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Opening up and talking

Don't look in the mirror of the past, look to the future in front of you!

This week I have decided to talk about an element of ME which was an important issue for me, particularly when I was ready to start on the road to recovery. Opening up. The emotional pain of contracting a serious, debilitating illness is one that requires us to delve deep inside ourselves to find the strength to continue on a daily basis. In doing this we not only gain the strength to continue, but we also manage to avoid the emotional fear and pain outside; it also allows us time to come to terms with what has happened. The other side of that, of course, is that at some point we need to start looking into the outside world and facing back into society. This can be a particularly difficult time, because the world can appear very different from the one we left when we first became ill.

What really helped me at this time was firstly finding somebody that I trusted. I was lucky enough to meet a fantastic doctor during my the end of my first year with the condition, who visited me from my place of work. He had been sent by my HR department to check how I was doing and to see if there was any chance of me getting back to work. He was very interested in ME, its causes and symptoms, and because of that he knew how withdrawn I had probably become, before he had even met me! Although I had been terrified about meeting him, what I learned during that meeting was that I did have a chance of getting to recovery, but I would need to deal with it in a different way than how I had imagined. He explained that by comparing myself to who I had been before becoming ill would not help me, but would in fact cause me further pain because I would never be that person again. What I needed to do now was to see myself as a child again who is about to start school for the very first time. I needed to learn to walk, talk and be again. One of the most helpful ways for me to do that, he said, would be to see a psychiatrist. I was horrified at the the thought at first, because I thought he was telling me that he believed the illness was all in my mind. He was not at all, quite the opposite in fact!

From the moment I met Dr Blacker, my psychiatrist, I felt relaxed. I trusted him and felt able to totally open up with him. He put me at ease and I also felt he really knew his subject well which built my trust in him even more. By opening up that day and continuing to do so both with him and Lee, my psychologist, a few months later, I was able to start moving forward, both emotionally and physically. My sessions with Dr Blacker and Lee continued for about another 18 months from the very first appointment and I continued to be very open with them. I am not saying it was easy, sometimes I found it very hard, because with that openness also came pain and fear. I knew, however, that they were getting me to do that so that I could get better. I needed to face into some of my biggest fears and deal with them head on. and some of those stemmed back from several years before, so it meant delving into my deepest thoughts and memories to unearth the causes of my anxieties and stressors. Once they were out though, and we talked about them through different kinds of therapies, they didn't appear so scary any more.

I teach this to some of my coaching clients when they are fearful or anxious about dealing with a particular situation or issue. The thoughts in our heads can appear so huge and terrifying, but by allowing them out with somebody that you trust, it is like the old adage, "a problem shared is a problem halved". Once out, the problem can be broken up into manageable pieces, dealt with in the most appropriate way for each client and can then be locked away out of sight and out of mind, thus allowing us a gentle movement forward back into the world again. By clearing out the negative, it allows room for the positive. Positive thoughts lead to more positive thoughts and lead to the production of serotonin which allows the free flow of thoughts, whereas negative ones actually block the free flow of thoughts, leading to the production of cortisol, which can often lead to the stressors causing anxiety and depression.

I can see myself now after that first appointment with Dr Blacker leaving his clinic rooms and meeting my dad in the reception area of the hospital. He knew at once that the meeting had gone well, because for the first time in a long while, his little girl had hope in her eyes again, something that I mentioned in my last blog. Hope is always there, but sometimes it gets hidden by other more difficult situations at the time, but thanks to Dr Blacker and me opening up emotionally, that hope re-emerged and continues to do so today.

On the subject of opening up, I thought a recipe about cracking something open would be an idea. I thought nuts would be appropriate, so this week I have baked a Chocolate Amaretti Cake. It comes from a lovely American cookery book by the beautiful, Italian-American chef, Giada di Laurentiis, called Everyday Italian Her recipe uses blanched almonds and delicious Amaretti cookies and I was lucky enough to receive some beautiful Carluccio's Amaretti cookies for Christmas from my lovely friend Gill, so was able to use some of these in this recipe.

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This cake has the texture and taste of a chocolate tart. It's super easy to make without the added work of making pastry!

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Chocolate Amaretti Cake

non-stick cooking spray

¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup slivered almonds

1 cup (about 2 oz) Amaretti cookies

½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature

⅔ cup sugar

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

4 large eggs

1-2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder for sifting

Preheat the oven to 200 ℃ and spray a 9 inch springform pan with non-stick cooking spray and refrigerate.

Melt the chocolate chips in a bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water (don't let the water come into contact with the bowl).

In a food processor (I found it better to use the smaller bowl on my food processor) add the almonds and Amaretti cookies and blitz them until finely ground. Transfer to another bowl. Then to the food processor add the butter, sugar and orange zest and mix until creamy and smooth (you may need to use a spatula a couple of times to ensure all the mix gets included). While the machine is running, add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Turn the machine off, remove the lid and return the nut and Amaretti cookie mixture along with the melted chocolate. Mix until well blended and then pour the batter into the prepared pan.

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Bake until the centre of the cake puffs up and a cocktail stick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean (about 35-40 minutes).

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Cool the cake in the tin for about 15 minutes, then transfer to a plate, sift over the cocoa powder and serve - delicious!

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