Restoring Body Positivity with Cancer

Restoring Body Positivity with Cancer

What does body positivity mean to you?  At it’s most basic it’s about self-acceptance and self-care, but the way we view ourselves as individuals is embedded in a range of feelings, both physical and emotional, guaranteeing that no one view will be the same. Throw cancer into the mix and it becomes more complicated.

Personal injury of any kind whether due to an accident or an illness forces a “new normal”. Whilst this may seem obvious, what doesn’t is the inevitable challenge of how to embrace it.

We live in a world where external expressions of concern over our body image are frowned upon, especially in terms of the example we as parents set our children. It is not deemed acceptable anymore to talk about being disappointed with our looks lest it spark a series of obsessive body image issues with far reaching health consequences, in those who follow our example. Sometimes though this is easier said than done.  We are only human after all.

I confess to having had a love hate relationship with my body image over the years but particularly since the advent of the peri-menopause in my mid 40’s. I battled with the changes to my body but confronted them proactively with hormone therapy, exercise and an attempt at a positive mental attitude – albeit I admit not always successfully.

Then just when I thought I had the midlife changes sussed and I was feeling good about myself, along came the diagnosis that threw a spanner in the works and has forced me to revisit my relationship with my body all over again.

As a cancer patient you are constantly encouraged to ask questions about your proposed treatment even up until the last minute, when dressed in surgical stockings, pants and gown you meet the team in charge of creating your “new normal”.

Abdominal surgery of any kind is major.  There are a lot of crucial organs to navigate so it stands to reason that there will be some physical changes as a result, but nothing can fully prepare you for them and actually to be brutally honest if your surgical team elaborated on all the nitty gritty, ie the stuff you can’t find via Dr Google, it is likely you would either walk away or drive yourself mad thinking about the “what ifs”.

So what is the new normal? Well for me I have lost those parts that fully defined me as a woman, that not only helped to create but then go onto carry and nurture my teens during those all important formative stages of their lives.

How do I feel about that? Well I would be lying if I said it doesn’t feel like an assault on my femininity but one thing I learnt early on in the treatment process is that there is no room for sentimentality. Aside from the ever ready box of tissues, “feelings” are relatively immaterial. It is all about the practicalities and getting on with the job in hand – i.e to fix you and hopefully to save you; after all as a cancer patient that is what you really want - to be saved.

As a 50 year old woman I had as my surgeon so delicately put it “no need for all that anymore” and my proposed surgery would not only deal with the current cancer crisis but also diminish my chances of a recurrence. Put like that I would have had to be mad not to sign on the dotted line.

Eight weeks on and I am in a much better place than the early days post surgery  when the focus was on pain relief and restoring a whole range of normal bodily functions that as a healthy individual you take for granted, but which the surgery disrupts.

At this point it is about rebuilding my strength and fitness, but not to the detriment of the healing process which as I am discovering daily, has its own agenda and won’t be rushed, so my parameters are still relatively limited as my cancer nurse keeps reminding me - walking yes but absolutely no Pilates, Barre or core exercises, which as a previously very active person is tough.

The other challenge at this stage is the perceptions of others. “You look so good, not like someone with cancer.”  What does someone with cancer look like exactly?  Well I suppose the archetypal image is of someone who has suffered not only weight loss but hair loss. But for every cancer sufferer that displays those outward signs there is one who doesn’t, whose cancer badge is not obvious to the naked eye.

One thing for sure,however, is whichever bracket you fall into, you are united in a battle to appear normal in whatever way you can. In the hospital waiting room there is an unspoken code of conduct between patients, a shared smile (sympathetic or otherwise,) a joke, a laugh or merely an acknowledgement that you are still here and doing “normal”.

But although you may appear normal on the outside and go through the motions with those around you, there is an omnipresent internal battle with your own view of what you are.  You aren’t the same as you were anymore, the old normal that you have lived with for years has gone.  Adapting to that takes time and therein lies the biggest challenge of all and one that no-one else can help you with.

Even without cancer no-one wants to stand out in a crowd - at least not for the wrong reasons anyway, so a huge part of feeling better with cancer is looking better. It’s not about vanity, it’s about restoring a positive body image and boosting your well-being along the way and if that is getting your nails done and donning something other than loungers, so be it.  It's about whatever works for you.

There are many positives on this unplanned journey, not least the fact that illness is great for reminding us just how tenacious we are as individuals. I am alone with my cancer among my friends and that is tough for them as well as me, because sympathy doesn’t equate to understanding, but they are there for me.  I am also lucky to have a husband with broad shoulders who reminds me during my occasional "poor me" rants of what lies beneath the body image i.e me.  Then there is the unswerving suppport of my mother who has herself survived cancer against all the odds and her strength and resilience and those of others I witness each time I visit the hospital, is something I strive to emulate.

So where to now?  Well my surgeon’s greeting of “how’s life?” is a pertinent reminder each time I see him that I am here and that is something to hold onto and be thankful for.

Developing a positive body image after cancer is a huge part of the recovery process and adjusting to this newly normal status is made a lot easier if your sense of yourself has a broader meaning and purpose. That can mean many things to many people but on a simplistic level the role of family, particularly children in this cannot be underestimated, neither can the importance of looking outward beyond the cancer and forwards to the future. Only that way can embracing and feeling positive about the "new normal" seem possible.

 

 

 

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How Valuable Are Your Online Friends?

How Valuable Are Your Online Friends?

Do you have any online friends?  Have you met any of them in the flesh or is it all just cyber chat?  How do your virtual friendships rate against your real time ones?

I, like many others of my midlife generation, am to coin a phrase a “digital immigrant”.  Born before the advent of the digital age that defines my children’s formative years, I have embraced it by default.   Writing my blog has forced me to engage with technology in a way in which to be honest I am still not 100% confident or comfortable with, as well as adopt social media profiles which would, if they knew, have my teens rolling in the aisles.

When I started out on this foray into the digital unknown, however, I underestimated the ability of technology to connect you not only with like-minded people with a passion to be a scribe, but also with kindred spirits, with shared interests, opinions and values.

In the vast pool that is the World Wide Web the odds of that connection happening just once let alone more than that, appear relatively slim at the outset but I now know it is infinitely possible.

The value of female friendships is a subject close to my heart and when I last wrote on the subject just over a year ago I compartmentalised my friends broadly into my various life stages University, Work, Children.  It never occurred to me then, or even when I started out on this journey, that Blogging would soon be sitting so comfortably alongside them.

Friendship is about connecting, about seeing eye to eye and blogging arguably sorts the wheat from the chaff quicker than many typical realtime scenarios.

The written word leaves you nowhere to hide so any engagement or otherwise is instantaneous.  How many times have you put down a book never to pick it up again because it didn't grab you at the beginning?  Similarly in the online world, if the connection is not there then flicking the off switch is rapid and invariably fatal and of course there is no need for an explanation, after all you don’t really know them.

In the blogosphere I am not a prolific social media user.  Twitter and Instagram are my profiles of choice and more recently a bit of StumbleUpon.   I picked them up as a means to promote my blog as that is what the self-help blogging guides tell you to do and more importantly to engage with others, but my usage is a bit haphazard to be honest. If I have something to share then I will dip in but otherwise I keep a relatively low profile in comparison to many others.

Despite this, however, I have a lovely selection of online soul-mates who I engage with about a variety of subjects that prick my interest.  The obvious one as my title suggests is parenting teens, but then there is the vast array of general family and lifestyle subjects that connect us females worldwide and make us moan and smile. The menopause, skincare, fashion, fitness, entertainment, travel, interiors - the list is endless.

For the cynical, it is easy to be flippant about the value of any friendship nurtured in this virtual world.  For me though over the last few weeks in particular the role and importance of my online female friends has been particularly accentuated, as I have shared details about my recent health status in a more brutal and intimate sense than I might have with some of my offline mates.

That is not to say I have shared more detail online than off, that is not the case at all.  It simply comes back to the power of the written word.  For those of us who enjoy writing we all know it is a cathartic process.  It is emotive, personal, thoughtful and above all permanent.  There is none of the raw transience of the spoken word,  writing strikes directly at the heart of the matter and in the absence of face-to-face contact removes any behavioural awkwardness.

I have met only a few of my online friends in the flesh, yet I feel privileged and touched to have them all in my life whether we have connected through blogging, twitter or instagram.  Every friendship has a role to play in our lives and my digital buddies have certainly enriched mine and are no less meaningful than any other.  In my opinion, the value of a good friendship is found in its significance, not its physical proximity or its period of engagement.

 

What do you think?  How valuable are your online friends? I would love hear to your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life On The Other Side – Post Surgery

Life On The Other Side – Post Surgery

Every cancer diagnosis and treatment plan is unique.  There is no one size fits all solution, but where possible surgery is invariably the first port of call whatever your type.  Cancer is after all a disease and left untended will grow and spread like a predatory weed.

This does not mean that it is an easy option.  Major surgery comes with major risks but when balanced on the precipice of life, it is a welcome one and one that few I suspect decline.

As I fast approach my 51st birthday I cannot help but feel nostalgic for this period last year when the arrival of February signalled the start of the final count down to my midlife status.

Now a year on, it would seem that “life on the other side” is an apt descriptor not only for this beyond midlife stage but also for this period following my surgery.

So how is it?  Well challenging and different, for sure.

Not surprisingly  the predominant post-op emotion is one of relief.   The build up for surgery is so intense that to wake and see the blue gowns and hats of those who hours earlier had spent time getting to know you the individual rather than you the sick patient, whilst they hooked you upto a vast array of equipment, is a euphoric moment. This is of course swiftly surpassed by a tsunami of emotion at seeing the reassuring and smiling faces of your loved ones.

In the wake of joy, however, there is often fear, both of failure and the unknown, after all waking up does not signify success and it is by no means over yet.  Once you have been abducted from your perfect life and placed on the cancer train there is no emergency exit, you have to stick to the route that has been designated for you until, with any luck, you are let off and this is not easy to come to terms with.

Tessa Jowell’s inspirational R4 interview on her cancer experience the week of my admission, drew attention to the raw fragility of human hope in the face of this most tenacious of diseases.  Positivity, heralded by all as being key to winning the fight, is all very well but grief for what was, what could have been and what will never be is to be expected and indulged.

Amidst all this darkness, however, there is humour which comes from the most unusual places.  In my case it was the giggles of my teens at the sight of the ridiculous surgical stockings which made my already skinny pins look like pipe cleaners.  Add to this the joint hysteria of my husband and I, when after being discharged from intensive care onto the ward he took charge of operating the disabled chair to lift my bruised and battered body into the bath.

Yes the humour was all at my expense but it was a much needed bridge to normality and in a perverse way an attempt to claw back control from the cancer that has dominated my family’s nightmares for the last six weeks.

Hospitals are by their nature a cocoon, the outside world is suspended in time whilst you come to terms with how your new body looks, feels, functions and moves.  It is a period of rebirth, a new normal.

Relief at this point for being “on the other side” is accompanied by gratitude for the selfless expertise and guidance of the nurses caring for you.   Nothing is too much trouble as they work towards helping you prepare to leave and leave you must.

My first steps outside the doors of the hospital were accompanied by an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. Cancer aside I had entered a strong, fit midlifer eager to embrace the second half of her life.  I left weak, wracked with pain and full of uncertainty.

Now the battle really begins as I learn to listen to my changed body and work with it not against it, to cope with the weeks ahead.   Forwards not backwards, upwards not downwards, outwards not inwards - one step and one day at a time.

 

Editor’s Note :  If you are interested and you haven't done so already, you can read the beginning to my story here.   Today, February 4th is World Cancer Day.  

 

 

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A Midlife Cancer Crisis

A Midlife Cancer Crisis

A cancer diagnosis over Christmas and New Year has turned my world upside down and it will never be the same again.

This time last year I was in party planning overdrive preparing for my 50th birthday celebrations and flying the platinum flag for being fifty and fabulous.  This year I am busy getting ready for a series of gruelling treatments.

“So what do you have?  How did you know? What were the symptoms?"  These  are the irrelevant questions of those unused to dealing with people shell shocked and reeling from any kind of tragedy in their lives, whose fallback is to focus on the quite frankly superfluous detail.

It's not their fault.  It’s tough knowing what to say and in their defence I fall outside the box of what is normal. My cancer is predominantly a young person’s disease.  The domain of those in their 20’s and 30’s apparently.

“This is unusual in your age group.  You have been unlucky. We will be looking into this.” Shock affects us all in different ways.  My husband went white and reached for my hand.  I smiled, batted his hand away and said “That doesn’t help where I am now, what is next?”

People that know me will vouch that I am a control freak, uber organised, an obsessive compulsive even.  I do what I have to when I have to. This just doesn’t happen to people like me.  At a party over the summer I nagged a dear friend in her mid 50’s who hadn't had a health check in 15 years to get on with it before it was too late.  So how come I am where I am?

Well returning to those questions about the symptoms, yes I was displaying some changes but despite chats with my GP about concerns I had,  those early warning signs for what I have were the same as those you would expect from any woman going through the menopause , it is after all a period of change.  Well their reassurances have turned out to be futile and could cost me dear.  There was something to "seriously" worry about.  Those menopausal symptoms as they were so reassuringly labelled, were actually an indication of something more sinister.

Right now I am terrified.  Despite the huge amount of love I am guaranteed from my nearest and dearest - the inner and select sanctum of people who are fully aware of the minutiae of what is going on and watching my back, I am alone in my bubble of fear, just like everyone else I assume who receives this kind of diagnosis.  Platitudes and well-meant reassurances of "You will be OK.  You are strong. Stay positive"  fall on deaf ears at this stage even though of course they are right.  Oh to to be able to turn back the clock or wake from this living hell.

I want to see my teens grow up, graduate from university, pursue a career with passion, find love and happiness and go onto have families of their own.   More than anything I want to be there for them every step of the way just as my parents have been and continue to be for me.

This midlife stage is meant to be a period of new adventure with my husband too, free of our children, indulging each other once again in our joy and love of being a couple and not just parents.  The thought of being robbed of that makes me feel sick, it comes in huge waves when I least expect it.  Tears prick at the backs of my eyes and I find myself gulping for air and diving for cover so that he doesn't see my anxiety and pain.

I have spent days over the last couple of weeks at hospital having a series of scans.  A more depressing place on earth there surely isn’t.  After fighting for a space in the over populated car park, my husband and I walk hand in hand to the entrance on autopilot, staring on the way in to the ashen and soulless faces of those going through treatment. Death is literally on every corner.  Alongside is despair, the false mumblings of reassurance and smiles of bonhomie, the palpable panic and the totally crushing claustrophobia of being in a group of people by necessity rather than choice.

The reverse side of this is the extremely humbling experience of being with professionals dedicated to making this rather painful journey easier. It takes a very special kind of person to commit to a lifetime of helping people and that deserves a cheer and a fist bump.  Add to that the fact that whilst I bemoan my situation there are children amidst the sea of sick faces.  Some as young as five. Smiling and hopeful.

Life has a way of twisting the knife sometimes but without these wonderful people, the love and support of family and friends and pure childlike hope - the journey would be tough.  Mine is only just beginning. The markers are in the sand and I don’t know where this path will take me or even us, it is a detour on the route I had planned but for now it is just one step at a time.

As featured on HuffPost

Editor's Note: Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is the only UK charity dedicated to women and their families affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. For more information about screening, including helpful tips, visit their website. They offer a range of information and support, both online and face-to-face, 24 hours a day.

 

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Midlife Health Checks For Women

Midlife Health Checks For Women

Have you had or are you due a midlife health check?  It's so easy to forget what we need to do to safeguard our long term well-being but midlife is an important time for reviewing our health and particularly as a woman.

The NHS offers free health checks every five years to men and women between the age of 40 and 74 to assess their likely risk of developing heart disease, stroke, kidney disease or diabetes.  A two stage process, the first is a fasting blood test to measure your cholesterol level and blood glucose.  The second is an appointment to discuss the results and your lifestyle in more detail and if necessary to devise ways of making changes to proactively improve your long term health.

How much do you weigh?  How big is your waist? Have you ever smoked? How much do you drink? What is your blood pressure?  What is your family health history?  The information gathered is not only used to review your physical health status in its entirety but is also fed into an online programme to give you an overall score on your heart health.

In addition, for women there is the all important cervical screening and the mammogram which is routinely offered to all women every 3 years once they turn 50.

The review is a comprehensive health MOT and is one which should not be ignored.

I turned 50 in February of 2017 and thereafter received a constant stream of correspondence from my GP about all the checks on offer.

Prior to this my last health review was actually at the age of 40.  I was working at the time and benefited from the BUPA well woman check through my company's health insurance.  Since then I have religiously attended the women's health screenings offered to me over the years but have undergone nothing more comprehensive in the last decade and count myself lucky that aside from a burst appendix in my mid 40's I have never had any significant cause for concern.

There is no denying that midlife is a period of monumental change for a woman and there is a need to embrace those changes and adapt accordingly.

To be honest I don't do change very well and there have been some areas of my midlife status I have found harder to accept than others.

I don't want to fall into that bracket of women that worry about their looks but the honest truth is that despite my best intentions on turning 50 some physical changes have irked me.  Why?  Well I suppose they signify a loss of youth, resilience and all that I have learnt to know and love about myself and more importantly what I have quite simply been used to until now.

Does that make me weak or superficial?  Maybe.  No one likes to admit to their faults but how can I spend my days telling my teens not to worry about their looks and to be accepting of who and and what they are on the inside and not the outside if I am suddenly so self-critical of my own appearance?

Appearances however can be deceptive and despite bemoaning my increasing waist size I consider myself to be generally fit and healthy and certainly embraced being fifty and fabulous with vigour in the early days of my fifth decade.

Health, however, is not just a physical state.  It is about more than the packaging for want of a different expression and the absence of disease, it is about the inner mechanics too, our mental and social well-being.

For me midlife also came with issues surrounding my mood and whilst reviewing my exercise regime helped to improve that, there was more to it so I sought help to review my hormones as I entered that peri-menopausal phase.

My fluctuating hormones as it turned out had a lot to answer for including a lengthy period of insomnia which of course was also having a knock-on effect on my mood.  With the help of my bio-identical hormone therapy these areas are now almost a year on improving for sure.

So where am I now?  Well fast approaching 51 a lot of boxes have been ticked over the last year and I have completed all my health check appointments and sitting here with another New Year ahead I am so glad for those checks. Issues have been thrown up I need to address and as it happens my waist size is the least of my worries and more of that later.

Ladies we need to keep on top of our health and those reminders are there for a reason.  Don't ignore them, don't put them off until another day follow them up and if you haven't had a call to action yet then be proactive and ask your  GP for one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is Responsible Drinking for Parents?

What is Responsible Drinking for Parents?

What are your views on drinking alcohol in front of your children?  Do you make a conscious decision to abstain when with your children or just not to drink to excess?  Have you ever been drunk in front of your children?

In a new report released by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) 29% of parents admitted to having been drunk in front of their children, whilst 51% said they had been tipsy.  Out of the parents that admitted to having been tipsy, 29% of their children said they had been embarrassed by their parents' behaviour as a result and 19% said they felt they had been given less attention.

Invited to take part in a discussion on the findings of the report I was asked whether I drank in front of my teens.  My response quite simply was yes I do.  Asked my opinion on drinking in front of children I expressed the view that it was all about moderation.  Yet the English language is a fickle beast.  Moderate drinking can of course mean different things to different people, one person's glass of wine can be another's bottle.  So parents where should we draw the line?

The differentiating factor for me is responsibility.  We are bombarded by "responsible" marketing messages every where we look but the pinnacle of responsibility is surely responsible parenting.

As adults we know what it is to overstep the mark.  Thus, when it comes to alcohol, it is important as parents we exercise self-control when with our children.  This is at its height when they are younger.  Whilst that early parenting phase for me is well and truly over I was always conscious of the need for a sound mind at all times in case of an emergency.  In fact my husband and I have clocked up quite a few A&E trips with our children over the years and aside from being able to drive, a clear mind was very much a necessity on every occasion.

As they grow and move through the tween phase, our children become more perceptive and aware of boundaries of acceptable behaviour.  Add to this the benefits of education.  Tweens soak up information like sponges .  There is nothing more enjoyable than your child returning from school and brain dumping everything they have learnt in a series of "Did you know?" statements.  Included in this is the introduction to PSHE lessons and its important messages on social media, bullying, puberty, drugs and alcohol.  Tweens are suddenly armed with facts as well as an inquisitive mind.

In the report 11-12 year olds described alcohol as "like sugar for adults".  Well that must be bad then.  After all we spend our lives telling our children to cut back on sugar.  Fizzy drinks are banned, juices and smoothies with their abundance of natural fructose must be limited, along with biscuits and cakes and sweets are forbidden.

Well to be honest in my house all of these things are allowed in moderation.  Yes there is that word again.  But it is a word which for me encompasses the necessary sentiment.  It is about the avoidance of extremes.  My children know the difference between what is acceptable and what will send their dentist or me into a tail spin and them out of control.  Isn't it the same with us as adults when it comes to alcohol? By all means enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of beer but just know when to stop when children are present.

Now as a mother of teens have my parameters changed?  Almost certainly.  That is not to say I lose control and dance on the table, but a lazy Sunday lunch with teens is one of midlife's pleasures and is more likely to end with a board game, a movie and an afternoon nap than a trip to A&E.

That said, it doesn't mean I have abandoned parenting responsibly.  Control is the defining point in all of this and is one that we emphasised to our eldest teen when he started on the teen house party circuit and more recently when he headed off to university to confront the first hurdle that is Freshers' Week and its inherent heavy drinking culture.

There is no right or wrong.  It all comes down to a matter of personal choice and everyone's choice will be different, even within families.  The only element to remember is that we are setting an example for our children at all times with food, exercise and alcohol.  Ultimately, however, our children will make their own decisions regardless of the example we have set, or what they have learnt and they will almost certainly make some mistakes along the way because that is life. . In the meantime, whilst flying the flag for responsible parenting, let's also remember life is for living - in moderation of course!

 

Did you see the report? What are your views on drinking in front of your children?  I look forward to hearing your views.

 

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Review – The ResMed S+ Sleep Tracker

Review – The ResMed S+ Sleep Tracker

A  good night's sleep is increasingly regarded not only as the best but the most crucial medicine for our health.  Without it not only are we operating below par in the short term, but long term we are susceptible to a range of life threatening illnesses.

Our health is our wealth and in a society where there is no longer a clear demarcation between work and leisure, never has the value of sleep been more pertinent. In the words of Thomas Dekker "Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and bodies together."  The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.

Sleep is fashionable. Talk about sleep routines, sleep hygiene and sleep apps is commonplace and only last week the Nobel Peace Prize for Medicine was awarded to a trio of scientists for their discoveries relating to the Circadian Rhythm, the human sleep/wake cycle that dictates our need for sleep.  We are quite literally a nation obsessed with sleep.  I confess to being one of those people.  So does that make me a sleep bore?  Personally I would like to think of myself as being "bang on trend", although I am sure my teenagers would almost certainly disagree.

So with my confession to sleep obsession firmly on the table, you won't be surprised to hear that when asked to review the ResMed S+ Sleep Tracker I jumped at the chance.

What Is The ResMed S+?

Quite simply it is the world's first non-contact sleep tracker.   If you are still wearing a fitness band on your wrist to monitor your sleep (which I was) then I am sorry to be the bearer of bad of news, but you are behind the times.  Things have moved on - considerably!

Widely regarded as the technology dunce in our family, I was firmly pushed to one side by my geek husband and youngest teenager when the ResMed S+ arrived.  Never have they been so keen to help and as each stage was completed my husband could be heard muttering "This is such a clever bit of kit."  

Despite being overpowered on this occasion, I can assure you setting it up is straightforward even for someone like me. You simply sync it with your smartphone or tablet, set up an account, answer a few questions about yourself and your lifestyle (honestly of course as my husband kept reminding me) and you are ready to go.

To look at, the ResMed S+ is quite simply a shiny white box encased in brushed steel, a bit new-age in appearance but nonetheless sleek and stylish, which is exactly what you want from something that is going to be on your bedside, or at least I do!

Of course it is not as basic as all that.  Inside the white box are all the brains and sensors of the machine which are going to help advise you on getting a good night's sleep.  A LED glows red in the middle of the box when the S+ is on but not connected and green when your phone is in the vicinity. The white box tilts in the frame so you can angle it towards you regardless of the height and position of your bedside and this is important to check each night because if it is not angled correctly it quite simply won't record, as I found out to my detriment on a couple of occasions.

 

Sleep Tracking

When it is time to turn in for the night, the ResMed S+ monitors the light, noise and temperature in your room and recommends the ideal levels for the perfect sleep environment.  Then you hit the sleep button on the app and answer a few questions on your specific state before going to sleep, namely how stressed you were that day, how many caffeinated and alcoholic drinks you consumed and how much exercise you did.  After that you can choose to clear your mind and relax ready for sleep.

The mind clear feature I found particularly useful. Like most mothers, I go to bed with a multitude of things going around in my brain from that day and in anticipation of the next.  Mind Clear enables you to either record a voice text or enter a text message to get the thoughts out of your head before going to sleep.  It certainly worked for me and is better than waking in the middle of the night and reaching for a notepad and a pen.

After this you either set the SmartAlarm and/or turn on a calming sound to send you to sleep.  To be honest with this feature I think it is down to personal taste.  My husband rather liked being lulled to sleep by the sound of crashing waves whereas I found it irritating, but then again I am exactly the same if I have a facial, I cannot stand the background tubular bells style music that is intended to help you relax, so I think this probably says more about me than the feature.

The flip side of this, however, is the Smart Alarm which I LOVED.  This gives you a 15 minute window during which to wake and get up, so if your alarm is set for 7am the Smart Alarm starts easing you into the morning around 6.45am with gentle sounds which start off quietly and gradually increase to the point when you need to get up.  As a non-morning person this for me was a much better way to be woken up than the harsh, uncivilised ringing of an alarm bell, whereas my husband who loves mornings and jumps out of bed at the first sound of the alarm found this pointless.  We agreed to differ on these features. But then again it was my sleep it was monitoring not his, he just happened to be nearby!

The Sleep Data

In order for your data to be collected you do have to have your phone plugged in.  Now as a firm believer of "no phones in the bedroom"  and insisting my teens leave theirs downstairs when they go to bed, this seemed counter-intuitive but on the plus side once you have confirmed you are going to sleep, the screen does not emit the bright blue light that stops your brain producing the melatonin you need to nod off.  As this is one of the biggest reasons screens are discouraged in the sleep environment, this was my rationale when challenged by my teens.

So here is the really interesting part and the bit that I think sets the ResMed S+ apart from all the other sleep trackers I have used and that is the score and analysis of your sleep.

Forget the basics of how many hours you have slept, the ResMed S+ breaks your sleep down into four components, Deep, Light, REM and Wake, the latter including the time it took you to fall asleep and any disruptions during the night.   Each has an ideal score for your age and gender and your personal sleep score is measured against each of these.

Sleep restores us both mentally and physically and each morning you can see what you achieved overall for your mind (REM) and body (Deep) within the ideal scenario.  Both of these stages are vital to our well-being but it is the balance of time spent in both of these phases that will make the difference between the general feeling we all get on waking of having slept well or not.

The first night I used the tracker was the weekend prior to my eldest teen leaving for university. Probably not a good time, but then again I wanted to see the bad bits of my sleep, not just the good.  Not surprisingly perhaps with a house full of teens invading the house after a farewell party for my son, my sleep score was rubbish and disturbances plentiful on the first night.  Ditto the next night, prior to his departure. The mind clear feature came into its own on this occasion as I woke frequently agonising over what we might have forgotten to pack, so when I woke sluggish and fretful the next morning with a deadline for departure and a husband telling me to hurry up, I could at least refer to my middle of the night notes!

Unfortunately my sleep did not improve much over the next few days after dropping him off and my worst recorded sleep score was 53 but this was probably a good place to start.  My life and that of my family was changing big time so what better place to start with improving my sleep than at the bottom?

 

The ideal sleep score is 100.  My highest score to date has been 98, but the journey in between has been so interesting and it is not over yet.

As well as your score the S+ Mentor feature gives you advice aimed at improving your sleep going forward, obviously with the view that you make adjustments and your score goes up.  After one particularly poor reading this was its personalised suggestion.

People of your age typically get 6h 17m of total sleep time, 1h 26m of REM, 1h 6m of deep sleep and 3h 44m of light sleep.Your REM sleep last night was 0h 34m. REM sleep is the time when the majority of your dreams occur.  Try the Relax to Sleep feature which senses your breathing rate and matches the speed of the sound to it. Slow the sound by slowing your breathing and then follow the sound as it leads you into a relaxed state and finally into sleep.

I find the analysis of how long I spend in each stage of sleep fascinating and it is easy to see how sleep becomes addictive.  I love sleep but what the ResMed S+ has made me realise is that over the summer I have become lax with my normal sleep routine which quite simply is having a detrimental impact upon the quality of my sleep.

I have been using the ResMed S+ now for three weeks and interestingly the nights I have slept the deepest are when my husband is away on business.  I have no way of knowing for sure but when my sleep history shows disturbances I generally assume it is due to his snoring.  I am not quite sure where that leaves me or us for that matter but I have made progress and I have loved the tips proffered along the way - although clearly there were none suggesting I sleep alone!

The Value of Sleep 

I have written previously about my battle with menopausal insomnia and my efforts to find a solution to those specific issues, but that midlife crisis aside, a good night's sleep is a prerequisite for life and particularly as we age. Adults aged 45 years or older who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime than those clocking up seven or eight as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Matthew Walker, neuroscience professor at Berkeley, California believes we are in the midst of a "catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic".  He claims that in the UK alone, the NHS spends an eye-watering £50 million a year on prescriptions for sleeping tablets but that sleep loss costs the UK economy over £30bn a year in lost revenue.   You don't have to be a genius to realise that there is something wrong there somewhere.  In his book Why We Sleep, Walker argues that the real need is to get to the root cause of why we are not sleeping and remedy it.

Achieving the correct amount of quality sleep is a discipline  With the help of the ResMed S+ I have started to redress the balance.  Of course it is not a perfect science.  Living gets in the way sometimes and as a result there have been peaks and troughs in my sleep journey but like with everything else in life it is work in progress.  The quest for perfect quality sleep continues and whether that will come with a 100 sleep score I am yet to find out.  In the meantime, as Homer said "There is a time for many words and there is also a time for sleep."

 

Disclosure: I received the ResMed S+ in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own and unbiased.   

 

 

 

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The Mother & Teenager C25K Challenge

The Mother & Teenager C25K Challenge

One thing I never thought I would be taking up again at 50 is running!  I did all that and got the t-shirt way back in my 20's and 30's. Keeping fit and healthy is of course a priority, but over the last decade it has been of a more conservative nature than returning to pounding the streets and parks of South London.  So what happened?

Well with a a staycation planned for our summer and lazy days stretching ahead with just the youngest teen for company, it struck me that we could both benefit from something to focus on and as I wrote only a short while ago having a shared interest with your child or teens is so valuable.  It gives us a common purpose, keeps us talking and keeps our relationship alive and as any parent with teenagers will realise that is not a bad thing.

There are some seriously accomplished running mumbloggers out there, Sarah at Mum of Three World for one and some like the fabulous Prabs at Absolutely Prabulous who like me is pushing back against midlife in style.  There have also been many wonderful and inspirational pieces written by other bloggers about their own Couch to 5K (C25K) journey including Charlie over at Mess & Merlot, who not content with reaching the 5K milestone, pushed herself onto 10K.  Aspirational indeed but for now we like all newcomers are just focusing on the first steps to 5K.

The C25K programme is not new, it has actually been around since 1996 and ironically was actually devised by a young man called Josh Clark with his 50 year old mother in mind, to encourage her to address her health.

When I hit 50 earlier this year I reviewed my midlife exercise regime with its focus heavily towards Pilates and Barre work outs and booked sessions with personal trainer Clare at Live In Fitness Retreat.  A 56 year old whose mantra is that "50 doesn't define us anymore", Clare took me outside of my comfort zone and introduced me to HIIT, a way of exercising that can be done in just 12 minutes a day.  It was a real eye opener for me in terms of my cardio-vascular health, I managed the sessions and still do some at home, but it was evident that it was something I had neglected in recent years.

Following in the footsteps of Josh Clark's mother and all the other 50 year olds like her I hope that apart from binding me in a shared agony with my daughter, running again will address that area of weakness for me.  But this experience is not just about me, the other half of the "us" is my daughter who is keen to return to school in September fit and ready for the hockey season ahead, with its gruelling training schedule of early mornings and late afternoons.  For her it is all about improving her stamina and of course hanging out with me!

So how has it been so far?  Well we are almost at the end of the third week of the nine week programme and I think I can safely say we both feel quite smug.  Firstly, because we have proved to the doubting boys in the house that the girls in the house can do "sweaty, heart pumping" exercise if we put our minds to it and secondly because quite frankly not every day has been easy!

There have been days when we have been too hot, too cold or soaked to the skin by archetypal English downpours.  Some mornings we have just been dog tired.  We have also been embarrassed as we pass people we know with the dulcet tones of Michael Jordan booming from our phones encouraging us to start, to stop, to run, to walk but most importantly to keep a steady pace and just keep going.

This aside, however, we have enjoyed the warm up walk and the chance to chat about "stuff"; the way we feel at the end of each session; the fact we keep on doing it not because we have to but because we want to and that as each run passes we have ticked another box, plus we are getting close to noticing a real difference.  Of course we have exchanged a few cross words along the way but we don't pant now, we breathe and not just in time with our own footsteps but with each other. We are in sync on our runs, supporting and coaxing each other along the way.

Josh Clark said that he wanted the programme to be easy and rewarding, recognising that we are creatures of inertia and need carrots to get moving and to continue.  In that regard, it is working for us thus far.  As beginners the schedule is sustainable.  I don't know how far we will go with it and whether once we reach the end and tick off our first 5K we will then join the masses running several times a week.  I do, however, hope that we will both reap the rewards of improved fitness and at the very least we will get together once a week for some more "us" time.  Watch this space!

 

Have you embarked on the C25K challenge or something like it?  If so I would love to hear how you coped.

 

 

 

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