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To force or not to force? That is the question.

How a doctor's words of encouragement helped me to take my first step towards recovery from M.E.

“No man steps in the same river twice for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Heraclitus.​

Coaching clients who have M.E. brings back memories of my own experiences during the 8 years with the condition. In fact, sometimes it is as though I am looking at a mirror image of my own life with the condition when I hear their words, their concerns and their feelings of desperation about when they are going to recover. This mirror also allows me to understand them, to understand may be how alone they felt before asking for help, how frightened they feel about their condition and wondering how long it will be a part of them. I help clients to understand both themselves and the condition better in order that they can start or continue on their own road to recovery. The word “own” is an important one, because although I can help them to see what they need to do or to understand, ultimately they are the ones who are on that journey, albeit with me (and any other health practitioners) by their side.

I sought help after a year with the condition, not because I looked for that help (because I didn't know where to look), but because I was lucky enough that a doctor, who specialised in M.E., visited me at home from my employer. He was an occupational therapist doctor and he had been sent by my employer to see how likely it was that I would be returning to to work. I was terrified about his visit, because I was terrified of taking those first steps towards recovery, as I believed that if I started to recover, I would just get ill again. What I hadn't realised though was how much I had been trying to be who I was before I became ill by comparing myself to that person and it took time to realise that I would never be her again. What this wonderful doctor said to me was that I needed to start my life again from that very moment, to be like a child learning to walk, to talk and to be again. Those words shifted something in me. They freed me from the pressure I had been putting on myself to get back to who I had been. It is no surprise though that I wanted to be that person again, because she was the only person I had been before, but I have since learned from experience, and new scientific studies, that having M.E. can be like being in a form of hibernation - I needed to rest until I was ready to move forward to a new life and a new me. Comparison with my past was therefore pointless.

At that moment I let go, I let go of comparisons with me of my past. I had felt beforehand that I was “forcing” myself to get better, “forcing” myself to be who I had been (which would not have been a good thing because she was the person who became ill in the first place). What this doctor did was to encourage me with his words, he opened up my mind to new possibilities. As Tony Robbins says “a problem cannot be solved from the same level as it was created”. That makes perfect sense because I was trying to solve my problem of recovery from where I had been before I became ill, but what I actually needed to do was to start on my road to recovery from where I was then.

All this talk about forcing has got me thinking about rhubarb! In the U.K., rhubarb is at its very best when it is forced. The science of forcing involves the prevention of photosynthesis due to the rhubarb being kept in dark conditions, this process then encourages the plants to desperately seek light and synthesise less light in. The end result is beautifully slim, pink stems of non-stringy rhubarb, which are prized in the cookery world for both their sweetness and texture. Forcing happens between December and March each year, so as soon as the shops stock this wonderful produce, the shelves are emptied as quickly as they are filled! As with any kind of forcing though, this does tire out the plants and they need the rest for the next year to prevent disease. This could be compared to my journey with M.E., I could not be forced to get better, because if somebody had taken me out for a walk, forcing me out of the house, both the exhaustion and stress of that experience would have caused me to collapse as I had done during the early part of the condition. By that doctor encouraging me to realise that recovery was possible and that I would be OK, I was able to make a start on my own journey to recovery without being forced. After all it was my journey to make, I owned it and I was responsible for it (even though I didn't consciously realise it at the time).

The recipe I have made is a Quick Rhubarb Cake. It is a from a wonderful website, The Seaside Baker, which I found purely by accident, because I needed to use up some rhubarb a friend had given to me -


⅔ cup granulated sugar (for the cake) plus 2 tablespoons for the top

3 eggs

3 tablespoons of melted butter

2 tablespoons of milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

2 cups of diced rhubarb (forced or unforced are both fine!)

Preheat the oven to 160℃ fan. Grease and line the base of an 8-9" springform cake tin.

In a mixing bowl (I used my stand-mixer) beat the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the melted butter (slightly cooled), vanilla and milk and mix again. Fold in the flour, baking powder and salt until mixed into batter. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin, cover the top of the cake with the diced rhubarb and sprinkle the rhubarb with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.

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Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean (I find the cake can take nearer to 40-45 minutes sometimes, so keep checking). The cake should spring back when touched once it is fully baked. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, then unhinge the tin and leave to cool a little longer before serving. Delicious on its own, either warm or cold, or with .crème fraîche.

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Lastly, enjoy; I can promise as long as you like rhubarb you and everybody else will love this cake. It is a real winner in my house!

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