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Growing In Confidence

2 Jul
Standing tall, (sycamore not an oak) tree © Jess Bruce 2016

Standing tall, (a sycamore not an oak) tree © Jess Bruce 2016

I seem to have more pregnancy related symptoms creeping in this week, namely heavy feeling wrists, calves and ankles and a numb bum when I sit for any time! All part of the normal course of pregnancy according to my midwife, who I saw this week for my 25 week appointment. Both bump size and baby’s heartbeat are doing well. And I am now toting a step stool and tri-pillow around with me as apparently sitting firmly upright and with your legs at a right angle to your hips helps combat the butt numbness. And, I have to say, it does seem to be working which is good.

On to today’s topic, self confidence….

As odd as it may sound for someone who writes a blog, I’ve always been someone who has struggled with self confidence and valuing my own opinion. It is an issue that has plagued me for most of my life and has caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety over the years. It probably won’t come as any surprise that pregnancy has brought a whole world of new possibilities for feeling stressed by other people’s opinions. When it comes to pregnancy and baby bumps, everyone seems to think they’re an expert and to want to share their experience and advice with you; often in a fairly dogmatic way. Or at least that’s how it can come across to someone who takes what others say as fact at the expense of her own feelings and desires a lot of the time.

Now I know these friendly comments are only shared with the best of intentions. But it can be quite anxiety provoking. Take one trivial example, I went for a pregnancy massage, which was lovely and I can’t wait to have another, but the therapist commented more than once how small my bump was and how she couldn’t believe I was 5 months pregnant. Cue me then spending hours examining my bump in the mirror comparing it to pictures on Instagram; worrying that I was too small for my stage and that the only natural conclusion must be that baby wasn’t growing correctly and that something was wrong.

The apparent smallness or otherwise of my bump, except when measured by the midwife with her special tape measure, is merely a matter of opinion. It is a belief.  And not, most importantly, a fact. Every woman carries their unborn child differently. The massage therapist was merely expressing her opinion which does not, and should not, be binding or persuasive to me. It is merely her perception and I can take it or leave it depending on whether it is helpful to me.

I try and deal with other people’s opinions and advice in two ways: 1) remembering an opinion is not a fact and; 2) by building my self confidence so my own opinions carry more weight in my mind.

Remembering the distinction between fact and opinion has been important as I have felt at times a bit bombarded by negative messages from well meaning friends and medical professionals alike. Just because a friend wanted an epidural to reduce the fatigue of labour does not mean I will necessarily need one. Just because a doctor thinks breastfeeding and ME/CFS are incompatible, does not mean I shouldn’t breastfeed (which incidentally is not something I am willing to give up on without trying). Here I give just two examples, there have been many others. All these nuggets of information – negative messages so to speak – clog up my brain and rapidly eat away at my original thoughts and desires, demoralising me and stressing me, which of course does nothing to tame my ME/CFS.

I don’t pretend to know everything and I don’t flippantly disregard the advice of others and especially not those of medical professionals, but as fellow ME/CFS sufferers will attest, so often the medical profession is found lacking regards care management of our condition leaving us feeling that we know our own bodies best. I am not arrogant and believe I know best. In fact I think that the fear of coming across as arrogant (fear of what other people think) has worked to quash my self confidence for so long.

My aim, now more than ever, is to cultivate a mindset of quiet confidence so that I can internally review advice that I receive, do my own research where necessary and ultimately make a choice, that feels right to me, with a cool calm head rather than acting out of fear or in a haze of self doubt.

And so I have worked to build my own self confidence using simple techniques. The easiest for me is a visualisation. When I become aware of a negative voice reverberating around in my head I stop it by pausing and breathing. I make a conscious choice to change the voice.

When I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and disheartened by other people’s comments, I have felt the need to exert myself – not literally in their face, they are nowhere near at this point, but instead I want to radiate a calm confidence and to me, confidence is about standing tall with your head held high.

The image I create in my mind that encapsulates this tall confidence is a wise, old oak tree in a forest. He who stands so tall, strong and sure of himself. I see myself standing so tiny at the foot of the tree, looking up in awe at its great height; the breeze fluttering its green leaves, the sunlight filtering through its canopy way above, its rough trunk so strong and safe, its roots burrowing deep into the earth holding it steady. I can smell the crisp fresh dewy air of the early morning forest, leaves crunch under foot as I walk and the oak tree is cool, calm and confident.

I see myself grow and morph into the tree, taking on all its characteristics, feeling myself grounded by deep roots and enlivened by the sun’s energy on my face as I stand tall above other trees in the forest. I am strong and steady as birds fly by and perch on a branch but I remain true to myself. I am strong and confident, yet open to possibility.

I use this in the context of the Lightning Process, but visualisation is powerful and can easily be used on its own and it definitely works for issues other than pregnancy. It can be used any time you feel you need a little boost in confidence and self esteem; to stand a little taller as it were.

My mind can be my greatest ally through this pregnancy journey, in the same way as it became my greatest tool in combatting my ME/CFS. But it’s not easy and it will take awareness and perseverance.

For now, I will simply go back to my oak tree.

Honeymoon Hiatus

10 Nov
4 mile beach Port Douglas, Queensland. ©

4 mile beach Port Douglas, Queensland. We’ll be walking down it this week! ©

As you read this I will be having a restful last day at home before heading to the airport. Or I’ll be frantically trying to close suitcases and ticking off my to-do list. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which scenario is more likely…

Either way, today is the day we leave the UK for our 4 week honeymoon to Australia and New Zealand. I am so excited, I literally can’t wait to be on that plane! Even if it is the start of 20 hours of flying. But it’ll be worth it once we’re there. 4 weeks of sun, relaxation, sightseeing and visiting friends. We booked our flights way back in January so this trip has been a long time coming.

Marlborough Sounds New Zealand where we will visit with our Kiwi friends from Wellington ©

Marlborough Sounds New Zealand where we will visit with our Kiwi friends from Wellington ©

Although we got married back in August, we made the conscious decision to delay our honeymoon until the Autumn, partly to spread out the joy, partly because our chosen destination is in the southern hemisphere but mostly to let me rest and recover post wedding so I was as full of health and energy as possible before we set off on our trip; a minor concession to ME/CFS which has worked out perfectly.

See you soon Sydney! ©

See you soon Sydney!

Whilst we’re away I won’t be blogging. I intended to be more organised and have posts written and scheduled in advance but that hasn’t happened. Life has got in the way. But come December, once we’re back and I’m over any jet lag, I’ll be back to blogging.

Daintree Rainforest waterfalls and walks ©

Daintree Rainforest waterfalls and walks ©

Until then, you can picture me relaxing on the beach in the Whitsunday Islands, snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, sampling Marlborough sauvignon blancs in New Zealand, seeing the sights in Sydney, exploring the rainforest and waterfalls of Northern Queensland and generally having the time of my life!

Bye for now!

Jess x

An Awesome Amsterdam Adventure of Food!

30 Sep
Amsterdam Canal and Bikes © Jess Bruce 2015

Amsterdam Canal and Bikes © Jess Bruce 2015

Last week my sister and I spent a few days in Amsterdam. A city-break had been on my recovery bucket list ever since I did the Lightning Process seminar back in October 2013. My sister’s 30th birthday seemed the perfect opportunity to tick it off my list. With lots of walking, sightseeing and general busy-ness condensed into just a few days, never mind the travel, a city-break is a fairly high energy activity. I’ve come back with a cold and pretty exhausted, but with time saved for rest naps each afternoon, I coped pretty well whilst we were there and had a fantastic time.

It was my first visit to Amsterdam and it is a lovely city, with a great bustling, yet laid back, atmosphere. The canals make for beautiful scenery with the tall, narrow buildings rising up along each side, lots of green spaces and enough cultural pursuits to keep you occupied for much more than the few days we had.

And then there’s the food! Pretty much the first thing I google when we book a trip is ‘gluten free [insert destination]’, ‘gluten free vegan [….]’, ‘gluten free dairy free [….]’. My searches in this vain for Amsterdam were very fruitful. We had more than enough possible eateries that would cater for Jess Friendly Food. The trouble was picking which to try. Thanks to the European Allergen Directive, restaurants are obligated to have an allergen menu and in Amsterdam most restaurants seem to have embraced this wholeheartedly, with clearly labelled menus and/or separate gluten and dairy free menus.

I’ll post about what we did (other than eat) during our time Amsterdam in a later post, but for now I want to concentrate on the most important thing – what we ate!

Haese Klaesje Restaurant Amsterdam © Jess Bruce 2015

Haese Klaesje Restaurant Amsterdam © Jess Bruce 2015

Haesje Claes

The first night we ate traditional dutch at Haesje Claes. The little tavern was bursting at the seams, it was a good job we’d booked as they were turning people away. It is a maze of 9 separate dining rooms all interconnected with lots of wooden paneling and hearty Dutch fare.

Pickled Herring Salad © Jess Bruce 2015

Pickled Herring Salad © Jess Bruce 2015

They had a separate gluten free menu and were able to advise me which of the dishes were also dairy free. They even brought warm gluten free bread.  We decided to embrace the traditional offerings. I had pickled herring salad to start followed by cod with baked potatoes and vegetables. The herring salad ordinarily came with a dairy full potato salad so they adapted the dish and I got a whole of plate of pickled goodness – think herring, onion, beetroot and gherkin! Good job I like pickles!

Hotch Potch, sadly not dairy free © Jess Bruce 2015

Hotch Potch, sadly not dairy free © Jess Bruce 2015

I wanted to try the Hotch Potch, a traditional Dutch dish of mashed potato and carrot with sausage and gravy. But whilst this was available gluten free, it wasn’t dairy free. My sister had cheese croquettes and then the Hotch Potch with pork sausage, meatball and smoked bacon. We were a bit nervous that the food was going to be less than good given how busy and touristy the restaurant seemed, but we were pleasantly surprised. The food was hearty and tasty; exactly what we wanted and surpassed our expectations. Our Dutch eating experience had got off to a great start!

Alchemist Garden

Rainbow Salad at The Alchemist Garden © Jess Bruce 2015

Rainbow Salad at The Alchemist Garden © Jess Bruce 2015

After a morning at the Van Gogh Museum, we ate lunch at the Alchemist Garden, an entirely raw gluten free vegan food cafe. Not everyone visiting Amsterdam would seek out this place, but we’re very glad we did. The food was delicious and it is such a novelty for me to be able order literally anything of a menu knowing it is all safe for me to eat.

Cashew Cream Quiche, gluten, dairy, egg free, vegan and raw! © Jess Bruce 2015

Cashew Cream Quiche, gluten, dairy and egg free, vegan and raw! © Jess Bruce 2015

We shared the Rainbow Salad plate (a tangy mustard greens salad topped with spirulina, a beetroot based salad, herby flaxseed crackers and a potent tahini mayo), a tomato and onion quiche whose creamy cashew filling was utterly delicious and a sour apple green smoothie that reminded us of Tangtastic Haribo sweets!! (We’re not always so virtuous in our eating…!)

Chocolate slice and the amazing lime cheesecake, again all gluten, dairy, egg free, vegan and raw! © Jess Bruce 2015

Chocolate slice and the amazing lime cheesecake © Jess Bruce 2015

And then there was dessert – a rich decadent chocolate slice made from dates and cacao and the most amazing lime ‘cheesecake’ made from avocado with a coconut and walnut base. The latter was literally amazing and something I am determined to recreate at home, so watch this space for a recipe. Given my sister and I are both usually chocolate fiends, it goes to show just how good the lime cheesecake was.

Kantjil & de Tijger

After our raw lunch, a restful afternoon and drinks at the Hilton Sky Lounge, we were ready to eat again! We went to Kantjil & de Tijger, an Indonesian (Indonesian is big in Holland due to their colonial past) restaurant we had spotted on the same street as Haesje Claes. Again, we were very glad we had booked as it was incredibly busy.

My sister's amazing special of the day © Jess Bruce 2015

My sister’s amazing Indonesian special of the day © Jess Bruce 2015

Our waitress was super helpful and explained the allergen menu to me. Many dishes were naturally gluten free whilst others could be adapted. Deciphering a Dutch allergen menu for Indonesian titled dishes was interesting! But that didn’t stop us from eating an Indonesian Banquet! We started with the lamb satay (safe other than the soya sauce dipping sauce which came on the side to be gluten free), vegetable omelette with a sweet tomato and ginger sauce and prawn crackers (safe as made from tapioca flour and fried separately). My sister then had the special of the day, which was a selection of 4 or 5 dishes all served on a long rectangular platter and included a chicken curry, vegetable side dish, cuecumber pickle, rice and spicy egg. I had beef rendang and rice, it literally melted in my mouth the meat was so tender.

My Indonesian Feast Take 2! Coconut Egg, Beef Rendang and sesame vegetables © Jess Bruce 2015

My Indonesian Feast Take 2! Coconut Egg, Beef Rendang and sesame vegetables © Jess Bruce 2015

The food and service was so good we actually went back the next night! Boring perhaps, but given how tasty the food was and having deciphered the menu and not having suffered any ill effects from the food, it made sense for us. This time I had egg in a spicy coconut sauce (may sound odd but was really good), sesame vegetable stir fry and beef rendang again! My sister had a rice plate, an Indonesian specialty, which came with so much food of so many differing varieites it was hard to decipher what was on it! It was all topped with a giant prawn cracker and sweet potato chips. The allergen awareness wasn’t as great the second time around, we had to send the satay back as it came drenched in soya sauce but overall the food was really delicious and I didn’t suffer ill effect so all good.

Bagel & Beans

My gluten and dairy free bagel © Jess Bruce 2015

My gluten and dairy free bagel © Jess Bruce 2015

Bagel & Beans is a Dutch chain with numerous outlets across Amsterdam. They have an extensive bagel menu, including a gluten and dairy free bagel, to which you can add your chosen your topping. Despite a plethora of cheeses on offer (what do you expect in a nation home to Edam and Gouda?!), there was lots of dairy free fillings available. I had smoked chicken, avocado and pine nuts with a basil dressing. The bagel was slightly too dense and chewy but the filling was delicious. With a wide array of teas, freshly pressed vegetable juices and even soya milk matcha lattes, I was in heaven. It was a great lunch stop.

My breakfast supplies © Jess Bruce 2015

Some of my breakfast supplies © Jess Bruce 2015

We breakfasted each morning at our hotel – Grand Hotel Amrath. It was an extensive hot and cold buffet. I had taken my own rice milk (there are fridges in the rooms), granola and bread so I can’t particularly comment on the allergen friendly provisions of the breakfast. But I supplemented my own supplies with fruit, juice, tea, jams, bacon and eggs from the buffet. I will say that the gluten full offerings looked fantastic and my sister can confirm that the cereals bar, donuts and chocolate croissants were excellent!

So that concludes my little foodie tour of Amsterdam, we were only there for 3 nights, we wish we had longer as there was so much to do and eat! I want to go back already, reliving our meals is making me hungry!

If you’re planning a trip to Holland, then I hope you find this post useful. Links that we found useful in planning our foodie adventure were:

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