Captain Trips, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love COVID-19



Greetings from self-isolation!

We’re in this magical, terrifying time where we don’t know what is going to happen, how quickly COVID-19 is going to spread in Australia, or what we are going to wish we had done sooner when we get a chance to look back on the whole debacle.

Fair to say our leaders are sending very mixed messages.

While most young and healthy people are taking an understandably cavalier approach to the crisis, I’m being super cautious in this strange and scary in-between time. I have heart failure as a result of complications from valve replacement surgery in 2005. I’m in that demographic that is considered at ‘high risk’ of death from C19. Like, there’s the 90+ age group, and then there’s people like me. If this thing turns into what some are predicting it will, I’ll not want to have pissed about during this stage.

Maybe the spread of the virus will be slow and a fortnight from now everything will be fine and we can go back to ‘alert, not alarmed’.  But maybe we’ll follow the trajectory of other countries where the illness has taken off and these couple of weeks will be crucial for getting it under some semblance of control and protecting our most vulnerable.

Now, as my more recent posts will reveal, it’s not my first time at the infectious disease rodeo. Granted, my approach of ‘steal the newborns and slaughter everyone else’ is not something that is practical with a human population. But I do have practice when it comes to creating barriers to protect the uninfected from the infected, exposed and potentially infected.

Here are the steps I have taken so far.

1 Name the factors influencing your decision.

Do you really need to isolate yourself, and to what extent? Are you team Flattening The Curve, or team I Am In Real Danger If I Get This Virus? Are there others you need to protect? Children are relatively safe and most healthy adults will be okay as long as they don’t all get it at once. But anyone with heart or lung conditions, diabetes, immune suppression, or advanced age is much more likely to need intensive treatment in hospital and in a crisis may be excluded from such treatment in favour of those with a better chance of survival.

Addressing your motivations will help you avoid either feeling like you’re paranoid when everyone else on your socials is still blithely wandering about in the world, or feeling unacceptably exposed when a case is confirmed near you. As long as you know why YOU are doing what you are doing, you don’t have to keep second-guessing yourself based on what others are doing. Their motivations will be different to yours and are no reflection on you.

Depending on your situation, you may need to communicate this with others in your household. The advice in the rest of this article is mainly for those who are going into full isolation due to health concerns.

2 Gather what you need most and may lose access to.

Chances are the important shops will remain open and we’ll still have access to most essentials. Nonetheless, I spent Friday gathering what I needed to make me feel comfortable being at home for a while. My priorities were medication and pet food. I got all my prescriptions filled, and bought enough animal food to last me a couple of weeks. I’ve usually got plenty of people food in the house as I buy a lot of things in bulk, and honestly toilet paper is low on my list of ‘essentials’, although it is nice to have and I do have about 6 rolls on hand. Maybe roasted almond chocolate is a must-have for you, or the latest issue of Horse Deals, or a sixer of Japanese beer. I’m not here to judge. Just make a list and obtain the things you would feel most exposed without.

3 Freak out, but set a time limit.

I gave myself Saturday to feel all the feels about this. You might only need an hour to go through the stages. Allowing yourself that time to see and feel what is going on inside yourself is important, but if you get stuck in that stage you are going to have a bad time.

4 Plug the leaks.

Here is where we are flying blind a bit, because we don’t know a lot about the virus. We don’t know how long it survives on surfaces or how contagious it is between when a person is exposed and when they show signs of illness. We have some idea of what kind of cleaners will destroy it. But if you are going for zero exposure, you need to plug all the leaks. This means staying away from anyone who may have been exposed. If you’ve got little kids you can keep them home with you, if your partner can work from home then they need to stay at home until the situation changes. If anyone in your household is in a position where they need to be going out in public, they need to find somewhere else to stay. If you’ve got older kids, they need to decide whether they are staying put or staying away. My own children had the option of staying in lockdown with me, or continuing their work, school and sports and staying with their healthy father. If this had not been a workable option, they would have had to just deal with being in isolation with me.

There is no point you going into isolation if someone else in your household is coming and going from work, school, sports, the shops, the pub, etc. The chances of them bringing the virus to you and infecting you before they are even showing symptoms are very real. You may as well just keep going to the shops yourself. If you are serious about avoiding infection, you must plug the leaks.

5 Find a ‘fixer’.

The threat level is not the same for everyone, so there are still a whole bunch of people out there doing normal stuff. Find someone who can act as an interface between you and the rest of the physical world. Talk to them about what they can and can’t do for you. There are a lot more low risk people than high risk people, so you should be able to find someone in your network who will be willing to do chemist runs or bring you some sugar for your kombucha or some needles and syringes for your goat’s vitamin shots. Ideally someone you trust with your EFTPOS card or someone you can transfer money to fairly readily. Set up a drop point, stay in communication, and work with each other to keep you comfortable and safe.

6 Cancel any of your things that aren’t already canceled.

A lot of events are being canceled, and it is expected that schools and many workplaces will transition to mainly online activity in the coming weeks. But if you are involved in something that is still running as of right now, let them know you won’t be attending. They may be able to accommodate you in some way (a course I am doing is going to live stream classes next weekend, which is amazing), and they may be more sympathetic if you tell them why you are self-isolating, but that part is up to you.

7 Do a useful.

This is much more for yourself than for anyone else, but if you are anything like me you don’t do well sitting idle. But this is prime time to get stuff done at home. It’s a great time of year for gardening. You could clean out your pantry, or start a new embroidery project, or make a whole bunch of cheese. Make a list. Re-watch The Office in the evenings if that floats your boat. If you normally go to the gym or to yoga class or go walking with friends, do something similar at home, on the same timetable or create a new timetable that suits you better. Keep busy, keep a routine if that helps you. Or you could go the other way, unplug all your clocks, stay off the computer, make a pot of lentil soup and turn it into a meditation retreat or something. But set an intention that will keep you focused and sane. You could be here for a while, you might as well make that time worthwhile.

This list is far from exhaustive, does not cover every scenario, and I am not an expert in community health, virology or any of the above. I’m just a woman staring at a computer screen, asking why there is so little advice for people at this stage in proceedings. I’m a writer, a pragmatist, and an empath. Hopefully I can help out in some small way.


Begin Again


It has been over six months since my last post.

In that time, I have quit my job, gone back to school, started a new business, endured an agonizing back injury, and attended my Nana’s funeral.

I’ve also raised seven healthy goat kids, a bumper crop of ducks and chickens, and bought a pony.

I’ve never been one to sit back and observe.

Adjusting to life on one income has been a lot less terrifying than I was expecting, even with unplanned expenses like a new goat shed, significant vet bills, and months of treatment on my back.

I injured my back in a yoga class, of all things, and the surge of fury I felt when it happened was fascinating to observe through the lens of my fourth yoga class that week. I stayed to the end, and I wonder if it would have been quite so crippling an injury if I had not followed it up by straining my abdominal muscles the next morning, trying to keep my eyes open while sneezing as I turned right at a roundabout.

Either way, with the existing weakness from the disc injury that ended my retail ‘career’, a series of physio visits left me no better off, and I limped into the new year wondering if this was my life now. A strange limbo of being able to stand or lie down, but not sit, limited to car trips of less than 20 minutes, lifting nothing heavier than a cat, and loosening up during the course of the day, only to be woken by pain in the midsummer pre-dawn. I spent the summer in slip-on shoes, watching my toenails grow from a distance, unable to reach down far enough to trim them.

The miracle of Bowen Therapy turned it all around, and we located a muscle deep between my ribcage and pelvis that my body had sidelined. Waking it again meant going through a whole lot more pain, but one morning I woke up and it had all changed. I can reach my feet again, sit in a classroom for a couple of hours, and comfortably travel far enough to visit friends in other parts of the state.

I’ve made hundreds of bars of soap and invented the perfect moisturiser. Family and friends are enjoying my new hair washing soap. My home made herbal balms have healed burns, bruises, muscle soreness and tendon strains, and apparently also the mystery pain in my left ankle. I’ve started attending markets, I can casually process an EFTPOS sale, and I’ve almost got the hang of presenting my products on my table. The wooden chicken that my Nana gave me for Christmas sits on my table at every market. Lately it displays a necklace of home-grown loofahs. At the rate I am going I may break even by the end of the year.

The next phase of the business is to start selling herb plants and develop some more herbal remedies. I’ve got a decent collection of seedlings of plants like mugwort, clary sage, nigella and white sage. I’m working on developing infusions that combine tasty herbs with remedies for anxiety, PMS and respiratory illness. It’s a delicate balance of not claiming that my herbs are capable of curing ailments, while informing consumers of the actions of different plants.

But enough about soap and herbs and sore backs, you’re all here for the goats, aren’t you.

I began with nine newborn kids, snatched at birth, and nine and a half months on I have seven healthy young goats. One little wether went to live with a friend and her menagerie, and I lost my big buck kid, Titan, to a badly broken hind leg. It hasn’t been smooth sailing, with a nasty stomach bug going through them before they were weaned and Peanut costing us a small fortune at the vets with her broken leg, but we’ve got most of them this far in one piece.

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Doe kids: Georgia, Portia (aka Peanut) and Merida.

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Antonio (aka Fat Tony) on the left, Angus the buck in the back, and Duncan in the front.

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Banquo, the runt of the litter, not moving too far from the feeder, just in case I put something in it.

The two goatlings in quarantine, Trinity and Odessa, are both daughters of my foundation buck, Capricorn Cottage Tazzy. These two young does have been bred to Goodness Dutch and should kid around the middle of September. The plan at this stage is to test their colostrum for mycoplasma once they have kidded, as well as attempting to make cheese from their milk. One of the symptoms of the as-yet unconfirmed pathogen was that soft cheese made from milk from infected goats would not achieve the proper texture and would go off very quickly. So testing the ability of their milk to form a proper curd is another way to find out if these girls are clear of disease.

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Goatlings Trinity and Odessa.

The third test will be leaving them with kids to raise. My intention is to snatch raise any doe kids, and hopefully a buck kid from Odessa, and leave them with at least one wether kid each to raise. If these kids do not get sick at 10-14 weeks of age, there is a good chance that the does are not infected. Passing all three tests would satisfy me that they are uninfected and safe to join the others. But even then, I may not get all the results until next Summer. So for now, we wait.

What else? Oh yeah, I bought a pony. It was one of those decisions that had been a long time coming but also happened suddenly. Once my back made it possible to go on long car trips, I was able to once again visit my dear friend and her mother three hours away in the north of the state. And with some help from my friend, I was finally able to process the loss of my two special ponies and face the prospect of moving on from this loss. Next thing I knew, I was signing the transfer papers for a young black New Forest Pony mare, handing over a deposit, and researching possible suitable stallions for her. Meet Bankswood Countess, aka Sticky.

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I’ll go up and work on her handling through the winter and spring, and she will join us here at Elcarim Farm in the summer.

So that’s the edited highlights of my last six months. A few obstacles, a few endings, but also a few new beginnings. Hopefully this is also the beginning of me writing again.

What’s The Alternative?


There are so many products on the market for making people feel clean and smell nice. Most of them are overcomplicated, overpriced and kind of superfluous. But making the switch to more natural and simpler bath and body products can be a bit of a minefield.

Even for those of us who don’t get into perfumes and cosmetics, or who know better than to use a shower gel or antibacterial soap, it can be hard to know where to start or which alternatives actually work. Luckily for you I have tried a few. So here are my experiences, the products I use or buy and why, and a few examples of things that didn’t work for me.

In the Laundry

For years I found that regular washing powder made me itch. Growing up we had whatever was cheapest to wash our clothes in, which was usually some kind of concentrated powder. We never had fabric softener, and to this day the smell of fabric softener is so foreign to me that I can recognise it on a person from metres away.

After becoming the mother of a child with sensitive skin, I started looking for alternatives. We tried Lux soap flakes, which helped but were a pain to use because they had to be dissolved in hot water before use and can create a build-up of soap in your washing machine. I eventually settled on ionic laundry balls, which change the pH of the water in a similar way to which soap does. I have now been using laundry balls for something like ten years.

laundry ball

You don’t get whiter whites and brighter colours, but you get clean clothes. I use a stain remover for grease stains that don’t shift on the first wash. For extra dirty things I dissolve home-made soap shavings in water and let it sit for a couple of days until it forms a sort of gel, then add this to the wash.

Between this sort of washing and hanging wet clothes out to dry in the sun you get clothes that remain fresh for years even if worn very often.

In the Shower

As you will already know, I make my own soap and use this in place of shampoo as well. It is not uncommon for us to have up to ten different soaps in use around the house, between all the hand-washing stations and the showers.

Recent studies have shown that antibacterial detergents and hand-washing products (I won’t call them soap because they are far from it) can cause skin problems and leave us susceptible to infection as they kill the microbes in our skin. The skin microbiome is a relatively new discovery, and is considered to be as important to our health as the gut microbiome. Antibacterial products kill protective microbes and there is currently a push to discourage people from using them on their skin.

Real soap, made using the natural process of saponification rather than slapping together some sudsy chemical by-products, does not kill off your beneficial skin microbes. Real soap is slippery by nature of its alkalinity, and this causes germs and bacteria to be rinsed off or rubbed off when you dry your skin after using soap. Alkaline substances will cause your skin to become dry, which is why soap is made with a lelve of what is called a ‘superfat’. Superfatting soap ensures that even after the sodium hydroxide used to create the chemical reaction with the oils is all consumed, there is enough oil left in the soap to moisturise the skin. This is where skin-loving oils like olive oil, avocado oil and cocoa butter produce a soap that moisturises as it cleans. Natural ingredients like honey, tea, milk and oatmeal, as well as clays, botanicals and essential oils, can be added to real soap for extra healing, soothing and nourishing of the skin while you wash.

I’ve had people complain to me that they use body washes and hand washing detergents because they don’t like the slippery feeling that soap leaves. But this slippery feeling is what lets you know that you are getting clean without losing all your natural skin flora and moisture.

So now that you know a bit about real soap, you can understand why we use it so extensively. For hand washing, body washing and hair washing, even sometimes laundry use. You can use pretty much any soap to wash your hair, but things like avocado oil might leave it a bit greasy. We mostly use plain soap for hair washing, but the varieties with Rhassoul clay are a nice alternative.


Here is the shelf in my shower. It generally contains a hair soap as well as whatever varieties Matt and myself have in use at the time. Also note the apple cider vinegar. Those of us with longer hair use this to reduce tangles. It removes some of the fat from your hair and neutralises the alkalinity of the soap. And once it is dry I guarantee that you don’t smell like old apples.

I have tried bicarb and vinegar for hair washing, as well as just rinsing, but using soap works for me. And the rest of the family have adopted it as well. I have a few people who buy my soap specifically for washing hair, including one woman who says that it is the best thing she has ever used for washing her dreadlocks.

In the Bathroom20170407_203620

We are still using regular toothpaste, but for antiperspirant we have settled on alum stones. I tried a natural paste deodorant, which while not preventing perspiration at all did completely eliminate the subsequent odour. Unfortunately I developed a reaction to it after a couple of weeks so had to try something else.

I had been uncomfortable using commercial antiperspirants for a while. Roll-ons only really work for bare armpits, and the spray options caused an alarming stinging sensation that made me feel like my pores were shrinking away in terror. I believe that antiperspirants cause your pores to pucker up so that you don’t actually sweat, which can’t be good for you. Also, despite all the claims of offering ’48 hour protection’, not one antiperspirant I tried was able to keep me dry for much more than a few hours. Add to that my increasing distaste for the marketing around these products – I once found myself having to choose between two varieties named ‘Sexy’ and ‘Invisible’ and the irony struck a little too close to the bone.

We tried naturally formed alum stones, but these tended to erode, break and leave sharp edges. More recently I bought a stone from eBay, which you can see in the picture. It is dense and carved to a useful shape and it has been really great to use, as well as durable.

When I am at home working around the farm and garden I don’t use any form of antiperspirant or deodorant, I just sweat freely and rinse it off later. Often I can go a whole day without applying anything to my armpits and as long as I wear something well-ventilated, like a singlet, I don’t even smell at the end of the day. I think having actual armpit hair might work in my favour in this regard. Let the body do what the body does.


Some other products I use are made by friends with goats. Both the Glenafton Goat Milk and Alpine Goatsmilk moisturisers are beautifully light and last for ages. Which one I buy basically comes down to who I see at a show when I need to stock up. I leave lotions to the experts and stick to basic soapmaking, because these producers make great quality and excellent value products. I also have arnica salves from Glenafton and Alpine that I use on my frequent bruises.

You will see also in this photo that I use a body spray. I have a bit of a paranoia about people finding me smelly, so I still use a body spray in social and work situations. Many body sprays have dodgy names and creepy themes (like ‘Temptation’, ‘Tease’ and ‘Instant Crush’…), but I found one called ‘So…?’ which sounds like an awkward silence or an expression of ambivalence, and decided that was the one for me.

Due to the way I live and present myself there are a lot of things other people buy and use that I just don’t. Things like disposable razors or make-up removal products or protection for heat-treated hair. I don’t have a complicated personal maintenance routine, I just wash with soap, condition my hair with cider vinegar, apply some goat milk moisturiser and run a comb through my hair. It’s pretty minimalist, but it saves me heaps of time and money, and I’m not unnecessarily applying chemicals to my body.


The Magic Number


The other day I read this article about a woman who didn’t weigh herself for a year and I thought, gee, it has been a while since I weighed myself.

So I jumped on the Wii Fit to see how long it had been.

288 days. That’s about nine and a half months.

That’s two new jobs and a new house ago.

And in that time, without the scales to keep me in line, had I totally let myself go?

Not really.

I’ve gained a couple of kg, but still in what Wii Fit considers to be the ‘ideal’ range.

Which is not bad considering that nine and a half months ago I was mixing swimming, running and yoga. Now, with finishing work later, I don’t get an opportunity to go to the pool regularly. And my ongoing knee problems have vetted me out of running even semi-regularly. But I have managed to schedule in yoga two to three times a fortnight.

On one level I think it shows that I eat pretty well and I have made some progress when it comes to listening to my body and giving it the nutrients it needs without overdoing the calories.

But I think a lot of it is also the fact that I don’t feel the need to look a certain way any more. Or, that I don’t expose myself to as much media that tells me that I have to be young, thin and blonde in order to be a worthwhile human being. Or a hefty dose of both.

Yeah, I lay off the sugar, I don’t eat when I am not hungry, and I don’t keep eating when I am full. But I also don’t expose myself to as many airbrushed images of unrealistic ‘desirable’ bodies.

I feel good, my clothes fit, I am well. What else matters?

At my size, it is fairly low-stakes to be alright with my size. I don’t suffer the judgement, ridicule and even outright rudeness that bigger women have to deal with. The looks, the sniggers, the assumptions that they are lazy, stupid or both. I don’t profess to know what it is like to be what there doesn’t seem to even be a polite, neutral word for. Plus sized? Overweight? Big? Obese? Fat? None of them have the same ring to them as slim, skinny, athletic, leggy.

I have watched so many of my loved ones tie their self worth to a number on the scales, one that is the sum of so many variables but must always be lower than the previous measurement.

And the strange thing about that number on the scales is that even though nobody else knows what it is, even though it is thought to be rude to ask someone what they weigh, it still has so much power. A secret shame that really means very little. A figure that, like age, is just a number, and one that you very rarely have to own up to.

But we have all been told forever that we are supposed to look a certain way and that if we don’t fit that mould we are failures who possess all kinds of personality defects.

If you are otherwise able-bodied and you can do all the things that a person needs to do, if you can tie your own shoes and fit through doorways and get in and out of cars and walk up a flight of stairs, then you are probably fine. If you eat fairly well most of the time and spend a reasonable amount of time on your feet, then you are probably fine. Most of us don’t exercise as much as we should, but if you are going to have a go at increasing your exercise, don’t do it to be thinner. Being thinner is fairly low on the list of benefits associated with exercising.

I didn’t read all about what happened to the girl who didn’t weigh herself for a year, but I am pretty sure she didn’t die, she didn’t become morbidly obese, and she didn’t ‘let herself go’. What she probably did was eat a piece of cheesecake without worrying about what the scales would tell her the next day. She probably exercised for the health benefits and bought clothes that fit her now, not that she would fit into when she lost weight.

Even as a fairly slim person, I was for years a slave to the scales. I thought that the number meant something profound, that it could tell me how good or bad I was. But it is just a number.

Instead of patting people on the back for losing kilograms, we should congratulate them for making healthy lifestyle changes. For taking up a physical activity, for eating more natural foods, for spending more time outside or even dedicating themselves to going to bed earlier. These are the things that will make you healthier. These are the things that will improve your mood.

Weight is just a way to judge yourself. Seriously, not a single other person cares whether you are heavier or lighter than you were yesterday or last week, and they won’t even know because you won’t tell them and they won’t ask. You are not obliged to be thin. Throw away your scales. Don’t worry about the number. Go by how you feel and what you are doing, or if you are really concerned talk to your doctor about it. Losing weight is not the most worthwhile thing you can do, and gaining it is not the worst thing.

On Fat Shaming


I’ve had a few posts roll through my Facebook newsfeed today about plus-size models and beauty at all sizes. Every single time I read the comments they are full of fat-shamers putting in their opinions about how ‘unacceptable’ the pictured women are.

Now, as a person who is what is deemed a ‘healthy weight’ it is easy for me to spout phrases like ‘all bodies are beautiful’ and ‘size is not an indication of health’. But I grew up in a family where the number on the scales was an ever-present spectre and everybody talked about ‘when I lose the weight’ or ‘when I get skinny’. All sorts of diets were tried and weight came and went. But the body image issues were constant.

Obesity is a huge problem in the developed world. In some countries, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Obesity and poor diet have been linked to many life-threatening health problems. Governments and food companies must take a fair whack of the blame for their misleading marketing of processed foods as ‘healthy’ and the laws that allow this. Drug companies are invested in treating the illnesses caused by poor diet. It is a hard battle to fight on a personal level when the whole system is invested in making you fat.

I might not be an overweight person, but I am not a healthy person. I have an extensive history of heart problems, and mental health difficulties on top of that. I eat with the goal of prolonging my life. But there have been times when, due to medications, my weight has threatened to spiral out of control.

The last time I tried antidepressant medication, I got to a point where no matter how I tried, my weight was climbing by about half a kilogram every week. I was probably eating half of what I am now, and exercising, but my weight kept rising. I counted calories obsessively, and even tried going all fruit and vegetables one week. Nothing worked. Until I went off the medication.

So yeah, I can sympathise with people who try everything they can think of but struggle to lose weight. I can also sympathise with people who have great difficulty eating the way they are told they ‘should’ in order to lose weight.

One thing all those fat-shamers lean on is that promoting body acceptance is the same as promoting obesity, and since obesity is unhealthy then promoting body acceptance is socially irresponsible. Think of the children, they say, growing up in a world where they are encouraged to be unhealthy because being fat is okay. They pretend that the reason they want everyone to be slim is because they want them to be healthy.

This is a load of crap. The reason fat-shamers want people to be slim is because they want them to be decorative, and we live in a world with stringently-enforced beauty standards. A world where people who don’t fit that standard are expected to cover up, change their appearance, and hate themselves if they don’t comply.

And what good does that do?

We all want to be healthy. It is easier for some people than for others. We all want to like our bodies and like ourselves. We all have ‘imperfections’. We have rolls and wrinkles and scars and stretch marks and none of these things make us less of a human being.

Even women who are not overweight are encouraged to hate their bodies. We are given a set of Rules that we must adhere to. Don’t be too tall. Don’t be too hairy. Don’t be too old. Don’t be too fat. Spend ages making yourself look good enough, but make sure you look natural. Unless you can follow all the Rules, you are not allowed to feel good about yourself. And even if you do follow the Rules, don’t get too cocky, you’re not that hot…

The idea of women in particular being decorative above all else should be stomped on, crushed and criticised every time we see it. You might see plus-sized models promoted as ‘real women’, but they too are a marketing trick. You don’t see models with cellulite or hairy legs or blemished skin.

We are all allowed to be comfortable in our own skin and happy with how we look. Whether we are old, sick, fat, disabled, hairy or scarred. We do not have to conform to beauty standards. We are good enough. We are valuable. We are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Because whatever ‘imperfections’ you may have, the person who would shame you for your appearance has a bigger problem. They are probably a self-righteous jerk.

Overweight people exist. In the western world there are a lot of them. Yes, being overweight has been linked to health problems, but does that mean that every overweight person is expected to hate how they look, and if they don’t hate how they look then everyone else is allowed to do that hating for them? What does that achieve? If being slim was easy, everyone would do it, but a huge proportion of the population find it very difficult. The issue is complex. The solution is elusive. But if shaming overweight people made them healthier, we would have no overweight people. All it does is make people feel bad about themselves. People who look after their health are people who feel that they are worth it. Your weight is does not always directly correlate with your health or wellness. And none of these things represent your value as a person.

Oh, and here’s me at the beach recently in a bikini. Old, white, hairy, scarred. I don’t care. I think I look great.


Eating Your Way to Happiness – Part 2


I read an article recently that was called something like ‘tips for dealing with depression’.  It said all the usual stuff, like eat better, exercise, think happy thoughts, blah blah blah. If you can do all those things, you don’t have depression. That article made me so mad. Especially the bit about how if you have a friend with depression you should not ‘encourage’ their ‘bad behaviour’ by trying to make them feel better. It even said that you should avoid a person who is displaying ‘self-pitying behaviour’ and only spend time with them when they are being, essentially, normal.

When you shun, chastise or socially isolate a depressed person, you reinforce all the things that the illness makes them feel about themself. You make them feel weak, pathetic, worthless. That perhaps the world is better off without them. This is a dangerous ploy that will not help a depressed person.

What helped me, more than anything, was being reminded that there were people who would be there for me no matter what. I know that there were some who lost patience with me, who would see my downward spiral and think ‘bloody hell, here she goes again, why doesn’t she just get over herself?’.

When I come to you and I am depressed, I don’t want you to try to fix it, because you can’t. I just want you to tell me that it is ok, even normal, to feel this way. That it does not make you think less of me. That it does not mean that I am a weak or defective person. It is the equivalent of throwing a rope to a drowning person. It is an anchor to what is real. Please, just be there for me.

Do not tell me to cheer up – I would if I could. Do not tell me that I have nothing to be depressed about – I know that. I know that what I feel is irrational. I did not choose this, I am not doing it for attention and I can’t just make it stop. If I could, I would. I need to be reassured that I will not feel like this forever.

The time to fight is when you are having a good day. That is when you make decisions to make changes. For some, medication is the only way to get out of the hole. But if you go that route, you must take your meds every day and stay on them unless your doctor tells you it is ok to stop taking them. If you take them sometimes or miss a few you will most likely end up feeling much worse.

There are some things you can do when you are having a good day that will help you in your battle. Exercise, eat well, avoid alcohol and caffeine. The things that are consistent with good mental health. These can help you feel well for longer. I have given up sugar and alcohol. Alcohol depletes important nutritional factors for good mental health. Yes, it is a depressant, and yes, binge drinking is bad. But read the literature. Alcohol should be avoided if you are serious about feeling better without drugs. Caffeine should be avoided if you suffer from anxiety. And refined sugar is a villain in the mood stakes, as well as being bad for your general health.

Tryptophan is your friend. Leafy greens, poultry, dairy products, nuts, fresh fruits and anything with omega 3 oils. has some recipes and articles on foods that help manage depression.

Avoid additives. Go simple, healthy, homemade and where possible home-grown.  A body that is balanced and healthy is the logical home of a brain that is balanced and healthy. I wonder how many people could feel better just by eating to give their brain the best chance of achieving this balance.

Don’t expect too much of yourself. Sometimes the hardest thing is to be kind to yourself when you believe you don’t deserve it. Take quiet time when you can. Be grateful when you can – count your blessings.

I have days when I just move from task to task and keep busy, afraid of what will happen if I stop to think. I have moments where I feel pure joy and wonder how it is possible to feel anything else. Music helps. Gardening helps. My family and friends help.

I am not saying that everyone should be able to eat their way to better mental health. For some people medication is a suitable solution that can give you your life back and perhaps even save it. What I am saying is that others might be able to get relief from the things that have helped me. That there are options out there if you want to try to achieve recovery without drugs. But first you need to know your enemy, and you need to have reinforcements on your side.

Remember that each time you deal with it you gain valuable information that will help you beat it in the end. Learn the sound of its voice. Learn to know when it is creeping up on you. Learn its different faces. Learn how to shut it down.

Love, luck and strength to you all in your battles.

PS I now have a new, less stressful job and the weight I gained while on the medication is starting to come off. I have loads of energy and I sleep well. I still have bad days, but I am hopeful. The future stretches ahead of me full of promise and potential.


Can You Eat Your Way to Happiness? Part 1


I had a thought the other day that maybe the modern convenience diet is partly to blame for the rising prevalence of depression, anxiety and similar mood disorders. Then I thought I should share my journey, my battle and hopefully provide some hope for those struggling with mood disorders and some insight for those who may have a friend or loved one living with depression.

I was first diagnosed with depression after my second heart surgery. It is now recognised that around 50% of people who suffer a significant cardiac event, such as a heart attack or heart surgery, soon find themselves suffering from depression. Add in a strong familial link and I was pretty much a diagnosis waiting to happen. But looking back, I can see that I had symptoms on and off for years, even in my teens.

Anxiety, depression, stress and PTSD have some symptoms in common and some that distinguish them from the others. To this day, seven and a half years since my last heart surgery, I still have PTSD symptoms. Some of this is related to events that have occurred more recently that have sort of piggybacked on my original PTSD. At the time of my original diagnosis I was having regular panic attacks. I was terribly afraid all of the time and felt that I could die at any moment. A series of appointments with a psychologist helped me greatly.

Contrast this heightened anxiety and fear with the dark depths of major depression. The negative thoughts that seem to make so much sense at the time. The self-loathing and certainty that everyone you know would be much better off if you weren’t there. The thought that dying would save you the bother of getting up in the morning and spare you the pain of another day.

I have been medicated for depression twice. The second time I believed that I would be on the medication forever, I was afraid to go off it. But then I did some reading.

After losing all that weight last year and feeling great for it, I had started to gain. Within six months of starting on antidepressant medication I had gained eight kilograms. My clothes didn’t fit and I did not like how I looked. The thing was, no matter how I tried, I could not stop the weight from creeping up. Most weeks I gained around 500g. I counted calories, I exercised, I gave up sugar. I had my food intake by the throat, and nothing made a difference.

 So I got online and did some research on antidepressant-related weight gain. The anecdotal evidence was overwhelming, although officially the drug companies deny any link. Other side effects like constant drowsiness caught my attention also. I could sleep nine hours and still spend the whole day at work yawning my head off and propping myself up on caffeine.

I decided that since I was trying so hard to eat well and not put anything nasty into my body, I might as well see what would happen if I went off the medication. But before I did, I read some more. I looked up the foods and supplements that would help me in the transition and give me a chance at long term recovery. I consulted my doctor, who gave me a tapering-off schedule.

They say it can take up to eight weeks for the drug to leave your system completely and that the tapering-off process can cause your symptoms to flare up very badly, along with some fun withdrawal symptoms like neurological disturbances. I will stress this very strongly – do not go off your meds without support.

When I first started tapering off I noticed immediately that I slept better and I was less drowsy during the day. I started taking fish oil capsules and B complex tablets, as recommended, to support brain function. I gave up sugar, caffeine and alcohol. I thought; I am going to nail this.

What followed was eight weeks of pure hell. My moods were erratic and scary. Some days all I could do was cry. It didn’t help that during this time my work became incredibly stressful. I snapped at my family. I felt stupid and vain for putting everyone through my moods just so I could lose a few kilos. I felt weak for not being able to control my moods. I wondered if I was in fact mentally fit to function within society. I would have a few good days then crash badly. There were times when I honestly felt that I would not survive the process.

But bit by bit, the worst of it subsided. I use a mood tracker app on my phone to get some perspective of the ups and downs I experience. I am beginning to sense that in order to really beat this affliction, I first have to get to know it. To understand which thoughts are mine and which ones are it. To recognise the first signs that I am on the way down. To know that I will not always feel like this. Each experience arms me against the next one. I hope one day to have my mind and body balanced so that I can shut it down before it gets a hold.

I know that I absolutely could not have got through it without the unwavering support of my partner Matt. There were many times when I was certain that nobody could possibly want anything to do with someone as broken as I was, when I felt completely unworthy of anything from anyone, let alone the love of my wonderful family. Often I was terrified that it would drive him away. But he could always tell it from me and would reassure me that I was on the right track.

That is my story. Next, I will tell you what I did and what I continue to do in the battle against this illness. This includes diet changes. And I will give you some inside info on how you can support sufferers.

Are You Going to Eat That?

Home-made ravioli with goat cheese

Home-made ravioli with goat cheese

There seems to be a bit of a shifting of the human consciousness when it comes to food. There is a lot of talk of low GI, paleolithic, sugar-free, low fat and other various sets of food ‘rules’. I am glad that people are starting to think about food. For the last few decades there has been a big trend towards ‘improving’ on the traditional basic foods. Convenience foods have risen to great heights and there is a mind-boggling array of varieties to suit every taste. But lately there seems to be a trend towards getting back to basics and purchasing real, simple food again. Farmers’ markets, gourmet organics, natural handcrafted foods and specialist small producers are starting to gain a footing. Growing your own is the new alfresco. Food is starting to be more than just the time between your plate and your mouth.

Back in the day, your relationship with your food would start when you prepared the bed, ploughed the field or maybe even when you saved the seed from the previous year’s crop. You would plant it, tend it, watch it grow. Then harvest it, prepare it and eat it. Some things like cereal grains might be processed before use. With animals you would breed them, raise them, and either use their milk or eggs as you continued to care for them, or slaughter and eat them as meat. Excess foods could be preserved by drying, cold storing, smoking, salting, pickling, fermenting or bottling, but as much as possible was eaten fresh. Seasonal foods were eaten fresh when they were available and gone without in their off-season. It was labour intensive, but necessary. Food tasted like food. Herbs and spices were used frequently, but sugar sparingly.

Blueberry muffins

Blueberry muffins

People have got away from making meals from scratch. They use jar or packet bases, or even completely pre-made foods. They claim that to cook from scratch takes too much time. What is an hour preparing and cooking a few ingredients compared to the months required by our ancestors to grow and prepare even basic foods?

People these days want to spend more time eating their food than what they do preparing it. It is not uncommon for a person’s entire relationship with a meal, from taking it out of the packet to putting it in their mouth, chewing and swallowing, to last for less than half an hour.

When you put time into producing your ingredients you reconnect yourself with your food. Even if you take the time to choose individual fresh ingredients at a supermarket (or fruit shop or butcher…) and consider the contribution each item makes to your recipe, you extend the time you spend with your food. By the time a home-cooked meal sourced from fresh ingredients gets to the dinner table you might have spent a couple of hours with it. You have seen it, felt it, smelled it, and maybe had just a little taste along the way. You appreciate it much more. You have a greater respect for it.

I know not everyone has time to grow food or spend hours preparing it. But it probably takes less time to grow a few vegies than it does to go to the gym a few times a week or walk around the lake to burn the excess energy in your convenience foods. And think of the extra time you will get when your body is healthy for longer because you have kept your consumption of extra fats and refined sugars, as well as artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives, to a minimum. Think of how much better your quality of life will be when your body is in good condition from good nutrition and you look and feel wonderful, rather than being fatigued and not liking what you see in the mirror.

As a heart patient, I cannot stress strongly enough, if you have a perfectly good heart you should do what you can to keep it, and the rest of your body, in good shape.

When you train your body back into eating real food it will no longer crave the nasty processed foods that it used to. Make a choice, look at what you eat and why you eat it. Think about how long that food is in your life for and what you might be able to do to get to know it. Don’t buy the pre-grated, pre-cut or serving-size value-added ‘fresh’ foods. Spend a couple of extra minutes preparing your ingredients, chopping your vegies, slicing your meat, and experience it in ways beyond what is possible inside your mouth. You will come to see food differently, and enjoy it at least as much as you did before.

Carrot crop 2012. I made these into the most amazing carrot and bacon soup.

Carrot crop 2012. I made these into the most amazing carrot and bacon soup.

And here is a challenge. Next time you do your grocery shopping, look at each item you put in your trolley and think about where it came from and the processes it has gone through. If any part of that journey disagrees with you, consider not buying it, or finding an alternative. Those apples that were sprayed liberally with pesticides. The chicken that was grown in a filthy shed in 45 days. The garlic that came all the way from China. The flour that has been super-refined and bleached. If you realise that you honestly have no idea how a product was manufactured that is a warning sign in itself. How do they get milk out of soy beans anyway? If that product has no sugar, then why is it so sweet? If that yogurt is made from low-fat skim milk, why is it so thick?

There is a reason why some of us amateur masterchefs put photos of our cooking on Facebook and Instagram. We are proud of it! We get pleasure from our food beyond just chewing and swallowing and we want to share it.