Relief

I hate answering “how are you?” because the answer is typically “crap”, but the bummer for the asker is a bigger bummer for me who lives it. 

Yes, others have it worse. Others share similar stories. This is just one small story of one small day.

No advice please. Do not make a single suggestion. Tweet me @antheaw or read more about my health starting here: The problem with my head, or just the #health tag.

I have used my most coveted pain relief concoction for four out of the last five days. That’s more than I usually resort to within an entire month.

Yesterday, I went without. “Without” does include the following medications which I take daily:

  • Acetazolamide
  • Citalopram Hydrobromide
  • Propanolol Hydrochloride
  • Paracetamol
  • Ibuprofen
  • Clonazepam
  • Pantoprezole

This list excludes vitamins, contraceptives, a digestive aid I sometimes need to prevent constipation, and additional occasional (i.e not everyday) medications.

Yesterday I woke around 6:30am, helped my partner in the kitchen to prepare for work before settling onto the couch. I have a a guest in the house but I didn’t dress yet. This couch session is for taking morning medication, hoping that being upright will help the fluid drain from my head and lessen the pain of the pressure built up there. #IIH

I played a little Minecraft on Xbox, got cold and too sore, returned to bed around 8:30am, and slept until midday when my guest also got up (they are on a different timezone, different body clock).

They made me poached eggs, I ate two and a slice of toast. My stomach could handle that, just, followed by some tea and a return to the couch. In the dark. It was a beautiful day outside but the glaring New Zealand sun sears my eyes and feels as though it fries my brain.

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I researched online streaming, gaming, watched some streamers, played more Minecraft. At least within the game it feels as though I am making progress, and it takes my mind off of so many things until my pain becomes too much again.

Late afternoon, my guest went to walk in the lovely park across the road from my house. I was in too much main to go, and the idea of doing so was awful. It used to make me feel good to do that.

Alone I stretched, some yoga type moves, working with my body weight to trigger my weakened muscles. After more sleep, which is excellent pain avoidance, I showered in the hopes of feeling normal for my partner returning home from work and my friend from their walk.

This was quite an achievement, to shower and wash my hair, dress in clean clothes and get to the couch in one burst of energy and pain. Tolerable for long enough to complete that set of tasks. It’s impossible to overstate how hard a shower can be, not just for me.

By the time everyone returned to the house I was adamant I could do no more. No more. And yet.

From leftovers of two previous nights and various pantry staples I invented dinner, and made a disastrous mess of the kitchen. I didn’t need the food, and I’m finding it hard not to feel or to show resentment for having to provide a meal. My partner loves to cook and often will take over.

There was really no energy left for me to clean up. The only person I was letting down by allowing the kitchen to stay a mess overnight is me. My Mum always cleans her kitchen before bed, even after a party.

I watched TV with my guest and relaxed, I finally started to feel a bit better as often happens at night. My mind off the pain, I enjoyed her company and the show before everyone left for bed while I wanted to savour feeling ok.

If you are in pain and feel horrible 70% of the time, you want to enjoy the remaining 30% of your time as much as possible. I get too excited though, many of the things that I might like to do could set me back to feeling horrendous so, I can enjoy, but have to take it easy.

Bed again, my favourite place in the world but also the last place I would like to be sometimes. Three hours sleep until my partner wakes for work, my cat wedged against my other side, witness to my day.


This is my ultimate delicious nutritious comfort food. It tastes so good, has so many interesting textures and fills and warms the tummy so well. The citrus element is what sets the flavours alight and I just love it. It’s great to cook for vegan friends or dairy/gluten free folk, so I like to whip it out if special dietary needs crop up.

Coconut Braised Citrus Stew

6 servings

Ingredients

Vegan version:

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 1 large golden sweet potato/kumara, diced
  • 1 can coconut cream
  • water
  • 1 can chickpeas drained and rinsed
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, chopped fine (or zest of 1 lime)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 chopped hot red pepper or 1 tsp chilli flakes or ground chili (more to taste)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Large bunch silverbeet/chard (or spinach), approx 500g/1 pound, chopped

For the “non vegan” version as above plus:

  • 5 skinless boneless chicken thighs, cubed
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce

Method

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan, add onion and cook until onion starts to brown
  2. Add coconut cream, fill the cream can with water and add to the pot, add chickpeas, sweet potato and heat until bubbling.
  3. Add garlic, ginger, lemon zest and juice, kaffir lime/lime zest, lime juice, chili (or pepper) and stir through
  4. For non vegan version, add chicken
  5. Add salt (and fish sauce for non vegan)
  6. Cover pot and allow to simmer for 10 minutes, 
  7. Add the chopped silverbeet to the top. Cover and cook for a further five minutes before stirring the silverbeet through. The greenery will lose volume as it cooks, so may be added several batches if it won’t fit in the pot.

Season with additional salt, fish sauce and chili to taste. Ready to serve – it’s very liquid based so bowls required. 

It could go further served over rice, but there are plenty of starchy carbs in this dish already with the chickpeas and sweet potato.

Garnish suggestions – toasted coconut, fresh chopped cilantro/coriander.

Paying for dinner

My partner and I went out for dinner and to see Deadpool* at the cinema tonight. After a decent meal, hosted by the restaurant owner or manager and a team of rushed young women, we were perfectly timed to get to our film.

From a seat basically under the bar I got up, and reaching into my bag for my wallet, sought to pay our bill. The manager was at the till and as I approached I was cut off, by a middle aged white man in a blue t-shirt brandishing his credit card. I couldn’t see more than his blue-clad back as it blurred before my eyes in its haste to deposit the credit card on the counter.

I was stunned. Am I actually invisible? Was there a secret ingredient in the pizza that rendered me translucent, nothing but a breeze to be brushed by unseen? Standing at 5ft 8in, of generous size and dressed (also) in blue, I was plainly fucking visible and arriving first to pay a bill.

Pissed off indulgently on my own behalf, I stood by and fumed. Those who know me would recognise the utter disgust I was feeling in the flare of my nostrils and furious flashing of eyes, raising of brows.

The priority transaction took long enough that I had recognised not only my own previous experience of being “invisible”, but that of so so many others. This shit happens all. The. Time.

What could I have done? Persisted “excuse me, I was here first”, which would cause discomfort for all parties and share the bad interaction, or (the “ladylike” option) internalise the rage and carry the affront myself.

As so many others do, I kept my mouth shut. I tolerated it and let it slide. The credit card man would not have even considered my existence, and the venue manager only saw me when he had departed. I was only marginally colder with her than normal. Payback. Sick burn.

Next time this is you, if you feel safe enough and have the fortitude, stand up for yourself when someone is rude. Don’t bear the injury by yourself, spread it round so others feel it and can stop being The Worst in public.

I’ll try too.

*Yes, Deadpool was good, go see it

Fly like a woman

Assigned seat 6E on an A320 plane, I know it’s not likely I’ll have a seat empty beside me. I’m hopeful to be seated next to good people.

I’m first to arrive in my row, tentatively sitting in the middle seat and not fastening my seatbelt because at best, no one will be seated by the window, and I can move there. Or, I’ll have to move to let my neighbour in to their seat.

Smaller than I once was, there is as much room as possible around me. My short legs mean there is room to walk by in front of me to get to the window seat. I can now easily buckle the belt, where 16 months ago it would have cut into my flesh. My thighs are no longer so big, they raise the arm rests. I fit perfectly well.

Dump. A large bag lands in the seat to my left, by the aisle. A tall-ish, balding and grey-clad older man is stuffing another bag into the overhead locker. He then reclaims his bag from my left and moving toward me, motions that he is to sit in the window seat to my right. There isn’t really anywhere for me to go, so I awkwardly squirm backward in my seat in a show of making space for him to pass.

His bag installed beneath the seat ahead of him, the grey man extracts an iPad and circles the entire arm rest between us with his left arm. He isn’t a big man, but he presses against the right side of my body, unwelcome. The warmth of him uninvited, reaching through my cardigan to spread along my skin. I feel anxious and uncomfortable, “please don’t touch me” repeating in my head. I try and recede to the left.

With more respect, a greeting, a man wearing blue arrives. He is shorter than the first and completely bald. He sits and I adjust myself to the extreme centre, elbows tucked tightly against my sides and held painfully in place by the arm rests. The blue man sits comfortably, and though resting his arm along the inside of our shared arm rest, he doesn’t touch me. I can no longer lean left to escape the grey man, the heat of him encroaches.

The grey man’s arm is rubbing in an unpleasant pulse against me as he scrolls text on his iPad. It turns my insides, my panic rising as the plane is filled with more, more people.

I feel a tapping on the backs of my feet, left bare by my sandals. The man behind me has somehow stretched his feet so far forward that he is using the foot rest below my seat. Annoyed, I move my feet back against his to clarify that the space is occupied. The tapping continues. The rubbing against my arm from the grey man continues.

I realise I am surrounded by men in every direction. I can’t see any women. I send a distressed tweet, and women in my network respond with compassion and understanding. They all understand. They have been here.

Elbow him back, put earphones in, a hacking cough? Coping strategies emerge. Press the call button and be moved by the flight attendants. Breathe.

I am too afraid to shove back for space, confrontation in the subtlest form is terrifying, I am threatened already. I will not ask for more space. It doesn’t occur to the grey man that he is touching me.

My face feels tight and I realise my muscles are tense. I close my eyes and try to mindfully focus on my breathing. The darkness heightens my sense of awareness, and the hideous warmth of the grey man becomes my focus, punctuated by the tapping against my feet by the man behind me.

I open my eyes and realise there are two hours to go before the flight arrives in Auckland. The back of my seat tightens against my arse as the man behind me presses into it. We are still on the tarmac. The plane hasn’t yet moved.

The grey man twists, retrieves a business document relating to a former client of mine. He’s making notes, the twist has lodged his elbow against my rib and each new line is a fresh dig. I have nowhere to go, the only movement is the increase of my irritation, discomfort and despair.

My Twitter support network, if only they were with me to shout a resounding “fuck off!”. It’s suggested I spill a drink, but I feel all I could do is spill tears. The plane moves, and too soon it’s time to shut off my understanding friends with airplane mode.

The plane is in the air, and while there is the odd reprieve from the grey man’s excavation of my ribs, the gentleman in front of me has reclined his seat. I have an unwanted, intimate view of his scalp. I’ve had to move my feet forward, as the man behind me has extended his own to reach my ankles. I remember, wryly, I was the most flexible girl in class.

This is awful, and no one around me has a clue. They won’t have a clue. This experience will join the others in my past which condense to anxiety, fear, distrust. To avoidance of situations in close quarters with others.

This is one small part of what it means to me to be a woman.


I know, I owe a life/health update. Next month will be one year post-op so I think I’ll do it then.

Before that, I’m going to Rotorua! My boyfriend/excellent companion James and I are spending a week at the Regal Palms, which sounds suitably fancy and comes with a private tub and on-site mini-golf. The dream.

My problem now is, there is a major lack of authentic content about Rotorua that suits my travel aspirations. 

We’re not BIG adventure tourism people, that stuff is exhaustingly covered online. I’m looking for recommendations of activities (chilled, nice scenery), venues (music? theatre?), and eateries (fine dining, shared/tapas style, quality food)… That people “like us” would do – urbanish NZ’ers, not interested in NZ culture experiences or pre-packaged international level tourism. We want to know this quite cool bit of our own country. We are in Rotorua from the 29th Dec – 4th Jan.

So, things we (mostly I, James is not yet protesting) are interested in so far, perhaps for the benefit of others:

  1. Eat and/or swim at Blue Baths (pictured), deco/spanish style architecture faithfully restored, NZ historical significance. Looks damn cool. If only there was a show on when we are in town.
  2. Bathe and do massage-y pampery stuff at The Polynesian Spa, that’s their buzz
  3. Eat at Mokoia for a fancy night out (fine dining level). I like the look of this place for using NZ “herbs and spices”, which I’m familiar with already, but it’s a nice spin. Aorangi Peak has a better looking restaurant and scenery, but the menu doesn’t seem as interesting to me, or as good for my post-op tummy.
  4. Rotorua Summer Carnival is on from the 26th of December to the 9th of January. I could munch cotton candy and watch some people get sick on carnival rides.
  5. My only other real food lead is “Eat Streat” which was mentioned in the sole “blog” type piece I’ve been able to find of much use from (Massey Uni’s Massive Magazine). I am considering it credible because she’s from Rotorua and recommended an iced chocolate. Legit.
  6. New Years Eve “GLO party” is on lakeside. A “family designed” event with a load of things I am not the least keen for, but fireworks. A nice coffee lounge or chill lakeside bar from which these two not-so-party-keen people can watch the sparkles would be nice!
  7. An hour on an old boat. On a lake, sounds pretty. Lakeland Queen.
  8. The Thursday night may have to be spent wandering the Rotorua Night Market.
  9. Markets? Oh yes, there are also markets on a Saturday morning.

Do you have any other Rotorua Hot Tips? Give me the insiders’ guide!