Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Life in Letters

A while ago I was browsing through Confetti Letters’ blog and came across her ‘Life in Letters’ tag. I love reading posts like that, as I think it helps you to get to know the person behind the blog a bit better, so I was super excited to see she had tagged her readers at the end of her post! It’s taken me a little while to think of something suitable for every letter, but I’ve finally made it and am ready to share my Life in Letters with you.

A is for Appendix…As far as I’m aware, my appendix has never caused me any trouble, but in January this year I ended up in A&E with possible appendicitis. Cue various blood tests and scans, and a few days spent on the surgical ward being prodded and poked by a plethora of different specialists. My diagnoses ranged from appendicitis to a mass on my right ovary. However, after my health deteriorating further, the decided to take me to theatre and whip it out. Apparently it looked absolutely fine when they removed it, so we’re still trying to work out what is causing the pain. I guess the upside is that I can never get appendicitis in the future!

B is for Bookworm…If you’ve seen my past posts you’ll already be aware of my love for reading. I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. I’m sure this is partly because my parents read to me every night before bed. Even when I was a small baby, my Dad would read me Peter Rabbit every night, and as I began to learn to talk, I learnt to recite the whole book off by heart. As I got older I started reading for myself – books like Animal Ark and stories by Jacqueline Wilson were firm favourites. I wish I had more time to read these days – it’s lovely to just escape into a fantasy world for a while, so I try to read at least a few pages every night before I go to sleep.

C is for Church…I was brought up in a Christian family. My Grandparents went to Church, and so did my parents, so it’s all I’ve ever known really. I’ve never been forced to believe though. When I was younger I guess I didn’t have much choice about going to Church on a Sunday morning, but it was never really an issue as I had some great friends there and we enjoyed our children’s group while the adults did the boring bit! As I’ve got older I’ve been through phases where I’ve not wanted to go to Church any more and my parents have never made me feel bad for it. I’ve found that, especially when I’ve been very unwell, I often feel very angry with God and just can’t cope with people telling me how great He is. I guess I’m probably going through one of those phases at the moment, which is why I’ve been distancing myself from it a bit (well, that, and the fact that I’m not actually well enough to go). But there have been other times when I’ve found real comfort in my faith. I’m sure it’s normal to go through times of doubt and anger whatever your faith may be.



D is for Dogs…I remember as a child, every year I would ask for a puppy for my birthday or Christmas present. And every year I would be disappointed. My Dad has always wanted a family dog, but it just wouldn’t have been fair on my Mum or the dog if we’d bought one when my siblings and I were younger. Having five young children to look after was more than enough work for my poor Mum! A few years ago I happened to hear of some Golden Retriever puppies being born, and jokingly, I sent a photo of the Mum to my Dad, asking him if we could reserve a puppy. When he said yes you should have seen the reaction of the rest of us – I’ve never seen us all so excited (well, apart from Mum, who was a bit wary!) This is how Alfie came to be a part of our family. Going to see him for the first time, it was just amazing to be presented with the tiniest little ball of fur. Going back to visit him a week or so later, I couldn’t believe the difference – all of a sudden he seemed to have doubled in size! He’ll be five in August and I really cannot imagine life without him. Then, towards the end of last year, my sister decided that she wanted a little dog of her own, which she could take to work with her at the stables. We had actually been looking at Cavalier King Charles Spaniels when a gorgeous photo of an abandoned Jack Russell puppy appeared on my Facebook. ‘Little Dave,’ as he’d been named, was looking for a home. We decided to visit him and it really was love at first sight! We actually brought him home that very day, much to my Mum’s horror! But he fitted right in, and with his new name, Freddie, he became the newest member of the Cole family.

E is for Eating Disorder…If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll probably already be aware of my eating disorder story as I dedicated a post to it back in February, for Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Since my teens, I’ve had a lot of difficulties with my mental health and, alongside the eating disorder, have been diagnosed with depression and a personality disorder. I’m very passionate about raising awareness and understanding of all mental illnesses, so I’m hoping to do more posts on mental health in the future.

F is for Florida…I absolutely love Disney, always have done ever since I was little. I could quite happily sit and watch a Disney movie or play with my Snow White and Sleeping Beauty Barbie’s. Not much has changed really (apart from the fact I no longer play with Barbie’s!) I still have a love for anything Disney and something I have always wanted to do is visit Disney World Florida. A few years ago we had a family holiday to Disneyland Paris, which was just fantastic. I was absolutely exhausted and in pain every day, but I’m so glad I went and I would go back in a heartbeat! You really do turn back into your inner child – chasing characters for their autographs, singing along to popular Disney songs and taking enough photos to last a lifetime! I really do hope that one day I will be lucky enough to go to the one in Florida.

G is for Gallbladder…This year has been a bit of a busy one so far when it comes to having organs removed! After having my appendix out back in January, my health continued to be a problem. I was in and out of hospital more times than I can remember, and after more prodding and poking and a few more tests, they discovered I had gallstones. Fast-forward another month or so and I was back on the operating table, but this time having my gallbladder removed. I’m hoping that will be it as far as operations are concerned, as I’m running out of organs to remove now!

H is for health…I’ve always had problems with my health, and I’ll be writing about some of these difficulties in some posts this month, as May is Invisible Illness Awareness Month. Just as a quick summary though, I was diagnosed with M.E when I was 15, where my health has ranged from pretty good to severely ill. My doctors are now considering the possibility of a different diagnosis, so I am currently undergoing tests for a connective tissue disease, possibly EDS. Keep your eyes peeled for my series of health posts this month for more detailed information.

I is for Internet…I honestly don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for the Internet. I remember back to my childhood, when you had to dial up to get online – anyone else remember that awful noise it made?! Obviously the Internet is great for all sorts of things including finding out information, doing a bit of shopping and playing games. But I’ve found it to be a particular lifesaver when it has come to my illnesses. When I was diagnosed with M.E, I joined a charity for young people and started using the message board. Through this I have made some incredible friends from all over the UK. I know some people are quite sceptical about online friends, questioning whether they can really be proper friends if you’ve never met, but I can 100% assure you that they can be. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of my online friends and we’ve got on in real life just as well as we did online. But some of my closest friends are people I’ve never met, and I’m fine with that. Hopefully one day we will be well enough to meet, but until then, I know they will be there for me whenever I need them.

J is for Jaffa…As you can probably tell from the name of my blog, Jaffa is a pretty big part of my life. For anyone that doesn’t know, Jaffa is my black cat and my best friend. I know it might sound silly to call a cat your best friend, but I’m sure anyone who owns a pet will tell you just how amazing a pet can be. My parents bought him for me when I first got ill, almost ten years ago, and he’s been there for me ever since. Through hospital admissions, worrying tests, loss of friends and family and all the good stuff too! He seems to know how I’m feeling and will curl up with me when I’m in pain or feeling sick. He’s also got a playful side though and will often sit on my bedside table, knocking things off until I give him some attention. I often refer to him as Salem, as he reminds me so much of the cat from Sabrina the Teenage Witch!

K is for Kwik-E-Mart…I feel like I cheated on this one a little bit, but I was struggling to think of something beginning with K! Anyway, I’m using this to represent my love for The Simpsons. I remember when my parents first let me watch it – every evening we would tune into Sky One in time to hear that tell-tale theme tune. I never tire of the episodes and am always excited when I see a new one being played. We love The Simpsons so much that we’ve actually bought The Simpsons Monopoly, several video games and I’ve downloaded The Simpsons Tapped Out onto my iPad.

L is for London…I’m really lucky to live within a fairly short distance of our lovely capital city, and when I’m well enough I love nothing more than a day out there. When I was younger, my Dad would take me up to London for a day, where we’d visit places like Paddington, Covent Garden and the Zoo. I’m not a particularly well-travelled person, but I really do think you can’t beat London. There is always so much to do and see, and the shops are second to none! Whether you’re looking for big brands like Topshop and Forever 21, or more quirky one-off places, there’s just something for everyone. I don’t think I will ever get tired of visiting there.

M is for M.E…As I have already mentioned, I suffer from M.E. and was diagnosed when I was 15. M.E. Awareness Week falls in the middle of May, so I’ll be devoting a number of posts to discussing the condition and how it affects my life. M.E. is often used interchangeably with the abbreviation CFS, which stands for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. However, I prefer to stick to the M.E label, as I feel CFS doesn’t get across the wide variety of symptoms associated with the illness. As I said, please do keep your eyes peeled for my posts on the subject.

N is for Nikon…I love to take photos and you’ll rarely find me without some sort of camera. I can still remember being presented with my first camera – you could take about 25 photos before needing to take the film along to your nearest Boots and then waiting another week before getting to see your snaps. It’s amazing how much photography has progressed since then and I still think it’s pretty awesome that a photo can be taken and online within the space of a few seconds. I was given my Nikon DSLR for my 21st Birthday, and although I don’t know a lot about the theory behind photography, I’m more than happy to snap away until I’ve got a photo that I’m happy with. The only thing I really miss about the old style camera is having your photos arranged in an album. I love looking through old family albums, so I do try to get my photos printed now and again, but I just take so many that printing them all just isn’t feasible.

O is for Organisation…I’ve always been what some may call a ‘neat freak.’ I just like things to be in the right place and for everything to make sense and be straightforward in my head. Over the years I’ve come to realise that life just isn’t like that. Things don’t always go to plan, they don’t always make sense and in all reality, life is messy. Still though, where I can, I will try to keep things organised. I’m a big believer in the phrase ‘A tidy space = a tidy mind,’ so I do try to keep my surroundings as orderly as possible. I find it helps me to feel calmer and less stressed. I like to indulge my habit by investing in things to help me feel more organised – a Filofax, highlighters, ring binders, storage cabinets. I can honestly say that I actually quite enjoy tidying. I often used to help my siblings tidy their rooms or sort out their wardrobes (not so much now as most of us are adults!) but I think I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing things in some sort of order.

P is for Pen Pals…Before I became ill as a teenager I’d never really heard of pen pals. All my friends went to the same school as me, and if one moved away, we would generally just lose touch. I had no need to write letters to people because I could just walk round the corner and knock on their door! But when I got ill, that all changed. I lost a lot of my ‘real-life’ friends and began to feel incredibly isolated. My consultant introduced me to AYME, an M.E charity for children and young people, and after having a browse of their website I came across the message boards. I was soon chatting away to other people my own age, who understood what it was like to be chronically ill. In those days there weren’t many rules and regulations, so we shared contact details and started writing to each other. Unfortunately, now, the rules are a lot more strict, which makes sharing details there more difficult, but you can still apply for a pen pal. I can honestly say that snail mail has changed my life. It takes away some of the isolation associated with illness and it’s always nice to receive something in the post that isn’t a bill or junk! I’m always open to finding new pen pals, so if it’s something you are interested in, you can e-mail me at my blog e-mail.

Q is for Quotes…I’ve always found quotes helpful, and since I joined Pinterest I’ve found so many inspirational and motivational quotes that keep me going. I could quite happily while away the hours by browsing through all the pictures on the website, pinning my favourite sayings and passages!

R is for RAOK’s…If you’ve not heard of an RAOK before, it stands for ‘Random Act of Kindness.’ Basically, it’s anything kind that somebody does that isn’t expected. On the AYME message boards, a few years ago, I set up an RAOK scheme, and each week a different person would be nominated to receive something like messages or post. I don’t tend to use the message boards these days, but I have set up a group on Facebook, specifically for RAOK’s. Anyone can request to join, and can then nominate someone they know is going through a difficult time. The nomination is then explained to the group, and we ask as many people as possible to take part. I always think it’s nice doing something for someone else, especially if things aren’t going well for them, so if you’re interested in joining the group, just follow this link to join.

This family photo also includes my brother's fiance and my other brother's girlfriend

S is for Siblings…You may already be aware that I come from quite a large family – I have two younger brothers and two younger sisters. I don’t remember my first brother being born, as I was only a toddler myself, but when my Mum told us she was pregnant with my youngest brother I was beyond excited about the possibility of having a sister (she didn’t know the gender). However, when my Dad rang us after my Mum had given birth, and told me I had another brother, I put the phone down on him and cried! It’s safe to say that now, my brothers and I get on really well, but my parents like to remind me of my strop every now and again! When my two sisters came along, I was overjoyed to finally have another girly confidante, and we would all often play together. I’ll admit that when I was younger I wasn’t keen on having such a large family, as it did restrict what we could do as a family in some ways. But now I feel glad to have so many siblings – there is always someone there when you need them and our house is always bustling and busy, which I love.

T is for Travel…I’m not particularly well travelled to be honest. I’ve been to France, Holland, Belgium, Washington and New York, and that’s about it. OK, so it’s more travelled than some, but compared to a lot of others I still have so much to see. There are so many places I would love to go, starting with destinations within the UK! For example, I’ve never been to Scotland or Ireland, so they’re both on my bucket list! I’ve always wanted to go to Australia and New Zealand, see other parts of America, Canada, Europe and so many pretty little islands dotted around various seas. Hopefully one day I’ll get there.

U is for University…Unfortunately, I haven’t been particularly successful when it comes to University. When I was younger I had a plan in my head – I would go to Uni straight from school and train to be a doctor. I’d study hard and play hard – hanging out with new friends, drinking until the early hours and dressing up in daft costumes. Well, to begin with, I didn’t go to University straight from school. Instead, it took me an extra year to get my A Levels, because I spent a lot of time in hospital. After that I did head off to Portsmouth, but not to study medicine; I just wasn’t well enough. Instead, I chose Childhood and Youth Studies, and for the first few months’ things were fantastic. I went to lectures and seminars, getting good marks in my assignments. And when I wasn’t studying I was partying and enjoying the student lifestyle. Fast-forward another couple of months though, and I was on the phone to my Dad in tears. I couldn’t stop crying, I was exhausted, could barely walk and hadn’t eaten properly for weeks. So, I had to make the hard decision to drop out. Later that year, I began a degree in Psychology with the Open University, and for a few years things went well. Again, I was getting good marks and enjoying my studying, but, again, I fell ill and had to stop my course. This brings us to today, where again, I’m not too well, but am desperate to get a degree. I have plans to go back to college in September, and just have everything crossed that I can be well enough to do so.

V is for Volunteering…For as far back as I can remember I’ve enjoyed doing things for other people. As soon as I was old enough I was helping out with children’s groups at Church, running Bring and Buy sales for charity and babysitting for family friends. Nowadays, when I’m well enough, I volunteer at a local youth club, doing things like activity planning, interacting with young people and fundraising for good causes. I would really recommend volunteering to everyone. No matter what your limitations are, there is something you can do to help others. If you’re not able to get out, there are organisations who need people to reply to e-mails or phone calls, or if you’re able to get out and about, you’ll find a huge number of needy causes that would appreciate you giving a couple of hours of your time. As well as helping those who need it, it also helps the volunteers themselves by increasing your self-esteem and promoting mental wellbeing. Why not give it a go and see for yourself?

W is for Work…This is another sticking point for me unfortunately. Like University, I desperately want to be able to work full time in a job I am passionate about. I know a lot of people moan about their jobs and having to work, and I can understand why people need to moan sometimes, but from the perspective of someone who really struggles to maintain any sort of normality, the idea of working is pretty idyllic. I’ll often hear comments from people, telling me I’m so lucky that I don’t have to work, but in all reality it’s not lucky at all! Not being able to provide for myself and do something I feel is worthwhile is heartbreaking. I hate having to rely on other people to look after me financially and would give anything to be well enough to work a proper job.

X is for Xena…This is our youngest cat, Xena. Well, I say she’s a cat, but she’s actually a bit confused and tends to act more like a dog! Her mother had made a little nest up in some rafters before she gave birth, and unfortunately, after having her babies, Xena had fallen out of the nest and her Mum hadn’t realised. A friend of ours witnessed this and kept an eye on the situation to see if her mother would find her. It didn’t happen and the mother rejected her, so she needed to be hand-reared from one day old. Our friend did this in her own home, in which she had three dogs, so Xena was brought up to be a dog. She will often come and climb all over you, lick your face and wag her tail!

Y is for Yorkshire…This is one of my favourite places to go to in the UK. My Grandparents used to live up in North Yorkshire, and I loved going up there to visit them. Compared to down in the South, the people are so friendly and would talk to you in the street even if they didn’t know you. I also love the huge expanses of moorland, fields and farm animals. It really is just a beautiful place, and whenever I’m there I feel so much more relaxed and grounded. Sadly, my Grandpa passed away a few years ago and my Grandma moved down here to be closer to the family, so we haven’t had a reason to go back up North. But I’m really hoping I will always have a connection with it, and go back there from time to time.

Z is for Zzz…I spent ages trying to decide what to use for this letter, and I’ve sort of cheated a bit I guess! Zzz represents my love of sleep. Being ill, I am always exhausted, so sleep is a pretty important part of my life. My condition means that sleep doesn’t refresh me like it would a healthy person though, which is one of the reasons I’m so exhausted all the time. I do love my bed though, and some days I could easily stay there!

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know me a bit more. I’m tagging YOU – anyone who reads this – to complete your own Life in Letters post

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