Saturday 25 August 2012

Giving up smoking is killing me

I gave up smoking on August 17th 2012.

For 4 fabulous days I was a non smoker.

On day 5 I smoked 1 cigarette.

On day 6 I smoked 2 cigarettes.

On day 7 I smoked 2 cigarettes.

On day 8 I smoked 3 cigarettes.

It is now day 9 and I feel like the hungry caterpillar, but for cigarettes.

I get to 1pm every day without giving smoking a thought. I'm back to swimming 1km everyday and with ease. Head down 10 lengths freestyle, without stopping. I can now swim it in 15mins instead of the 40mins it was taking previously. I have plenty to do in the mornings and then by 1pm I want to smoke.

I've changed my morning routine, I associate a morning cuppa with a cigarette, so instead I have fruit juice, but by 1pm I want a cup of tea and I start to think about smoking, by 4pm I am smoking a cigarette.

It tastes vile, I cough, I can smell the smoke already on my clothes and in my hair. I hate the smell of other people smoking, I always have, that doesn't make me want to smoke. I'm making crafts and sewing and gardening to occupy my hands. I spend more time upstairs as I don't smoke indoors and I'm not near the door just to pop out for one.

I've smoked for 24 years, I don't enjoy it, I'm addicted. I don't need a cigarette to calm the nerves, relax me, make me happy. I need the nicotine. It doesn't calm the nerves, relax me or make me happy, it just stops that nagging feeling inside as my body screams for the 24 years of nicotine it has gotten used to.

I think I was too adventerous, I told everyone I was a non smoker from August 17th onwards. I haven't failed, I've just stumbled at the first hurdle, not realising what a challenge I was embarking on.

So I will carry on smoking my 2-3 cigarettes a day, increase my exercise, cut back on the fats and sugars and will become a non smoker on September 3rd 2012.

I'm driving for 5 hours with my son to Kruger Park and spending a week in a tent and going on safari. I can't smoke, I won't be able to buy cigarettes and I will have changed my environment and routine and see if that works.


Well my plan to stop smoking at Kruger back fired. I'm back to 10-15 a day. I followed all advice, I re read the book and I know I'm stupid. The nicotine had a stronger grip on me than I ever thought possible.

I'm stopping smoking (again) tomorrow. Hubby is away for another 2 weeks, I've smoked the last cigarette in the packet this evening. I have no cash on me and no need to go out. I want to stop, I will stop, it's just harder than I realised.


I asked the Doctor for help. I've been prescribed Champix, I've picked day 11 to stop.
Check back on September 21st and I'll let you know whether I'm thinking about cigarettes or not.

Friday 24 August 2012

Sometimes a helping hand is needed

A year ago I stumbled across @kateonthinice (previously known as @netcurtains) groovy mum blog with challenges and a linky. I felt I had lost my way, my groove and although I though the title Grooving mums was a little bit kitch, I thought 'why not?' I had nothing to lose and surely I could only gain friends. i knew I wasn't likely to meet anyone else in a similar situation, but I knew I'd meet others with varying sets of problems and I would be able to reach out to people for mutual support.

Well a year on, nothing has changed. Yep i'm serious, I still cook, bake, garden and I now even own a slow cooker. I've made some friends, I volunteer and I explore further a field, but I'm still lonely, I still haven't adjusted or even accepted that my life as I knew it, stopped over night.

I don't know how to reinvent myself, when all I know is lots of kids, activities, work, study and a great social life is what made me, me. That all took 39 years to reach that stage and I've finally reached the stage where I have acknowledged that my life can't be like that over night and I have to accept that this is how life is now for me.

It all got a bit too much, not just the life changes, but dealing with illness in the family, house move, renewing visas, letting go of the past in regards to hubbies company and lack of promised support. I'm struggling to let go, move on and start living a new life when I'm still pinning for the old one.

So last week, despite my reservations, when the migraine from the stress was so bad that I ended up on a drip, I finally spilled everything in one go to the Doctor, who said it was obvious I was depressed and prescribed me medication and a referral to see a clinical psychologist.

I don't know if the medication and therapy will work, but I'm going in open minded. I've been calmer in the last week, despite also giving up smoking, I've exercised more and been eating more fruit. Maybe it's just a lifestyle change I need to make in regards to diet and exercise to fit in with my far from active life style I now lead when sometimes I feel I'm going to die of boredom, that is unless the lonliness doens't get to me first.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

the power of a tweet

'Dear @picknpay why are you no longer selling Hellmans mayonnaise? Tis a sad day for us #expats'

What followed was a series of tweets from others with suggestions of where I could purchase Hellmans Mayonnaise and even a tweeter contacting her local store to ask if they had any in.

And then this morning the phone rang.

It was head office in Cape Town to explain that the Hellmans Mayonnaise had not been available to order in since March due to an issue with labelling. Hellmans is imported into South Africa, lots of other global brands are manufactured under licence here. Coca Cola, Lays (aka Walkers in the UK) and due to it being a global brand it needs to comply with the food regulation agency and therefore needs to be labelled 'contains egg' and 'produced in a factory that handels nuts'

Now all very well and good, but......I need my Hellmans Mayonnaise, so I added it to Hubbies shopping list for next month.

Then this pm I get a call from the manager at the local branch who has gone above and beyond in her mission to fulfill my needs, including calling local branches to see if they have any left in stock, sent out staff to rival stores to see if she could obtain any for me and then said she'll check out her local shops during the week and rest assured she will call me as soon as it comes back into stock.

So I feel a little foolish now, all that effort for me? one lowly customer, but it's the difference between writing a blog post and tweeting how fab @picknpay are and shopping elsewhere.

In the past when I've tweeted them about raw meat, poor hygiene or lack of education on storing products, they have always responded in this manner, with an explanation and what they are going to do to rectify the issue.

This is not service I've ever had from a UK supermarket.

Thursday 16 August 2012

It has to get worse before it can get better

I should have waited till the end of the week before writing about the help I'm getting to treat my depression, because I just can't believe that the day just got worse and landed me up in the doctors surgery on a drip treating the worse migraine ever.

If you want/need to catch up then you can click here to see why I went to the Doctors for help this week.

OK I'M NOT DYING...In fact I do not even have anything officially wrong with me medically, but I'm ill and it's been getting worse.

You see I have a few 'little' things wrong with me. Which on their own are painful and can be an inconvience, but when you put them all together at the same time and chuck in the whole 'I'm struggling to be an expat, adjust to my new life, moved house (again) Dad had a heart attack, youngest has dyslexia and dysgraphia, giving up smoking and didn't get a role at the London Olympics that I'd set my heart on' you'll see why I'm having a tough time and why I've asked for help to treat depression and take Prozac.

So what is wrong with me?

I need oral surgery to stop my teeth falling out and it's linked with diabeties and the perodontist hasn't seen a case this bad, ever, in anyone under 65. My bones are degenerating.

I have chilblains due to poor circulation aka Smoking

I've suffered with migraines since I was a small child

I had viral menegitis in 2000 which rears it's ugly head from time to time

I've had pneumonia on more than one occassion, in the last 5 years

I was a victim of assualt, 15 years ago, and suffered nerve damage to my neck for which I require regular pain killers and hospital treatment

There is a history of high cholestorol and diabeties in the family of which I now have elevated levels and I will be diabetic one day

...and all raising it's ugly head at the same time.

So I left the doctors on Monday with medication for pain, chilblains and Prozac. I had appointments lined up for blood tests, clinical psychologist, pain clinic, diabetic clinic, I forget what else and i go home to a very confused and worried hubby, but I actually felt a bit better, until tuesday morning after the blood tests when a pain in my head appeared from nowhere. It felt like someone was hitting me over and over with a hammer and I couldn't do a thing to stop it, meds, resting, darkened room and after what seemed like forever, hubby got home and took me to the doctors where they hooked me up onto a drip for an hour to administer medication. I could hardly move my head on wednesday and today thursday my neck is so stiff I have to move my entire body to look round. My head feels heavy, yet it's still thumping and it feels like someone is pushing on the back of my neck all the time.

But I have appointments, I'm getting something done about it all, but let me tell you it's not easy, I'm feeling more stress now than I did on Monday when I turned up at the doctors asking for help.

Our medical scheme, Discovery, have a payment gap thingy that I have to submit bills to, to reduce the gap then the med aid kicks back in. It's probably a bit more technical than that but.... and I have to request permission in advance of certain treatments or they'll not pay out or only pay a small amount if the health care provider doesn't charge the Discovery rates. So basically I don't know if all my treatment will be covered until I contact the health care provider and request codes to see if a) Discovery will pay for it and b) if Discovery will pay the full rate.

I now have to find a perodontist who fits the above criteria as the one I was recommended to see by a Dentist who does meet the criteria, will charge me R30,000 and Discovery will only pay back around R10,000.

I've lost count of the number of times I've emailed, telephoned and visited in person at Discovery to say 'I haven't moved from one scheme to another, I've moved from the UK and no scheme, it was free'. I'm also fed up of saying 'I don't know what to do or how to do it, therefore I do not know what questions I need to ask and it keeps costing me money because I didn't know if I said a, b or c, it would've been covered'

So back now to the depression. I'm so angry with hubbies company that the Medical wasn't set up when we arrived, despite requesting it over and over, telling both the company and Discovery 'we don't know how it works, please help us' and being greated with 'here are all the lovely bonus things you can get from us' and 'an advisor will be in the office on wednesday' who then failed to turn up on two occassions.

I can still see the light at the end of the tunnel. My family and friends* are being amazing. It will get better, it'll be different. I can't let go of the crap of the move and lack of support from hubbies company till they say sorry, despite them asking what they can do and us saying 'try saying sorry' There are still a few contractual issues to sort out and they won't rock the boat with the agency that handled and cocked up our house move as they are processing our visa renewals at the moment.

So I guess I need a bit more time before I will start to see the benefits of asking for help, the appointments and waiting for the prozac to kick the meantime I'll leave you with my next trick which is...

things can't get anyworse or more stressful so I thought today would be the best day to smoke my last cigarette.


Monday 13 August 2012

What else will the day throw at me?

What started off as a trip to the Perodontist for what I thought was a scale and polish (the referal form was written in Afrikaans) has ended up with an appointment for Oral Surgery for bone degeneration, a test in the morning for diabeties, which if I don't have now I will have eventually, a referal to the pain clinic and a clinical psychologist, pain meds and anti inflammatories for the chilblains and Prozac.

I left home at 9am and returned with pizza for the kids lunch at 1pm. What a morning.

Being an expat isn't all sunshine and pools although, yes we do have all that. Yes I'm lucky that I don't have to work anymore, the kids benefit from me being at home every day after school and through the holidays and hubby comes home to a clean and tidy house every evening and a home cooked meal.

There are parts of it I do enjoy such as the cooking, I've impressed myself with some of the things I can just 'throw together' and with the introduction of a slow cooker from a friend for my birthday it's all systems go. I don't actually mind the cleaning, it's a tiled house and so easy to do, we also have little furniture and what ornaments we have are in a glass cabinet so it's not really a difficult job. But I do miss work, meeting people, deadlines, sociallising and I find life sometimes very lonely, repetitive and boring.

At this point you're probably thinking 'that sounds like my life' but what you have to remember is that my old life of work, study, volunteering, sociallising stopped over night when we emigrated. And here's where the Prozac comes in. Moving house is stressful, everyone knows that, chuck in my fathers heart attack, renewing our visas, discovering our youngest wasn't being supported in school with his dyslexia and then a diagnosis of disgraphia and it all got a bit too much for me. Forget all the crap with the UK banks and the lack of (non exsistant) support from hubbies company. I'm, how shall I say it? at the end of my rope.

Now don't panic I'm a practical person and I may wallow in self pity with a 'woe is me' attitude but I'm a doer, one of lifes 'the more stress I have the better I thrive' get on with it type of person. But there comes a time when I need help and today is that day.

I left the dentists and went straight to the Doctors to request to speak with the Practice Manager, I wanted to know how I went about the diabeties test? who did I see about feeling depressed? stopping smoking? do I google a psychologist or need a Dr's referal? Do I see the practice nurse for a blood test? How do I get to see a pain specilaist? I got as far as her saying 'come through' before the tears started. She listened, made an emergency appointment for me to see the Doctor and now I feel alot better.

However over the next few months I have a list of appointments with a variety of people. We are in our medical aid payment gap so I drove to Discovery to find out what's happening, what's covered and what's not. I couldn't have asked for better information and assistance.

I'm over whelmed right now, I thought calling home would help, but it just reminded me how ill my dad is with diabeties, heart disease from smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet. However his reply was positive he said 'I'm 72 when all this happened to me and all I can do is maintain it, you're 41 and can prevent it all from happening'

I'd already planned to stop smoking this thursday, I set the date last month and I'm 82% of the way through Allen Carr's 'stop smoking' on my kindle app. I've schedule to return to swimming tues, wed and thurs am, having used the cold winter mornings as an excuse. I also downloaded 'thinking slimmer' a few months ago and then slapped myself for wasting £30 on hype and never listened to it, however on Saturday I thought what the heck and this morning I actually put the chocolate and the coke back in the cupboard as I was going to eat it to cheer myself up when I realised that I'd be better off with a late breakfast of Special K. I'll not use it to think myself slimmer but to think myself healthy and I've set my goals as just that and besides 2 jeans sizes smaller won't hurt me.

Blogging and sharing and tweeting is wonderful therapy for me. As soon as I put something out there, there is no hiding from it any more, denying it's happening. there's been too much of that despite me being an 'open' person. Always putting a positive spin on things, using humour hasn't actually helped, it just delayed this moment, put off asking for assistance, not wanting people to think I was a failure.

Because I'm NOT a failure, I'm a success. I've done it, I've emigrated, I've integrated, I've achieved far more than I ever thought I was capable of and now I'm there, now I've reached that point, it's time to say 'I need some help in understanding it all, medication to get me through while I unjumble and off load my mind'

I'm depressed, I asked for help, I'm taking the meds, I'm proud of how far I've come and look forward to the next set of challenges, but this time I know I NEED to ask for help along the way and not lie and say I'm fine.

Friday 10 August 2012

The real cost of volunteering

I'm not glad or relieved, but grateful the matter was taken out of my hands.

I didn't get a volunteers role at the London Olympics.

I had pinned alot on going back to the UK to give my time freely as a volunteer, after all it's a once in a lifetime experience, OK, so I won a competition to go to Barcelona Olympics in 1992, so I guess I'd used my quota of good, but still.

When I registered as a volunteer I had no idea I would be moving to South Africa by the end of the year, but we put some major life changing plans on hold and some serious money aside for me to have this chance.

I've always volunteered, at primary schools, football clubs, cubs, sea cadets for fundraising, school fetes, donated items and with that I've also given not only my time freely but my money.

It's not free as a volunteer, costs involved range from phone calls, stamps, fuel to printing. You may choose to donate unwanted items or exchange birthday gifts as donations for fetes and raffles, but, as I've discovered recently it all mounts up.

When do you stop putting the odd extra item in your supermarket trolley for the Santa Shoebox, donating winter clothing and blankets to organisations/individuals and buying things you can't really afford to help make people's lives better?

There are 2 organisations I've been involved with since I arrived in South Africa. The Santa Shoebox appeal and KWO I give my time freely, I give the facilities I have available such as my printer, sewing machine etc, but then I give my printing ink, cost of materials etc and I've reached a stage where this week I've been working almost full time for them raising awareness, fundraising (still waiting to hear back) and purchasing items needed to enable me to do this. I can't work here in South Africa and I need to build by CV ready for our eventual return to the UK, but more than that I need to feel valued and to give something back. But I can't work full time for no pay and then spend money that I don't earn trying to do just that little bit more to help out. I'll burn out, I'll run out of resourses and I could end up feeling resentful.

So all in all it's not such a bad thing that I missed out on the Olympics, this country needs volunteers more than alot of others. So in hindsight the money I would've spent flying back to the UK to be a part of something huge, has been better spent here, actually changing the lives of others. And I know that come the celebration days with @santashoebox when we hand out the gifts we've collected and see the smiles on the children's facces, that this is where I belong, not with large cooperates, making money off the Olympics. But from now on the extra time I spent shopping for items I can't really afford will be spent tackling those organisations that can and ask them to share some of their profits back among those in genuine need.

If you can help in anyway please leave a comment on my blog or tweet me @chickenruby or at the very least click on the two organisations addresses to find out more about what they do and help to raise awareness @santashoebox @kwo_org

Wednesday 8 August 2012

When do we stop being expats?

I guess the answer to that is when we move back to the UK. But why are we called expats?

We've been in South Africa now 19 months, the kids are in school, hubby has been with the company for nearly 27 years and is paid in local currency.

We have friends, belong to clubs, give strangers directions when stopped and asked. Holiday within South Africa. Know where to shop, eat out, the places to go, the safest routes to travel and we understand how things work here, but we are still expats.

I suppose it's similar to moving within your home country, unless you were born in that town you're never made to feel like a local. But we don't feel like outcasts here, don't feel as if we don't belong. There are still language barriers to overcome, but then we did live in the Forest of Dean and never really got to grips with the local dialect there.

In the UK when asked 'where are you from?' I'd reply 'born in Wales, lived all over England (Leicester, Yorkshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Nottingham, Worcestershire) and now live in Malvern'

When people here ask 'where are you from?' they mean 'where were you born?' when they ask 'where do you stay?' they mean where you physically live now.
I always reply 'I live in Centurion, orginally from the UK' I don't bother saying Wales as 1. not that many people here know where I mean and 2. I no longer have the accent, it just confuses things.

South Africa is home now. At least until the end of this year, fingers crossed we hear soon about the renewal of our visas till January 2016 and then we'll have to apply for residency. But who knows? we may move again by then, but for today and tomorrow this is home and that's why I don't feel like an expat....I consider myself a local.

Saturday 4 August 2012

How do you move on when there are issues still to be resolved?

Last week I was told it was time for me to move on.
Who told me this and why?
HR at hubbies company.
Apparently I've been here 18 months and I need to let things drop and move on and that I should be used to things here by now and why don't I just google like everyone else does when they need things doing?

Well that's what I have been doing since the very day we arrived in South Africa. So why am I still complaining?

Many of you will know that from my blogs and tweets that despite promising to do stuff, hubbies company have failed and let us down big time. Yes, I've got on with things at either considerable expense, time or emotionally and we have moved 3 times in the past 18 months and received no help whatsoever with anything.

OK again, big deal you say, but the difference is there is a contract stating what help they will provide, it was agreed as part of the relocation package and sorry if I'm speaking out of turn, but I thought a signed contract was legally binding.

So why have we moved 3 times?
We started off in tempory accomodation, it was ideal, a 6 week lease and the promise of assistance to find a more permenant property. So trusting we would get the help, I got on with trying to open bank accounts, get a SIM card, buy a car, settle the kids into school, but all was impossible as I only had a visitor visa and no proof of residency as the apartment was in the company name and trust me I really had to scream and shout to get anything done.

Two weeks prior to us needing to leave the apartment there had been no sign of finding other accomodation. The owner arrived with the new tenants to show them around and the company hadn't requested to extend the lease or find us anywhere else to live. By this time after failing to get a mobile phone on contract I had obatained a PAYG SIM card after asking a stranger to buy and register the card for me and used a very old UK phone which had poor battery life and no internet connection.
I thought I'd visit the estate agents in the mall to discover that's not how things work here. I needed to find the agents name from one of their bill boards and call them. Emmmm bill boards inside security estates and without an invitation, no entry.
So I got in the car and drove to hubbies office, saw HR and said 'we have 2 weeks to find somewhere to live, I need to view some properties'. She dug deep in her bag and produced a battered leaflet, circled a name and walked off, using the office phone I called a few and was told that nothing was available with such short notice. Then I found an agent who showed me a couple, another agent failed to turn up at one address. Then I found a property available on the date we needed it, the rent was higher than the allowance but we had to move and and that point I was still being misled about obtaining a work visa, so thought we'd be out of pocket for a while but that it would be ok when I found a job.

So add to this we'd had no medical aid when we arrived, it was in the contract, we'd requested it and were out of pocket by 1000's of pounds after eldest child was rushed to hospital on day 8, neither had anyone thought of giving us any info on how and where to find doctors, dentists or even where the nearest hospital was. Our car loan has to re paid within 2 years, visa regulations and the borrowing costs were 14%, this was where the HSBC had let us down with misinformation.

So moving forward to December 2011, we had to move, we simply couldn't afford it, so after all the hassle we'd had the company employed an agency to assist with a new move as they wouldn't up the rental allowance to cover our costs.

What a waste of time that was. We were shown 2 properties end of January 2012 and nothing else.

So last week I find myself back in the office, with the new HR, listening to excuses as to how she wasn't in post back then and what did I want? Bear in mind I was only there having sucessfully found new tenants for our old property, found a new house to rent, contacted and supervised removal firms and cleaners, negoiated the contract with the owner, transferred all the utilities. All at the same time as sorting out issues with youngest child afer discovering the company hadn't forwarded all the SEN info we'd provided them with, paid a fortune to have him reassesed. Arranged a reader and a scribe for his exams, at our expense after discovering the company had emailed the school to inform them we were only in the country for 2 years, so they'd not really bothered with him being Dyslexic and having dysgraphia.
And then to top it all off, the agency had invoiced the company for all the work I'd done, claiming it as their own, in regards to the move, some several thousand pounds. Dealt with an emergency trip back to the UK after my father had a heart attack and renewed our visa application.

So what was my point? What did I want?

An apology, an reply to my emails when I said I didn't know what to do and where to do it.

Whay did I get?

I got told it was time for me to move on and if I wanted an apology she could request one.