How do you know if someone is vegan…..

…..don’t worry they will tell you, is the suggestion on a popular meme often shared on social media. Contrary to this rather amusing, and not in the least bit outworn little joke it’s not actually the first thing we say when we introduce ourselves. Just like ‘normal’ people we are inclined to offer our name rather than our dietary or lifestyle information.

You are also unlikely to be able to ‘spot the vegan’ in a group of people. Whilst some of us do indeed wear combat trousers, t-shirts sporting animal rights slogans, have piercings and dreadlocks just as many of us don’t. We don’t all live in squats, exist entirely on lentils or look undernourished. We are in fact as diverse as any group of omnivores. Often the only thing we have in common with each other is our abstinence from any animal product and our desire to live in a more compassionate world.

Vegans are so preachy!

It’s true that we speak out about it, but only in the same way than anyone will speak out about something they feel is an injustice. We don’t offer the information to appear ‘preachy’ or so we may adopt a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. We offer the information because it’s that same information that made us realise that the picture the industry shows us of happy animals on friendly green farms isn’t exactly the whole truth. We try to give others those facts that made us see what a terrible impact animal agriculture was having on our environment. We have done the research on the health benefits, know the difference it has made it our own lives and want others to be able to benefit from this too. We don’t want to make anyone feel bad about their dietary choices, we don’t want to ‘guilt trip’ people, we just want people to think about what they have been raised to accept as normal and entertain the possibility that there might be a better alternative.

Why are you all so angry?

After the initial phase of ‘vegan shyness’ where I would stick to being a dairy and egg intolerant vegetarian when trying to order food, or even the more acceptable ‘I just don’t like the taste’, where I was following a ‘plant based diet’ for health reasons or giving veganism a trial as a challenge, I got angry.

I got angry at the cruelty of the meat, dairy and egg industries. I got angry at the endless advertising on television for animal products, showing happy families smiling at each other whilst they cut bits off a dead lamb. I got angry at all the women wearing cosmetics from companies that still test on animals and I got angry at anybody who seemed to know the facts and still supported the industry.

Truthfully it’s hard not to be angry, outraged even when you have suddenly become aware that cows don’t actually need to be milked. That it is us paying for them to be artificially inseminated time and time again until they are too old to be of use to the industry. That we are the ones who vote with our pockets for their newborn calves to be dragged away so we can consume the milk that nature intended for their babies. That our desire to eat eggs means thousands of male chicks are killed every day as they are no use to the egg producers. That even something as innocent and natural as honey produced on a mass scale means bees being fatally injured. It’s hard not to be angry when you realise that we don’t actually need any of these things in our diet.

I didn’t take me long however to understand that my anger wasn’t making any difference to anyone but me. It can be a great tool for giving you the drive you need to bring about change. To get out and participate in outreach projects, to write to companies or to be pro active in any number of ways that will help raise awareness and educate. Used directly against those who are living their lives in the way that most of us were a few years ago, it does little except to cement their resolve that we are a bunch of aggressive weirdos!

What about human rights?

‘You vegans care more about animals than you do about people’.  As a general rule, no. Fighting for one cause doesn’t immediately exclude you from supporting another. I personally believe there is a very strong link between the way we treat our fellow-man and the way we treat those of another species. I feel that until we can learn to treat those completely at our mercy with kindness and respect we are still perpetuating the belief that some of us are better than others and that we should have control over their lives. The comparison some draw between slavery, the way women were viewed in the past and the way we treat animals is often frowned upon but we cannot deny that these forms of oppression were once viewed as normal and the notion that one day both these groups would be treated equally was absurd.

There is more and more evidence coming to light that show us animals are not only intelligent, feeling beings but have complex social structures, can use tools and solve puzzles. I believe this has only touched upon the surface and as we look deeper we will get to the point that we can no longer deny that our animal cousins have every right to be treated with respect and no longer seen as something that exists solely for our own use.

How can you call yourself a vegan and still drive a car….

…or use a phone, pc, tablet or any of the items that are generally accepted as being part of our everyday lives. It would be ideal to live in a world where we had the option not to use anything that was ever tested on an animal or contained any product of animal origin, at present that isn’t a choice we have. Whilst we can of course make informed and better decisions when it comes to motoring and technology, a car without leather seats or trims and vegan tyres or buy from a company whose ethics sit more closely to our own, right now our choices are very limited.

So why don’t we stop using our cars, pcs and phones, I mean surely if we were really dedicated vegans we would, right?  There is no denying that it’s a valid point to which there is no simple answer. Something however that might go some way to explaining our ethos is the definition of veganism first suggested by Leslie Cross in 1949

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

The words ‘as far as is possible and practicable’ are very important here.  It’s why many of us still wear the leather boots we had before turning vegan, or haven’t replaced all our wool jumpers. It’s why many of us still drive cars and use phones. It wouldn’t be financially viable to replace all the items we had pre vegan and for many of us not using a car, pc or phone would seriously hamper our ability to do our jobs, communicate with family and friends or do any number of activities that have become a part of our daily lives.

But just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything. It’s far easier to change your milk from dairy to almond or to buy the cruelty free option when purchasing shampoo, washing up liquid and make up than it is to give up your car.  Making conscious and compassionate choices is becoming ever easier when purchasing food, household items and even clothing. If we all start to make those choices which do the least damage, to our bodies, to the other sentient beings with which we share this earth and to the earth itself, then I believe that the positive change we would all like to see is inevitable.

After all, if you could live your life without harming others, why wouldn’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally….some food!

Cauliflower and broccoli cheesy pasta bake (Dairy and gluten free)

Super easy, quick and delicious!

Serves 6 to 8

For the bake

1 cauliflower (or a pack of frozen florrets)

3 large heads of broccoli (or frozen)

Half a pack of gluten free pasta

Stock

1 onion

3 cloves of garlic

Oil for frying

Vegan Worcester sauce

Salt and pepper

Nutritional yeast flakes

The ‘cheese’ sauce

I used the wonderful recipe from the link below for potato and carrot cheese. If you haven’t made this before, prepare to be amazed. I was very skeptical before trying it for the first time but now make it regularly. The only alteration I make is with the amount of salt, which I halve.

http://www.veggieonapenny.com/vegan-cheese/

Method

Make up cheese according to the recipe. Whilst boiling the potatoes and carrots cook the broccoli, cauliflower and pasta in a separate pan with the veggie stock.

Sautee the onion with the garlic finely chopped.

Put the drained veg and pasta into an oven proof dish, season with the salt and pepper and splash on some worcester sauce. Pour the cheese mix over the top and sprinkle nutrtional yeast flakes on top. Bake in a fairly hot oven for approx 15 minutes or until the top is golden.

Tell the rest of the family it went terribly wrong, find a good hiding place and consume.

But you don’t look ill…

It took a few years of going back and forth to the doctors, before they finally diagnosed me with an under active thyroid. They were treating me for depression and anxiety and every time I went back to them with another ache or pain they would put that down to my anxiety and send me off with yet another prescription for strong pain killers.

I was beginning to wonder what was happening to me, the energy and enthusiasm that was once abundant was diminishing quickly. My whole body ached constantly but especially my joints. I was exhausted from the minute I woke up and struggling to achieve even small easy tasks. At first I thought I was just getting older but when I saw people twenty years my senior with more energy than me I realised this wasn’t the case.

Things got progressively worse until one morning I awoke and after a slight tingling down one side of my body my face and arm went numb. On getting quickly to the doctors they confirmed it wasn’t a stroke as first believed but a full on panic attack. At this I broke down and managed to get through to the doctor that something else was going on with my body that they were overlooking. When the long overdue blood tests came back they revealed that I had a severely under active thyroid and placed me promptly on medication for it.

I can’t deny that this has helped. The depression lifted, the anxiety became only a fraction of what it was before and most days I can achieve nearly everything I set out to do. This however isn’t the same as what another person of my age in good health could do. The medication makes life livable, it doesn’t make it ‘normal’. I still ache, only not as badly. I still tire quickly. My skin is dry, my hair brittle and the ‘brain fog’ is frustrating.

Changing my diet helped without question. After three weeks without dairy things improved. I was already lactose intolerant but still consuming ‘free from’ dairy products. I had no idea how much these were contributing to the inflammation of my joints until I switched to plant and nut milks and cheeses and saw the difference. I also cut out eggs, gluten, meat and fish. This may sound like a huge sacrifice to some but it wasn’t, certainly not compared to the benefit of starting to feel like myself again. I am a member of a few thyroid support groups on social media and when I read how some of the women are coping without making any of these changes it confirms to me that it was the right thing to do. But whilst the paleo diet is the thing of the moment in the hypothyroidism circle, suggesting to anyone there that a plant-based diet is more beneficial is met with, at best, scepticism and worst, sneers. I’d like to add that I stuck to the plant based diet for other reasons too, but that’s an entirely new subject.

The hardest part of living with hypothyroidism though isn’t always the illness itself. I cope. I have learnt to be a little more gentle with myself and my expectations of what I can do and I have learnt to allow extra time for recovering after a particularly energetic or busy day. The hardest part of dealing with it is other people’s attitudes.

‘You don’t look ill’, ‘you were fine yesterday’, ‘aren’t people with an underactive thyroid bigger?’ and ‘if you are taking the tablets why have you still got a problem’ are all things that I have had said to me.

Firstly, make up is an amazing thing. It hides a multitude of sins. I have practically set up a shrine to my concealer, foundation and the highlighting powder that gives me a  healthy glow. These items are as essential to me as that first cup of coffee in the morning. It doesn’t work miracles but it does make me look as if I’m not dying and some days that’s good enough.

Yes I was actually great yesterday. I walked 12 miles with the dog. I cooked an elaborate meal, I cleaned the bathroom and I even dug some of the garden. That’s why I’m struggling to get out of bed today, the floor is again covered in dog hair, the kitchen is scary and although Snow will still get his walks dinner is likely to be beans and I’ll be asleep by 7pm. My energy levels run in cycles and have clear limits. I can be superwoman one day but I know I’ll pay for it the next. If you are not familiar with the ‘spoons theory’ it’s worth a google.

No, not all of us. Yes an under active thyroid gives you a sluggish metabolism. It means that if I ate what the average person eats I will generally put on weight. I do eat more now than I used to because of all the walking I do with Snow but for a long time I existed on one meal a day, not to lose weight but to maintain it. It doesn’t make for a healthy relationship with food. It can feel heartbreaking in fact to realise that the years you have spent working out and looking after your body are now being threatened by something out of your control. So far I have managed to stay at a weight that feels comfortable to me but it’s taken twice as much effort to do so as it would do I not have thyroid problems. Again the animal product free diet helps greatly, the love of baking however doesn’t so I have to make sure there is always willing cake eaters around to save me 🙂

The tablets are good, in fact I’d go as far as to say they are a life saver. I know how quickly things were deteriorating without them, but just like the make up, they don’t work miracles. They help me but they don’t cure me. It can be a mission to find the exact dosage. Since being diagnosed almost three years ago I’ve been on four different doses, the most recent one was only started two days ago. The medical profession has a window for assessing what is a normal level. Even if you fall within this range, ‘normal’ does not mean optimum and the set amount of thyroxine that you are putting into your body isn’t what it would be producing if it was functioning properly itself. So there are still symptoms. Not as severe as they might be without the tablets but still there nonetheless.

So I guess on a day that I have taken time to apply my cosmetic mask and am running around in the field with my dog you might be forgiven for thinking that you have the right to question my illness. You might think it’s okay to say that everybody aches and gets tired sometimes, or to suggest that a good night’s sleep will help my energy levels. You might even think it’s okay to imply that ‘it’s all in my head’, after all I don’t look ill. It’s not. It’s no more okay than suggesting someone who is in a wheelchair should stop being so lazy and get up and walk, or that someone who has broken their arm should be able to play tennis because the doctor has put it in plaster now. Just because I live with something that isn’t immediately obvious to you, it doesn’t make it any less real. This goes for those who suffer from chronic fatigue, mental illness and a long list of other ‘hidden’ conditions.

If someone tells you they are ill, whether it’s something you can see or not, offer them the courtesy of not questioning their statement unless it’s out of genuine interest as to their condition. We don’t go round telling everyone and will often only mention it as the reason why we can’t go out that day, missed an appointment or have to back out of doing something, even something we were really looking forward to. We don’t use it as an excuse or because we are lazy and we are certainly not making it up.

Should you really wear a ballgown to Tesco?

Who exactly is it that sets the rules for what is ‘age appropriate’? Is there some secret council of highly knowledgeable beings that who instinctively know that if I wear a skirt too far above my knees, purple stripey tights or a corset beyond the acceptable age that I will befall some terrible fate and therefore must protect me from it?

Who are these people who have cleverly snuck into my thoughts when I look into my wardrobe and urge me to pass over the long gothic coat, cobweb dress and New rocks in favour of jeans and t-shirts?

Obviously common sense lets me distinguish between clothes that are appropriate for walking the dog and those that quite clearly aren’t. The same with what is appropriate for gardening and housework. Although I have in the past been known to both visit the supermarket and do the cleaning in a ball gown, these have not been regular occurrences.It makes perfect sense that we let our intended activity have a bearing on how we dress, it makes so much sense in fact that we could be easily forgiven for thinking this should be the only deciding factor.

Apparently though, there are so many more considerations, according to popular media, women’s magazines and style ‘experts’. Their advice bombards us from every angle. Not just articles on what we should be wearing once we hit our 40’s and beyond but what to avoid if we are slim, curvy, short, tall or pregnant. Even if we think we don’t buy into this kind of rubbish, it’s hard to filter it out completely and not let it become part of our thinking, subconscious or otherwise.  And then for every one of us that believes what we are told, the ‘rules’ become further cemented into our culture.

So we can blame the media right?  Yes and no. Obviously we are fed these ideas but it’s ultimately up to us whether we eat them or not. We are the ones that choose to reinforce these notions with our attitudes and words. Whilst we ourselves tend to be a little more subtle than many popular newspapers and magazines, who regularly bring to our attention high achieving, intelligent,  charismatic  and talented women who obviously didn’t understand that if they wore the wrong dress to receive an award, put on a few pounds, or ‘aged badly’, their skills would then count for next to nothing, we still help perpetuate this way of thinking.  Every time we whisper to a friend ‘Did you see what she was wearing’ or suggest that someone should cover up, make more effort, dress ‘for their size’, not have piercings, wear less/more make up or any of the other hundred of judgemental, potentially damaging comments that are frequently made, we give a little more strength to a pattern of thinking that we need to break away from.

I know it’s not easy to retrain your thoughts, especially those that are deeply embedded, but it’s pretty easy to retrain your mouth and after a while you will find that not only does your thinking change but that your desire to join in with derogatory comments about a friend, passer-by or celebrity will become a desire to pull them up about it.  Refuse to be a part of it.  Don’t buy the magazines and newspapers that tell us our worth is in how we look. That pretty things are only for the under 30’s, that tall people shouldn’t wear heels and that ladies without curves are not ‘real women’. And don’t, whatever you do, laugh at the 48 year old, out walking the dog in purple stripey tights and New rocks. It’s getting kinda boring 🙂

Sir Poro McNoodles aka Snow

Having a dog in your life is like having a child that appreciates you.

The initial reasoning behind searching the rescue websites was to find a four-legged companion for walking. A furry friend who would also make me feel safe when roaming around in the woods or walking the hills. A loving dog but with a protective instinct towards me, maybe a rottweiler or an Irish wolfhound. So I scoured the local rescues…

and then I fell in love….

with a deaf and blind border collie! All thought of opening my home, and heart, to a big scary dog forgotten. I tried to use my head and reasoned with myself that I’d no experience with owning dogs, never mind a deaf and blind one. Despite all the possible challenges of doing this I found myself drawn to his picture and his story more strongly than many more ‘suitable’ dogs.

Luckily for Snow, unlike many other rescue dogs who are housed in kennels till they find a home, he had been placed with loving foster carers who gave him a safe and happy start to life. After an initial telephone conversation I drove to meet with the little guy and his carers. He was adorable, he was also a complete nutcase. But within the first few minutes I was smitten, 7 months later that feeling is just as strong. He is my world.

Of course I still have time for my grown up children and husband but Snow is my little white shadow. He makes me smile. He melts my heart. All the hard work that people insisted he was going to be, isn’t hard and doesn’t feel like work. It feels like an opportunity to connect to and enrich the life of another being. The frequent comments of ‘you are so good taking him on’ are well intended but are also way off the mark. If those offering the comments could see my heart, and understand what he has done for me, the words would become ‘you were made for each other’.

Before he came to live with me I hardly left the house unless either my husband or children wanted to come out with me. Since my husband works away most of the time and my children are no longer at that age where the mere mention of a picnic will have them queuing by the front door, my treks into the great outdoors were few and far between.

But Snow has changed that, he has in fact changed my life. Out as soon as it gets light, exploring places that I had no idea existed, splodging through muddy fields, all the time watching his face and the pleasure that quite clearly shows upon it. The delight he expresses when the wind blows in his face is something else, even on days that it’s strong enough to turn his ears inside out. The joy he gets from running on his long lead and the way he meticulously stores the myriad of smells into some unknown doggy filing system. He reminds me of a child when they are still young enough to sense magic and wonder in everything.

Something else happened too after Snow and I started walking. People became less scary. Not all of them, but those with their own four-legged companions. Admittedly I still don’t know some of the human’s names that I see on a regular basis. They are referred to as ‘Ruby’s Mum’ or ‘Poppy’s Dad’ but there seems to be an unspoken code amongst dog walkers that it’s not only okay, but almost expected that you will stop and chat about your  dogs on passing.

Snow quickly became known in the ‘dog walking circle’. Being 99% white, deaf and heavily vision impaired is quite memorable I guess. He’s also such a gentle soul that he tends to capture the heart of all that meet him. People want to learn about him, which is great as it gives me the opportunity to explain exactly what a double merle is and how it’s totally avoidable, but I’ll save the technical stuff for another blog.

As I sit and write this he is laying by my feet, snoozing. Just close enough so that when he stirs he can lift his head, check I’m still there and then drift back off again. It’s windy and raining heavily outside. Instead of heading back to the safety of my bed as I would have done 6 months ago I will shortly don my rather fetching waterproof apparel, pull on my wellies and head off out. He shows no concern regarding the weather and has taught me to do the same. He also doesn’t care what I look like. This is just as well because morning make up quickly became a thing of the past when he entered my life. I no longer worry that I’ve left the hair straighteners on because they don’t get plugged in anymore anyway. It’s not that he wouldn’t give me time to do these things if I wanted to it’s just that they no longer seem as important as they did. He has taught me to reassess my priorities.

He has also taught me that wearing black is no longer a good idea, that carpets are meant to be covered in mud and dog hair and that to expect to eat peanut butter ever again without a waiting, upturned face pressed against my knee is a foolish notion. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A fellow walker referred to dogs as ‘furry four-legged angels’. Although not usually open to any reference which might sound religious or new agey, I have to confess in this instance, I couldn’t agree more.

 

 

 

Please go away, you are scaring me….

On waking this morning my mind did it usual thing of racing through all the situations that are going on in my life right now, scanning for problems, for something to worry about. The difference this morning is that I observed it doing so. When finding no reason to send my body the signal to tense up, it looked harder, surely there must be something wrong?

I always thought that I was ‘just a worrier’ till I opened up and starting talking to other people about my fears. Didn’t everyone have a constant dialogue running through their minds? Non stop thoughts about their health, their children’s well-being, how content their dog was, whether they could have said something differently to that person that they don’t actually know in the supermarket queue yesterday or acted more maturely in a situation that happened 25 years ago. Apparently they don’t.

Of course everyone worries about something at some point. But the thing with anxiety is that you will worry about everything, all the time and in those rare moments that you realise you are not worrying, you worry about that. As if somehow the universe will catch you not caring and punish you for it, by making the thing that you should have been worried about, happen. Of course, somewhere in my head I know this is as ridiculous as it sounds, but knowing it doesn’t stop it.

It gets tiring over analysing everything. Going through a conversation you had for hours after it happened and even when you can’t pin point what you may have said wrong being sure that you made yourself look like a fool somehow. It gets to a point where it become easier to avoid people than to risk the inevitable agony afterwards as you convince yourself that they will have gone away thinking badly of you for one reason or another.

Staying at home is safer, although there is always the chance that the phone will ring or someone will knock at the door. Answering the phone may not seem like a huge task to most. I’ve witnessed people do it without even thinking about it first. Just strolling on over, picking it up and saying hello as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. For me it starts with a jolt as the demanding tone interrupts my thoughts. Sometimes I will just shut the door until it rings off. Whilst that avoids having to talk to someone it brings its own cycle of anxious thoughts worrying about what it might have been. So generally I will psyche myself up to answer it. Take a deep breath, rub the sweat off my palms, light a cigarette, tentatively pick up the receiver and, over the sound of my heavily beating heart, croak hello in a voice that sounds nothing like my own because apparently I have also forgotten how to talk.

Answering the door can be even worse. You know you are not expecting anyone because any visits are arranged days in advance so you have time to mentally prepare, which means it’s either the postman, meter reader, or someone who doesn’t know you well enough to understand that unannounced visits are something you don’t do. A while back I got into the habit of having a nasty cough before opening the door, therefore laying a firm foundation on which to layer the ‘I’m quite clearly indoors because I’m not well, therefore cannot possibly entertain guests’ act. I’d like to point out that I value honesty very highly, but saying ‘I’m not well’ is far easier than saying ‘Please go away, you are scaring me’.

I count myself as being fortunate that my episodes of anxiety come and go. I can have weeks of feeling pretty much okay in between attacks. This has been improved greatly by a diagnosis of and therefore medication to treat hyopthyrodism, which seems to be tied in with my mental health. I know when my dosage needs altering as my anxiety gets worse.

It’s also been helped by CBT sessions and mindfulness, both of which I’d recommend looking into. The biggest change for me came about because of my dog, but he deserves a whole new page..or more, to himself 🙂

A daisy through concrete….

I’ve been told many times that I should write a blog. This has usually been met with a dismissive shrug and the reply that I have nothing to write about. Apparently everyone has a book within them, in my case, that’s half a book. The other half is stored away in a file, covered in coffee stains and doodles, waiting for me to get over the ‘writer’s block’ I encountered 7 years ago.

So with the hope of creating even a tiny crack in the barrier that has successfully held back my river of words for so long, a literary daisy to push through the concrete,  I decided to listen to someone else for once and get writing again. An attempt at putting hundreds of messy thoughts and feelings into a neat font with some grammar involved, maybe.

A blog about a dog – my blind and deaf Collie, about living with hypothyroidism and anxiety, about veganism and about the challenges of living, and raising children in a society whose values often seem at odds with your own. Possibly something about cats, moving to Portugal and of course, delicious vegan cake.  About anything in fact, that is too long, or potentially controversial to post on social media without upsetting family or offending ‘friends’.

So why ‘Walking through brambles’? Why not ‘A blog about a dog’ or something equally easy to roll off the tongue? A few years ago, walking along the edge of an overgrown field with some difficulty, I stopped to disentangle my foot from some brambles. At the same time I did the same for my mind from the thoughts that I was lost in. Looking only a few feet to my left I could see a path had been cut through the sprawling growth. It would only have taken a slight adjustment to the course I was on to have walked along it instead of fighting my way through the spiky tendrils. I’ve spent a lot of my life not walking along that cleared path because I’ve been so caught up in what is going on in my head, it seemed a fitting title.

I’m nervous at the prospect of writing so honestly, but if it makes someone smile, or not feel so alone, then the sweaty palms and racing heart will be worth it!