The Perfect Christmas Gift: Why this book needs to be on your list to Santa….

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14th November 2017

Seemingly, we’re living in the midst of a epidemic. A fast spreading plague of information centred around achievement, success and wellness. Each daily look at my social media feed sees a deluge of quotes from “boss babes” who “nail/slay it” every day, along with  self-proclaimed guru’s offering financial abundance, backed up and endorsed by imagery of cars, holidays in exotic locations and private jets.

Now as one of the biggest fan of self-improvement out there; you might be forgiven for thinking I’m being judgemental about these so-called Guru’s  I’m not.  No, really I’M NOT.  I’m an avid subscriber to the social media pages and YouTube channels of many top life coaches and I probably read two to three books a month of the subject of personal development.  I’m a self-confessed -self-help junkie. But as such, I recognise that these people I follow so avidly; are a rarefied breed.  Whether it be life-experience, unbounded drive and energy, an ability to see through the bullshit we all tell ourselves or just an other-worldly knack of reading people; genuine guru’s are few and far between.  And thank god for that because it really takes the pressure off us mere mortals……

Or at least it should….. but in an age where seemingly the goals around how we should be living are dictated by pictures on Facebook and Instagram; to not feel that pressure, can be easier said than done.  Particularly when every other person on our feed is espousing how loved, rich, successful or just plain wonderful they are… that they too are a life-coach/guru/role-model.  You’d be forgiven for feeling somewhat inadequate.

“Social media has become a space in which we form and build relationships, shape self-identity, express ourselves, and learn about the world around us; it is intrinsically linked to mental health.”

Shirley Cramer CBE, RSPH

And that’s just the problem, isn’t it? In social media land, “life” is curated, filtered and photo-shopped to the point where “real life” just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Being ourselves just isn’t enough when we’re constantly force-fed that we need to be more. Prettier, funnier, richer, thinner………..the list goes on.

No wonder there’s a growing mental health crisis and that it’s no more evident than within our young people, who’ve co-incidentally grown up glued to their smart phones. …. And no bloody wonder that people are looking for that one person…that one small nugget of gold that might just help them steer their way through this storm of enforced perfection we’ve found ourselves in.  All in the desperate hope it might just help us feel more comfortable in our own skin.

In such trying times, only the straight talkers and tough-lovers of self development will do.  Those life-coaching superheros whose special powers include the ability to laser-cut through the constant chatter and pressure of what we believe we should be/feel/ have/think/ and to give it to us straight.  Which brings me neatly onto Mark Manson and his latest book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*!K”.  Mark Manson is a prolific self-improvement blogger and New York Times best-selling author. In his own words…….

“I write about big ideas and give life advice that doesn’t suck. Some people say I’m an idiot. Other people say I saved their life. Read and decide for yourself”.

The text above is lifted straight off his website and pretty much sets the scene for this amazing read.  (Now at this point, I was going to to do a “Mark Manson’s top five life tips” kind of thing but I’m not going to because I really, really want you to read this book.  No, scrap that, I want EVERYONE to read this book because I honestly think no matter how great or together you think you might be; there’s absolutely, positively something you will learn out of picking it up.)

I’ve read and enjoyed many, many great books on self-development.  But right now, right here in this stifling atmosphere of unrelenting pressure to be everything, to have everything to achieve EVERYTHING; this is the one book I’d pick out as a shining beacon of hope.

Why? TSAONGAF delivers a tough-talking, no nonsense wake up call in a way that doesn’t make the reader feel…well….. like a failure.  In fact, in no time you’ll be looking at your perceived failures/flaws/quirks with a fresh set of eyes.  Unlike many books of it’s kind, Manson’s isn’t remotely preachy or evangelical – it never talks down to its audience or expects you to blindly follow its lead.  The irreverent and self-deprecating story telling takes you through the author’s own journey and as such demands your attention and participation in doing the deep soul-searching that establishing just what you really do give a f*”k about entails.  As such; I reckon it should be on everyone’s gift list this season.

And whilst I don’t give a f**k whether you read it or not, I sincerely hope you do.

A chronic pain in the ass…my experience with Fibromyaligia

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12th November 2017

In 2005 I sustained an awful back injury whilst I was away on business in Inverness. I’d herniated two discs, damaged my sacroiliac joint and one of the major ligaments running from the back of my pelvis and into my right hip.

At the very instant I twisted (pulling a really heavy suitcase down a staircase in a hotel that didn’t have a lift), my instant reaction was “that should’ve hurt” and I went to breakfast, thinking I’d had a near miss. Fast forward two hours later and I’m interviewing candidates for a job role and panicking as my back is going into spasm and I’m wondering how I am going to get out of the chair, let alone home to Cheshire.  The pain was unreal.  I could hardly get up the stairs to get on the plane – the hostess took one look at me, handed me a bottle of brandy and said “sit there” (1A).

For three days, I couldn’t really do much at all and was sofa-bound. Standing took about five minutes and sitting and walking were extremely difficult and painful.  When I did get to the physiotherapist (about a week later) when she touched my lower back, I – involuntary -punched her.

So, for another two years, I was in constant pain with my back and considering that sitting exacerbated my compressed discs; the fact my job involved a lot of driving, was not exactly helping.

And then the tiredness started.  Crippling, draining, constant fatigue. There were also other symptoms – lack of concentration, dizziness, heart palpitations, clumsiness and of course, pain.  Perhaps worse of all was the inability to get a deep, restorative sleep – adding insult to injury when you’re desperately tired anyway.

Whether it’s understandable – or not – people were generally not particularly sympathetic.  I would fall asleep on nights out.  I even fell asleep on my friends hen-do in Paris watching the show at the Moulin Rouge.  ” You’re working too hard” was a common response “you need a holiday”.  The other gem was “you’re depressed” (of course I’m fu*!ing depressed, I’m getting no actual sleep you cretin) in a seemingly long line of diagnosis made by sudden medical professionals.

One day, I put my hand over my shoulder to scratch my back.  My nails were short yet it felt like someone had dragged a red hot rake across my muscles.  Concerned, I went to the doctor who had just been studying a condition called Fibromyalgia and my symptoms seemed to match.  Getting a diagnosis on the NHS was a non starter at that point, so I paid privately and got a formal confirmation that yes, my symptoms were conducive with the condition.

Getting a formal diagnosis though was really the first part of a long road into understanding what I was dealing with.  The private consultant prescribed me medication to help me sleep (Amitriptyline – which I couldn’t ultimately take because I wasn’t safe to drive the next morning) and told me to do more exercise (crucial to managing Fibromyalgia) when I was already walking several miles per day……..

Pretty soon; I realised that my ability to deal with the condition, was solely down to me.  At the end of the day, no-one else can manage your symptoms and everyone’s experience is different anyway.

Fortunately, there is much more awareness of Fibromyalgia nowadays – in particular since Lady Gaga revealed she developed it, following a serious injury to her hip.  Whilst there is ongoing research and therefore lots of new theories around it’s development; medical professionals do concur that the condition often starts following an infection or major injury to the skeletal structure.


So, if you’ve been diagnosed with Fibro – or another chronic pain based condition – don’t panic, help is out there.  The Internet is awash with information and updates and critically, the medical profession is much more understanding.  Here’s what I’ve learned about managing Fibromyalgia for myself.

  1. Listen to your body – be aware of what your body is telling you.  Where is your pain?  Does anything seem to make it worse?  Do you feel better in the mornings or at night?  Being in tune with what’s going on, will ultimately help you manage it.  For example, I need to get big jobs done during the daytime – after 8pm my concentration levels are really poor, so I avoid major projects.
  2. Get plenty of rest – we live in an age where everyone purports to be an Entrepreneur and sleep three hours a night to go on and kill it each day.  Let me tell you that is total and utter crap.  It is very well medical researched that most humans need 7-8 hours per night of sleep. Sure, there are exceptions but that’s precisely what they are.  The rule is very well documented and researched.  Ariana Huffington has done some amazing research on sleep and her book The Sleep Revolution is worth a read. Given it’s written by an actual Entrepreneur, you can reliably take her word for it.
  3. Limit your alcohol intake – I love a glass of red wine or a cold gin and tonic but I rarely drink now.  And if I do, I know my limits.  Booze is known to exacerbate symptoms of chronic pain conditions (believe me it’s true, if I over-indulge I suffer with pain for two to three days afterwards), so try and avoid it if you can.
  4. Research your condition…..but avoid forums – I would encourage anyone to avidly read up on their condition.  Advice on diet, exercise and lifestyle are all really helpful in enabling you to manage your pain, however I personally avoid forums. Why?  Undeniably there are helpful threads on there but all too often I find them a bit of a breeding ground for people to just bitch and moan about how awful they feel.  Sorry but there it is.  When you feel like crap anyway, the last thing you need is negativity.
  5. Exercise – I have three dogs, so not getting any exercise is not an option.  I walk in excess of five miles each day, more on working from home days.  Sure, each morning when I put my feet on the floor for the first five minutes of walking, my feet and legs feel unbelievably stiff and painful – but if I don’t get out each day in the fresh air, I feel so much worse.

Your ability to deal with a chronic pain disorder will boil down to your awareness of your experience and willingness to try new approaches…. and that may take some time. It took me several years to get my Fibromyalgia under control and even now I still have flare ups and every day I have pain.  The difference is that I now feel I have the tools to deal with it.

So don’t lose heart and please, if you suffer from a pain condition, please leave your comments in the thread.