edition collections or hoard anymore eyeshadows, etc. I have to wear makeup on a day-to-day basis to look presentable. For that I have my “basic face” which usually has a berry-toned lipstick. I have way too many berry-toned lipsticks that I’m trying to finish. But, I no longer wear eyeshadow everyday.

I still love skincare. I’m still obsessed with cleansers. But my skin has healed a bit more since moving to Berlin. In the past years I have accumulated a lot of things. I think I was trying to comfort myself in some way by buying things. I have a lot of skincare products I would like to finish so, currently, I’m not buying anymore skincare. I’m curious how much money I can save by not spending on skincare for awhile and just using up everything that I have. Let’s see how that goes.

We’ve made some nice friends and acquaintances in Berlin. It’s going well so far. We have also discovered some wonderful cafes and restaurants. There are some very nice streets in Berlin that I love wandering through, just soaking up the atmosphere. It’s been weird to see all the shops that I used to pine over, suddenly, be right there in front of you. Of course the result is that you slowly lose interest in all your favourite shops – but maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all 🙂

I’ve been meditating for a bit more than a year now. I have a noisy mind that clings to “stories” and won’t let them go. So I meditate to find some silence in my head. It really helps with the stress but more importantly it helps with acceptance. Accepting that I can’t do everything at the same time. Monotasking is the new multitasking, right?

Anyway, here are my New Years’ Resolutions:

  • Be more present, enjoy the moments rather than keep looking forward to the next “big thing”
  • Learn to live better with less – I would really like to be less dependent on things to myself happy
  • Do more Yoga
  • Be as healthy as I can

I hope to keep blogging, but I hate making promises that I can’t keep, so I’ll try 🙂

Things I have learned lately in Berlin

I’m currently sitting in our rented apartment here in Berlin, surrounded by some laundry, a cup of tea, my almost empty luggage, and a stack of papers. The weather outside is grey and it’s going to rain today I think.

We’ve been in Berlin for 11 days now. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster because some things have gone very well, but some things are a bit strange. That said, I feel very lucky to get to live in Berlin and I’m really looking forward to starting my new job next month.

So what have I learned lately?

  • German supermarkets don’t carry frozen gluten free bread. I think German people in general have high standards for bread and it seems like they don’t like frozen bread, so it’s not possible for me to get my favourite frozen gluten free bread in Berlin. But, it is possible to buy gluten free bread that is slightly more fresh in a resealable bag, but I find it weird to have fresh gluten free bread. I am getting used to it though.
  • German cafes don’t provide water for free. In Oslo, you can always get a cup of water for free at cafes. You only pay for your drinks. In contrast, here in Berlin, you have to order water when you order your drinks and pay for it. I think, over time, I will carry a small bottle of water in my large tote bag. That way I don’t have to buy water and a drink.
  • 30 minutes is considered ‘nearby’ in Berlin. I’ve been studying the routes of the trams and subway here lately. It’s quite interesting to learn that 30 minutes isn’t considered far because that’s how long it takes to get from Point A to B most of the time. In fact, many people commute in Berlin and our friends feel that 30 minutes is a typical commute. I think 20 minutes would be ‘nearby’ in my mind, but I’m learning to stretch that to 30 minutes. Since Berlin is huge, I find myself putting off all the cafes and restaurants I have on my list to visit because I don’t feel like commuting 30 minutes to get there. I need to change my mindset, stat.
  • I’ve been spoiled by Oslo. In Oslo, I have mostly lived in relatively new buildings, where the water pressure, water temperature, heating system – were all in sync. Everything just worked magically, and there was no need to tweak anything. Here in Berlin, in our current rental apartment, some things need to be fiddled with because it’s a renovated apartment in an old building. It’s not so easy to get the right temperature of water to shower in or to wash your face in. The water is either too cold, or too hot. It’s not a big problem, of course, because I am aware that some people in the world don’t even have clean water. So yeah, I’ve been spoiled, and it’s time to be a bit more accepting of these things.
  • How to learn to live with less. When the husband I were married and I moved into his apartment, he was very nice and gave me carte blanche on the second room. So I designed a huge, 4-sliding-door-wardrobe with IKEA’s cupboard designing software and we ordered it. The husband helped me to install it and I used it mostly for my stuff, but also for some of the household items like towels, blankets, spare pillow cases, etc. On top of that, we bought 2 shelves where I could put all my skincare, makeup and jewellery. Now that we no longer own an apartment, I have had to give up all this luxury. It’s a bit jarring to realise it, like waking up in another world. Many people have managed to pare down their belongings and live with less — so I’ve decided to try that by being more selective with what I have packed for my current stage in life, and only buying the bare minimum. It’s been a challenge, but I’m determined to try not to want too many things.
  • How to run outdoors in cold weather. We no longer have gym memberships. The closest gym we would like to join is about 15 minutes by subway. We think this will take about 25 minutes in reality, when you factor in the time it takes to get to the subway station, etc. In Oslo, our gym was 5 minutes away by tram. Since our current living arrangements is not for long term, we figured we will try to go for runs outdoors in one of the many beautiful parks Berlin has. So, the past two Sundays, the husband and I have been running in one of the parks nearby. It’s really fun, but also very cold. We both bought some outdoor running gear, but it takes me longer to warm up until I’m not too cold, compared to the husband. But running outdoors, crunching on the Autumn leaves, is so much fun! I’m so grateful that I get to do that; I just need to toughen up with the temperature.

That’s it for now. I hope to write more soon, and hopefully share some photographs.

And the race begins…

I don’t like to blog when things go wrong. I sit and simmer, stew, and then boil over internally — but I try not to blog about what is going on. This is because I’m a firm believer in the universe returning what I give. So I worry that if I give out angst, anger, frustration, or disappointment; that’s just what I’m going to get in return from the universe.

That said, I’m not perfect; self-improvement is a lifelong task.

For a very long time, I was stuck in a rut with a special type of problem. No matter what I did, the outcome was always the same. I couldn’t solve this problem. I would spend hours thinking about my options, mentally running through them to see which one I could choose and what type of outcome I might get. I replayed these different scenarios every day.

The strange thing about this type of problem is that it consume you. You cannot do anything else. It takes all of your energy. You spend a long time running on the wheel like the proverbial hamster, trying to find a way to get out of this rut.

The wedding last year was a wonderful distraction away from this problem. It was reaffirming to know that there’s so much more to this life than the problem I was stuck with. A good reminder that life goes on; but I was also hell bent on bringing my best self into our marriage, so I added on the healthy eating to cure my eczema and acne to my plate.

But after the wedding and honeymoon, like a bad penny, this problem reared its head again. It was a problem I couldn’t solve. However, being a type A, productivity obsessed, solution oriented person – this truth was something I couldn’t handle. I mean, why would the universe give me a problem I couldn’t solve? It can’t be that hard, right?

Eventually I came to terms with this. But it was a long, uphill battle that left me so tired and drained. The husband and I realized that the best solution here is to move countries and start afresh, to move me away from this problem because it was never mine to solve in the first place. This new opportunity is a blessing that I’m very grateful for.

So now the race begins, to pack everything that we want to keep, get rid of everything that we don’t want; clear our minds, open our hearts, and move to a new country and city to rediscover our zest for life. Learn how to live in a different way.

We sold our apartment earlier this month and it was bittersweet. As much as I love our apartment, I knew that I had to let it go to move on to better things. Next month we are moving to Berlin. I’m still in the process of packing up my stuff (the husband is lucky that he has less belongings than me). We are very lucky that the furniture that we have listed up for sale or to be given away seem to get some interest so we have managed to find new homes for some of these pieces. It’s a nice feeling to see the new owners of these pieces be so happy that they got something they really wanted at a good price (hopefully).

I guess the next time I write here, I might be in Berlin. But let’s see, if inspiration strikes.

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.

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 🙂