This week has been an interesting one. In the process of amending my book on my recovery from ME, I decided to start looking back at the strategies I had used to help me at that time. It is important to relive the feelings I had felt at the start of my recovery to be able to share them in my book. I started with a walk around Bristol on Sunday morning using the original instructions given to me at the time. Using graded exercise therapy, I was to walk using nasal breathing only and increase the distance gradually every few days. At first, it seemed strange to be walking and breathing in this way, but that was a good thing because I needed to feel that.
One of the main elements of getting "better" was being able to get out again. Although I had felt incredibly safe being at home, I was in a way like a caged animal. The outside world was a stranger to me and, although I wanted to be out there, I didn't know what I had to do to be free again. I needed somebody to tell me. Another problem with being alone in the house for hours in a day were the thoughts that passed through my head. I started to suffer with anxiety. I struggled with anxious thoughts a lot of the time and, as I was embarrassed about sharing those thoughts with anybody, they became louder and more frequent. It became a vicious circle.
Anxiety is a very misunderstood condition. The American Psychological Association defines it as "an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry.” That would make sense, because the thoughts I had were recurring and, because I felt so ill as well, I was unable to escape them.
Thankfully, in time, with my exercise therapy and the work I did with my psychologist, my symptoms of anxiety did improve.. Being able to share those thoughts with a professional really helped. I didn't feel so alone any more because I got a better understanding of what anxiety was and that helped me to turn the automatic, negative thoughts into more rational ideas about what was really happening at the time.
I need to remember how I felt and how confused and frightened I was at that time. As with everything though, things come along for a reason. I like to think that the reason I suffered with anxiety was as a diversion from the reality of what was happening to me. By focusing on imagined worries and anxieties, I wasn't having to deal with the reality of getting better. I just wasn't ready for that. I was worn out, I didn't have the energy to do any more at that time. I look back and think of myself as a small child again desperately trying to find my voice and, until I did that, I wouldn't be strong enough to recover. I was actually given some very sound advice by a doctor at the time when I was concerned about how I was going to get better. He said you mustn't compare yourself with who you were before you became ill, you need to treat yourself like a child who is going to school for the very first time. As if you are going to learn your alphabet and learn to write, you need to learn to walk and be again. So I learned that I needed to only compare myself to how I was from day to day and not to how I was then to now.
The advice I received from that doctor helped me to become who I am today. I got to understand so much about myself while recovering and one of those things was about gratitude. I like to think that the antidote for anxiety is gratitude. I learned over time that if I focused more on what I had to be grateful for rather than what to worry about, the anxiety naturally disappeared. I could either continue to feel anxious about a given situation or I could choose to look around me and be grateful for what I had.
I have a lot to be thankful for and, as this week is Thanksgiving Holiday in America, I thought I would bake a traditional Thanksgiving dessert. This is a Pumpkin Pie with a twist on the Italian. It is adapted from a recipe by Giorgio Locatelli, my favourite Italian Chef and is absolutely delicious. The sweetness of the pumpkin contrasted with the bitterness of the chocolate is wonderful and, with the addition of the bourbon and the cinnamon, the flavours come together to make a delicious dessert.
Bourbon, Pumpkin and Bitter Chocolate Tart
2 cups sifted plain flour
Just under cup of unsalted butter (cold) cut into 1 inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
6 to 8 tablespoons cold water
1 medium sized pumpkin (or two smaller pumpkin) peeled, deseeded and chopped into largish chunks
100 g bitter chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
100 g sugar
100 ml water
1 cinnamon stick
A couple of sloshes of Bourbon
Preheat oven to 200℃ (fan 180℃).
For the pastry, put the flour, salt and the butter into the bowl of a food processor and whizz until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. With the motor running, gradually add the water until the pastry forms into a ball.
Remove from bowl and cut the pastry ball in half. Use one half now and freeze the other half for a later date. Roll out to about the thickness of just under a £1 coin. Add to a greased and floured pie tin and cut the edges to the height of the tin. Prick the pastry with a fork and lay some parchment/greaseproof paper on top. Fill with baking beans or dried pulses which will prevent the pastry from rising too much during the blind baking process.
Put the pastry into the oven for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove from the oven and remove the baking beans. Put the pastry back into the oven for another 5 minutes until nicely browned (you need it to bake well so that you don't end up with a soggy bottom when the filing is in). When baked, put to one size to cool.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Mash up the cooled, cooked pumpkin in a bowl and break up the chocolate into medium sized pieces (there is no need for them to be even sizes) and add to the pumpkin.
In a saucepan, add the sugar and put on a medium heat. Add the water and cinnamon stick and cook until reduced down a little. When reduced, add the couple of sloshes of Bourbon and strain over the pumpkin and chocolate mix. Mix together and leave to cool.
When both the pastry and pumpkin have cooled, add the pumpkin to the pastry case and bake in the oven at 200℃ for about 10-15 minutes.
Put to one side to cool. Serve cold dusted with icing sugar.