Sunday 28 February 2016

February in Review

February didn't start off so hot what with developing a cold/chest infection and all. I ended up with 2 courses of steroids and 1 of antibiotics before I was better, it was Not Fun. The rest of Feb actually, went pretty well: We had our first week of the full exercise regime which is Aqua Zumba, one swimming session, and Pilates and we've kept that up every week in Feb. I've also started physio and am having weekly appointments which is good. And the best thing to happen this month is that I got a job!! It was one of my goals for the next few months - I actually wrote about it in this post which went live just after my interview...and later that afternoon I had the job offer! It's pretty much everything I wanted for my job: it's part-time, desk-based, salaried, working for a fantastic place and with definite career prospects. I've definitely hit the job-jackpot and considering I only started looking in January, and have only had 2 interviews, I feel very lucky that the process went so smoothly. I start on Monday!

Books read in February
The Lunar Chronicles: Scarlet - Marissa Meyer
Beautiful Broken Things - Sara Barnard
Geek Girl: All That Glitters - Holly Smale

Favourite book of February:
Beautiful Broken Things - Sara Barnard


Books acquired in February 
Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder
The Romanovs: 1613 - 1918 - Simon Sebag Montefiore
The Maker of Swans - Paraic O'Donnell
One - Sarah Crossan
The It-Girl - Katy Birchall 
Rebel of the Sands - Alwyn Hamilton•
Beautiful Broken Things - Sara Barnard• x 2 
A Gathering of Shadows - V.E Schwab•
An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir•
The Shadow Queen - CJ Redwine
The Dark Days Club - Alison Goodman
Highly Illogical Behaviour - John Corey Whaley

Well, Feb was a big book month. The ones with the • next to them I got myself, the others were sent/lent/bought once again by lovely lovely friends. Thanks to all of you so much and special thanks to Charlie who is basically gradually sending me every book Orion has ever published. My lovely boyfriend got me my second copy of Beautiful Broken Things after I broke the one I bought (long story) and got me the It-Girl too in the 2 for £7 deal at Asda.


Films seen at the cinema in February
Pride & Prejudice + Zombies
The Big Short
How To Be Single
Triple 9
The Finest Hours

A hugely mixed cinematic bag this month. I LOVED Deadpool! Definitely my favourite film of the year so far and I really enjoyed The Big Short which was unexpectedly excellent with fantastic performances. How To Be Single was a lot of fun and very funny, but I was really disappointed by Triple 9 which I expected to love. I was pleasantly surprised by The Finest Hours and apathetic about P&P+Z.


Catch up on this month's blog posts
This month I blogged about Not Feeling Guilty For Not Reading, followed up by a post about my chest infection and Getting Ill When You're Chronically Ill I shared two recommendation posts, Books For If You Still Miss Buffy and 13 Things You Probably Haven't Watched on Netflix Yet. I blogged about being ill for six months in my Missing The Six Month Mark post and rounded off this month's posting with a (hopefully) humorous post on the Eleven Things I've Learnt Doing Exercise Classes 


So on the whole I'd say Feb's been pretty positive, which is great, I needed that. I still didn't manage to do any more reading, so I need to work on that a bit more. In March I'm really looking forward to the release of Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare - it's been too long since I read a book in the Shadowhunter world! I'm also super excited for the latest Wells&Wong installment; Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens. Can't wait to see what the Detective Society is up to this time. Cinema-wise we'll be heading out to see Hail, Caesar! and Batman vs Superman, which I have mixed feelings about. But the most exciting March offering is the return of How to Get Away With MurderArrow and The Flash and the start of Legends of Tomorrow on Sky and the return of Daredevil to Netflix. All The TV!

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Eleven Things I've Learnt Doing Exercise Classes

I was an exercise class virgin until January this year. Exercise with lots of people? In a room with a big mirror? Hell on Earth. But then I got ill and had to do exercise to help me improve there's only so much swimming up and down one person can do. Also my mum made me go. 

Here are the things I've learnt during exercise classes and why I am a total convert. 

1. They can be fun - no really, they can. I see you looking sceptically at me, would I lie to you? I do aqua Zumba and it is SO much fun. I really enjoy it. Dancing, in water! Fun!

2. You can wear whatever the hell you like - you don't need expensive special outfits. I wear an old pair of thick Topshop leggings, a Game of Thrones t-shirt and a cropped stripy jumper with a dinosaur on it. Really. There are ladies who rock t-shirts with glittery things on them. Just wear whatever you have that you can move in and feel comfortable in.

3. Swim bras are a thing that exists - I KNOW. A BRA THAT YOU WEAR IN THE POOL. WHAT. Seriously, a lady in my aqua Zumba class wears one under her cossie, so if you're put off water-based exercise classes on the basis of the fear of your boobies dislodging, fear no more. 

4. People can be SUPER territorial when it comes to work out space - whether this is in a room or the pool, people have their strategy DOWN. We had one passive-aggressive lady tell us her 'spot' was "where you stood last week".  It CAN be intimidating, and there are 2 strategies for dealing: 1) Decide not to give a fuck, they're not entitled to anything, it's a public class and if you got there first it's your fucking space and they can just suck it. Or, if you're less sure: 2) Wait till everyone else has picked their 'spot' and go where's left, but bear in mind this will leave you with the least-desirable real estate. 

5. No one is looking at you - seriously, they aren't. This was a huge fear of mine, but honestly people are too busy focussing on the exercise/looking at themselves to look at you, especially given they're also trying to 'engage their core' at all times. If you're especially worried about this, try a pool-based class. Literally, no one can see you. You're under water. 

6. You get out what you put in - with some classes you can go through the motions and fine, but you won't get much out if that in terms of weight loss/muscle tone/increased fitness. You do actually have to put effort in. Engage that core!

7. Choose your first class carefully - if you're not sure of your fitness level or have an injury or health condition, pick something a bit lower impact to start. Your gym should have a brochure or website with info about the classes to help you choose. Though these can be filled with #MarketingSpeak and #Buzzwords, anything that's deemed High Intensity is probs not a good place to start. If you're still not sure, you can usually find videos of the class on YouTube so you can get an idea of what it entails. If all else fails, Pilates will give you a good workout, has level one for beginners and won't leave you panting and sweating. 

8. You can probably do more than you think you can - in a slight contradiction to the above point. The main reason I was so hesitant about trying an exercise class is that I genuinely didn't think I could do it. I have a chronic illness, it's bad. Everything hurts. Even without that, my general level of fitness is not...stellar. I definitely didn't think I had the stamina for 45mins of exercise. But, I managed. We had to build up to them and I feel it for like, 2 days afterwards, plus I have to adapt a bit where things hurt, but if I can do it, you can totally (probably) do it. 

9. Remember to breathe - it'll help. 

10. You do get a much better workout than doing it at home - for one, you're likely to exercise for the full 45 minutes rather than having the 30 minutes of breaks that you might take at home (be honest). Secondly you've paid/are paying a subscription, so you'll actually go and thirdly, the instructor can help you if you're getting it wrong whereas at home you'd just carry on getting it wrong.

11. Don't overdo it - it's Monday, you've done a class. You've got the endorphins, you feel epic. You book another for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. 2 for Friday cause why the hell not. Live a little! You'll probably regret this half way through Wednesday's Kettle Blast class. Pace yourself, see how you feel. Sometimes you don't feel the effects till the day after. 

So go on, give an exercise class a go. You might even like it.

Do you have any exercise class survival tips?

Friday 19 February 2016

13 Things You Probably Haven't Watched on Netflix Yet

So you watched Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. You just finished binging Making a Murderer and are feeling suitably outraged at the US penal system. You start to wonder if you've now seen the best Netflix has to offer? NO. Let Auntie Caitlin show you the way.

Being chronically ill, for me, means watching a lot of television. I spend a lot of life in pain, fatigued, pretty much unable to move from a kind of propped-up-on-pillows lying down position. I'd prefer to spend more time reading but I am usually too tired/too lacking in attention, and so TV it is. So I've watched a lot of things on Netflix. Here are some you might not have watched yet, but you definitely should.

For if you want a brilliant drama with a stellar cast, quite a bit of violence, rather a lot of tension, pleasing Brummie accents and Cillian Murphy's cheekbones

For if you want a fucking weird in a good way supernatural thriller featuring beautiful people with questionable accents

For if you want a fast-paced, addictive drama where most of the main characters are played magnificently and diversely by the same actor

For if you want a low budget but utterly charming BBC offering with the best bromance ever and bonus Anthony Stewart Head

For if you want a rougeishly charming criminal assisting the FBI in catching other criminals whilst genuinely looking gorgeous, giving you suit-envy and being able to do everything

For if you want a non-chronological, multi-layered and questionably moral law series full of OH MY GOD moments and featuring the talent that is Viola Davis

For if you want a loving and playful mockery of America's Next Top Model...with drag queens 

For if you want a Sci-Fi filled with so much suspense, tension and paranoia you'll have to pause it regularly just to breathe and a genuinely terrifying constant enemy plus a really awesome cast

For if you want a totally historically inaccurate historical drama filled with beautiful people in beautiful clothes and their beautiful problems

For if you want an actually terrible but really addictive and easy-to-watch contemporary teen series set in an Australian ballet school

For if you want a dark, cat-and-mouse anime featuring a teenage genius with a supernatural notebook and a vendetta, and a brilliant but odd teenage detective with a penchant for difficult cases

For if you want an underrated but actually brilliant historical adaptation with themes of class and gender starring none other than the beautiful Richard Armitage sporting a fetching Northern accent

For if you want a procedural with a difference where the science is kiiiinda iffy but still really cool and Tim Roth has an unconventional charm and is extremely fanciable

What are your favourite Netflix offerings?

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Missing The Six Month Mark

Last week I realised I missed my sixth month chronic illness landslide anniversary. I suddenly experienced a horrific pain flare that started on 10th July 2015 (I remember because my bf was visiting for his birthday weekend, excellent timing) and it wasn't just a flare - I've pretty much stayed at that level (though in a bit less pain) since then. You can read a bit more about that whole general situation in my first blog post. 

When I first realised I'd missed the six month mark I felt pretty deflated. I felt as though something *more* should have happened in these six months than what has happened, that I should be feeling more better than I am, given the amount of time that has passed. But when I thought about it properly I realised that a lot had happened and that a lot of it was positive.  I decided to make a list of both that I can look back on, and also set a couple of goals for the next six months. 

So, in the last six months I have:

Seen a Rheumatologist who confirmed my existing diagnosis and what I need to do - which was good. It took 2 months for this to happen, so I'm actually really only 4 months into my process. I'm on the right track (I hope) to getting myself back to where I was pre-July. I'm also starting the Rheumatology process again here in Manchester so we can check that nothing else IS going on, get some hypermobility-specific help and also get my Scoliosis looked at as it never has been. 

Experimented to find the right medication combination, and the right frequency/doses for these - I'm fairly happy with where I am now on this front - I'm still not great at deciding when to take my painkillers, but I recently started a new long-term medication I'm having really good results with. 

Suffered a massive setback - in December, which I realise now was due to horrendous inactivity due to me thinking I needed a rest. It's frustrating to think I set myself back even further, but I managed to recognise this and made lots of changes from January. 

Had my first physio appointment - and it went pretty okay. It took 6 months to get physio sorted due to the long waiting lists in London and then moving back just as that referral came through so needing to start the entire process again back in Manchester. I'm going to be having regular appointments now & hoping it'll help!

Found a GP I really like - my surgery isn't really one where you have a regular GP; it's mainly a walk-in so there are a lot of locum doctors, but I felt like it was important to have consistency on this front & so I make my appointments with one of the regular doctors who I fortunately really like and is really helpful.

Been referred and referred and referred - this is good and bad, I guess. Referrals mean something will hopefully happen, but they do take ages and you need different ones for different things. I had a Rheumatology appointment in London last September, and last month I was referred to Rheumatology here in Manchester, and as I said earlier I'm now having Physio after that referral came through last month. I've also just had a Podiatry referral put through so I can look at getting some new insoles. 

Started my exercise regime - I now do aqua zumba, pilates and a swimming session every week, plus Physio exercises every day. I'm managing okay with this, but only because I actually don't really do anything else. I need pretty much all the time in between for recovery, so my life balance is pretty screwy. 

Begun trying to eat healthier - this is probably the hardest for me, I have never had a good diet and eating well, or at all, to be honest, does not come easily. I've been aided hugely by my mother on this front who has been rigorously adding more veg into our evening meals and buying me nice, appealing fruit like mangoes and strawberries. 

And, majorly:

I quit my London job/life and moved back to Manchester for rehabilitation - this was possibly the hardest thing I have ever done. I had a couple of reasons for moving back, but the main and most important was my health. I know myself and I know I wasn't going to do what I needed to do in London with my busy job and my busy social life and the many distractions our capital offers. Moving back to Manchester has given me the time and the energy to do the exercise and appointments I need to be doing. 


I have started looking for a job - I'm looking for part-time work for now, so I can also focus on getting better without wearing myself out so much with work. I'm quite limited, physically, in what I am able to do and this added to the part-time thing is making it a lot harder to find jobs I could do, but I am hopeful! 


In the next few months taking me up to the year mark I would like to: 

Get a better life balance - at the moment my life is purely exercise, exercise classes and various appointments with various people, which up to now is a) what I've needed to do and b) all I can cope with. I'm really hoping that in the next few months I'm going to be able to have a job and still manage this, as having a job will also give me the money to do other things. Again, hopefully I'll have the energy to actually *do* those things whilst working and rehabilitating! 

Maintain and improve my current exercise regime - the plan is to eventually swap swimming for gym sessions, and to increase the amount of time I can do this exercise for plus increase the reps, weights, all that gym-speak. 

Bring my fruit & veg intake up and generally eat more than one meal a day - you know, eat like a regular person. 

Sleep better - this has literally never happened to me in my entire life. I've always slept badly and I've never been able to find a routine that worked. My life in London was kinda all over the show so I could never have a fixed night-time routine, and being back in Manchester at the beginning was totally lacking in routine. Now I've gotten into a bit of a daily/weekly rhythm, I'm hoping that'll mean I can work on the sleep thing. 

I guess we'll see where I am in July!

I wasn't sure what picture to use to illustrate this post and then I realised that if something represented the change in my life over the last 6 months, it was my pill bag. Or the fact that I *have* a pill bag, that I constantly have to carry around a bag of tablets and remember to keep it filled. Because before July, I usually forgot to even have Ibuprofen in the house all the time. 

Friday 12 February 2016

Books For If You Still Miss Buffy

The return of The X-Files on UK TV this week got me thinking about nostalgia, and about my truest television love. Buffy. I was 10 when I started watching it regularly. I'd seen odd episodes before, but I began properly with season 5 when it aired on BBC 2. I watched the season 5 finale on the TV in the school library on parent's evening. I got the video boxsets for birthdays and Christmases and I once spent nearly 2 full days in my Godfather's dining room watching season 4 on a small TV while everyone else did other things, because it was the only season I hadn't seen and didn't own. I collected the magazines. I was All In. 

I still really miss Buffy. I've obviously rewatched it since it finished, but nothing compares to that joyful, exhilarating, first watch. So if you miss Buffy as much as I do, here are some books that will give you that feeling.

The Mortal Instruments - Cassandra Clare

A group of people with supernatural powers battling evil forces. Yep, sounds about right. Add in snappy, Whedonesque dialogue and diverse and totally addictive romance subplots and this is essentially Buffy in book-form. I read 3 of them in 3 days. 

Vampire Academy - Richelle Mead

There are good vamps and bad vamps. The good vamps battle the bad ones. Perfect. Rose Hathaway, your leading lady, is sassy, strong, back-chatting and fiercely independent. Sound familiar? There's a forbidden love to rival Buffy/Angel and a whole bunch of staking. You'll love it. 

Strange Angels - Lili St. Crow

Dru and her father travel the US hunting all manner of monsters. When Dru's dad comes home as a zombie, and Dru is taken under the wing of an enigmatic vamp, she realises there's a much bigger bad than the big bads she's been hunting her whole life - and Dru? She's special. Chosen, even. 

The Gallagher Girls - Ally Carter

A little side step here into the non-supernatural. The Gallagher Girls series is the youngest of my recommendations, and you can certainly see that in the first couple of books, but the friendship bond between the characters, the mentor relationships - totally reminiscent of the Scooby Gang. Plus, it's a bunch of extremely capable girls with mega and varied skills combatting crime - what more could you want? 

Graceling - Kristen Cashore

Katsa lives in a world where people can be born with certain abilities, called Graces, and hers is the ability to kill. This obvs makes her super badass and talented in the fighty arts. But she's also sassy and independent - mainly brought on by the fear and suspicion others treat her with. There's lots of chemistry with a raaather attractive male, and a super-interesting bad guy. It's also excellent entry-level fantasy. 

What books give you that Buffy feeling? Let me know!

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Getting Ill When You're Chronically Ill

Last week I caught a cold. I hadn't had a cold since September and even then it was really only a sniffle exacerbated by flying with it which blocked my ears up for a week. Before that, I genuinely can't remember the last time I had a cold. Probably in 2014. 

Being chronically ill and picking up a bug is, like pretty much everything else, worse than if you aren't chronically ill. On top of your usual aches and pains and fatigue you now have bug aches and pains and fatigue which, believe it or not, feel different. 

I have Asthma and this cold ended up on my chest. I had a well-timed appointment with the Asthma nurse for my review scheduled, and she listened to my cough and my chest ("well you aren't wheezing" "I don't wheeze. I never have. I'm not a wheezer") looked me over and said "you seem sensible, I am going to give you a prescription for steroids and you can fill it if you think you need it""I don't need steroids" I scoffed (inwardly, because her assessment of my ability to make my own medical decisions was flattering) but I took the prescription anyway and, 9 hours, 2 naps and much coughing later, I caved and it was filled (not by me because I was too ill at that point to go to the pharmacy).

Coughing when you hurt means you hurt more. My shoulders hurt from Aqua Zumba (you'll hear about that at some point) the day before, but now the coughing made them hurt more. Part of my condition is struggling with sleep, and I struggled more. Most nights last week I averaged two hours a night sometime between 6.00 - 9.00am. I spent most of one day in bed and ended up with horrific leg aches from all the lying in one position. I struggle to concentrate when I'm tired and in pain, and adding a chest infection in there meant I struggled with that even more and spent a lot of time doing literally nothing (or trying to beat Level 65 on Two Dots - I still haven't managed it). 
I ended up back at the GP on Friday for more steroids and some antibiotics because this thing was apparently not shifting. 

I am a strong believer in treats when times are shit. I had choc chip pancakes with double cream (I know) for breakfast. I didn't go swimming because I was just Too Ill. I had one full-fat Coke instead of Diet and, for my aching legs, I had a hot bath with Lush stuff in it. I dragged myself, somewhat unwisely, into town and spent giftcards (thank you giftcard givers) on a ridiculously extravagant array of treats. I was still ill, I was still coughing in a way that made people check I wasn't dead afterwards and I was still taking Prednisolone for the first time since being a Fresher & going to the uni doctor with what turned out to be a chest infection I'd had for nearly a month. But I was ill with treats. And that's always better. Thankfully, I still have a National Book Token and a decent amount of Waterstones Loyalty points waiting to be cashed in next time I need such a treat. 

Thursday 4 February 2016

On Not Feeling Guilty For Not Reading (Or Whatever You're Feeling Guilty About Not Doing)

I am a reader. If I had to define myself, it's likely that's what I'd go with above person, female or living with a chronic condition. I *may* pick Slytherin instead but that would confuse people not very familiar with me who don't understand that I identify everyone by their Hogwarts house and judge them if they don't know it.

I am a reader. I read books. When I was little and I wasn't allowed books at the breakfast table, I used to read cereal packets. I used to read during registration at high school. I wish I could read on buses but it makes me sick.

But since I got ill, I've struggled to read. Sometimes my hands hurt too much to hold a book. My friends got me a Kindle as a leaving London present which was incredibly thoughtful of them and solves that particular problem. Most of the time though, I'm actually just too tired to read. I tried combatting this with audiobooks, selecting some of my favourite reads to listen to. But sometimes I'm too tired to even listen. I spend hours staring mindlessly at TV shows, or playing 1010! on public transport, because that is all I'm capable of.

It feels a little like losing a part of my identity, being a reader who does not read. I have all these delicious looking books waiting for me to read them, and I can't do it. The guilt is expounded by the fact that I follow a lot of people on Twitter, and am friends with a lot of people, who are also huge readers; some of whom have read 20 books already this year. I have read 3 and a bit. It makes me feel like a reading failure. Like I need to hand my library card back in, or something.

One of the hardest, but most important things to learn when living with a chronic condition is to stop comparing yourself to other people. Just because they can read 20 books in one month and you can't doesn't make you a failure. Just because they can swim for an hour and you only 20 minutes doesn't make you a failure. And not feeling like a failure also stops you from feeling guilty.

So I'm trying not to feel guilty for not reading. These books will all be here when I feel well enough to read them. They aren't going to expire, or get taken away, or eaten. In the meantime, I'm going to take a few practical steps to get myself back reading more:

1. Make a list of all the books I really want to read: I have LOADS of unread books and thinking about them all, sat there with their unbroken spines, is a bit panic-inducing. So I'm going to make a list of the ones I am really excited about and work my way through these so I can be a little bit more focused, a little bit more in control.

2. Try reading more at night: I used to read a lot in bed but lately I've taken to watching TV instead. Usually rewatches of RuPaul's Drag Race. From now on I'm going to try reading first. If I really can't get into it, TV it is, but at least I will have tried!

3. Have more baths: I used to love reading in the bath in London, but we've had a problem with our hot tap at home which has made filling a bath impossible. Now that's fixed, I'm going to try and have more baths. These have the double benefit of being pain-relieving and soothing sore muscles as well as giving me time to read.

I guess only time will tell on whether these measures work!

Monday 1 February 2016

January in Review

January has been a funny old start to the year. My friend Debbie came to visit me for a few days right after New Year which really started 2016 off well for me. But then my exercise regime began traumatically, which you can read about here. David Bowie died, Alan Rickman died and, on the very last day of the first month of the year, Terry Wogan died. All too young, all from cancer, all national treasures. I had one really good week, which culminated in a fab weekend in London with loads of friends, and the weekend just gone, the last of January, family friends came to stay. We went on a visit to Liverpool and to the cinema and for Nandos (my first of 2016) which rounded off January nicely.


Books read in January
Nimona - Noelle Stevenson
See How They Run - Ally Carter
Anna and the Swallow Man - Gavriel Savit

Best book of January: Nimona

I am disappointed by the lack of reading in January, 3 books is very poor for me especially when I've had loads of excellent ones to read. I've been watching a lot of TV and am hoping to balance this a bit more in Feb.


Books acquired in January
See How They Run - Ally Carter
This Raging Light - Estelle Laure
The Sleeping Prince - Melinda Salisbury
Maresi - Maria Turtschaninoff
Beautiful Broken Things - Sara Barnard
The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters

Thank you to the lovely, wonderful friends who sent/bought/gave/lent me these books for helping me constantly acquire books even when I can't actually afford to buy many.


Films seen at the cinema in January
The Danish Girl
The Revenant
The Fifth Wave

I felt pretty meh about most of these - with only Room and Spotlight standing out as really decent. Hopefully February will fare better on the film front!


So overall, January has been a month of swings and roundabouts. Even though I normally hate February, I'm hoping for a more positive month overall. I'm going to my first exercise class this week and we're going to try upping the exercise to 3 times a week. I'm looking forward to the release of Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, a book I read when the publisher I worked for got it in on acquisition, I can't wait to read the finished version! I will be going to see Pride & Prejudice and Zombies and Deadpool at the cinema, plus hopefully some other films!

What are you looking forward to in February?