Hidradenitis Suppurativa – Is there a link between the disease and your diet?

Since I hit puberty, I have been plagued with Hidradenitis Suppurativa, ‘a painful, long-term skin disease that causes abscesses and scarring on the skin – usually around the groin, buttocks, breasts and armpits.’[1] I only found out the name of my condition when I was around seventeen years old, after years of being given different antibiotics from GP and seeing numerous dermatologists. As you can imagine, this disease brought me not only pain and suffering, but also the feeling of shame and embarrassment, and I had developed a profound hatred for my body. I couldn’t understand why some girls got to be beautiful and could enjoy running about and taking part in physical activities, while I had to be covered in ugly lumps and scars that would leak foul-smelling discharge if I attempted to try and work-out. In short, my HS affected my mind and my body; I recoiled into myself, thinking that it would be easier if I could just fade away and not be the centre of any attention. However, at the age of fourteen I met a boy, and I fell in love with him. He didn’t care about my HS – he thought I was beautiful. He often told me so, which made me feel great about myself. I felt comfortable in my own skin. But, as all modern fairy tales go, that t*** broke my heart in the summer after I left Sixth Form, and I again recoiled into myself.

It was in my first year of university that I first thought that I may be sensitive to gluten. I noticed that my stomach would make strange noises and bloat after I ate bread, pasta or Weetabix – basically any of my favourite food group, carbohydrates. For Lent that year, the girls I was living with decided that we should give up carbs. I thought this would be impossible, as it made up most of my diet. To make it a little easier, we decided that we could eat carbs on a Sunday – it is the day of rest, after all. It was a tricky few weeks, and the cravings were horrendous, but I did it! Not only did I feel great that I’d managed to change my diet for the better, but I also felt less bloated, and I hadn’t had a HS flare-up during the month! I was feeling on top of the world…but, being a student who loved her cheap Lidl beer..it wasn’t going to last.

I ended up going to see my new GP in my new city, who conveniently had an interest in HS – I was in awe that I had finally found a doctor who knew more about my disease than just the basics that anyone can find off the NHS website! He took a look at my armpits, and told me that he thought it would be a good idea for me to try surgical excision of the area, as I had various scars in one area. I agreed, and a few weeks later I went back to see him for my minor surgery. It took around half an hour to three quarters of an hour, and besides the sharp sting I felt from the local anaesthetic,  the procedure was pain free. A week later I returned to the surgery to get my stitches removed, and a few months later my wound was completely healed, and a long reddish-pink scar was all that was left. I had no further problems with that arm, which made me decide to have my other armpit done. I was HS free in both my underarms..until I decided to go on holiday to Germany in the summer of my second year of university.

If anyone tells you that German weather is the same as British weather – THEY’RE LYING. My friend was on an internship in Germany, hence why myself and two of my other friends decided to go out there, so luckily I had a heads up that the weather was going to be hot and humid. I packed appropriate clothes, and I was excited to be getting away from the rain at last! We had limited time in Germany, so we had to fit in a lot of travelling and walking into the days we could, not allowing the weather to control us. Unfortunately, on the second day of my holiday I felt the all-too-familiar dull ache in my armpit which historically announced an oncoming HS episode. Naturally, I was devastated. After several months of being pain free in one armpit, and around a year and a half free in the other, I was not prepared for my old feelings of anger, annoyance and misery to come flooding back to me during my longed-for holiday with the girls. I didn’t have any of my usual supplies with me either, such as my Tegaderm, Iodine pads or turmeric capsules. I had no choice but to carry on. The girls know about my HS, as one of them has a mild stage 1 case of the disease, so they were kind enough to let me walk a little slower when the pain got a little too unbearable, especially after my HS started to flare-up in my groin area too. However, despite this setback, I had a good holiday regardless.

I started to research HS online after my holiday, hoping that there had been some new breakthrough since I’d last looked. After a while of searching the internet aimlessly, I came across various articles that claimed that diet was the key to getting the horrendous HS to go into remission. Firstly, I found evidence supporting the idea that the Paleo Diet was the answer, as HS was an autoimmune disease, thus indicating that eating the ‘caveman diet’ resets your body and alleviates the symptoms.[2]  Another theory was that ‘nightshade foods’ were responsible for HS, such as peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.[3] Thus, after some thought, I have decided to take up the challenge and go not only Paelo, but also nightshade free.

I know what you’re thinking. Paelo and nightshade free?! What am I going to eat, right? Well, the way I see it is this – if I want to be pain free and happy, I’m going to have to suck it up. After all, my mother always told me that if you eat a food you dislike ten times, you’ll like it (if there’s any truth in her wisdom, I am yet to discover it..).  So, if you’re a fellow HS sufferer like me, or if you’re just interested, please check back here in a few weeks time. I’ve decided to eliminate all nightshades from my diet from the off (thankfully I don’t start back at work until mid-August, so the lack of caffeine won’t be too bad for the time being!) and then I’ll start to reintroduce foods after 30 days. I am sick to death of being a prisoner in my own body, so I think it’s time that I take control of my life and be happy again.

I’ll keep you all updated! If you want to try the Paleo diet too, but feel like it’s too difficult, just ask yourself – what do you want more, that pizza, or a healthy, pain-free body? I’ll let you all know what type of meals I’ve been eating too, you never know – it might just tempt you to join me!

Good luck!

HollisAL.

[1] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hidradenitis-suppurativa/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[2] http://thepaleodiet.com/part-i-hidradenitis-suppurativa-and-the-paleo-diet/

[3] http://www.curehidradenitis.com/hidradenitis-diet/

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Brussels – the perfectly imperfect paradox

On Sunday, July 19th 2015, I was sat with my friends in the square of Grand Place, Brussels. Here is what I jotted down in my journal..

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Calm, quiet – yet alive and loud. The atmosphere is pure. Sat in the square of the Grand Place, myself on my suitcase, and my two friends on the floor – all three of us are in awe of it all.

The air still holds the heat of the day, yet the cool breeze is winding through this cobbled haven. The various buildings stand guard around us, protecting us, the gold exteriors illuminated and magnificent. There are two policemen stood near the town hall, almost invisible in the scene, keeping a watchful eye.

I’ve lost count how many languages I’ve heard here; French, Dutch, Spanish, German, Russian…it’s clear that the love for this city is contagious, and cannot be contained by a border. There are countless people sat around, fully engrossed in their own worlds, all away from here, but all completely at home at the same time.

No one is too drunk, no one is too high. No one is causing trouble. It’s how a city should be; a relaxing hub for the young, the old, the wide-awake, the tired, the ignorant, the interested – Brussels is the perfectly imperfect paradox.

And so I got a Tinder account…

Tinder – that app that’s all the rage nowadays with young people. Swipe left, swipe right, the choice is up to you. I personally saw it as a cheat card in the dating world..but my oh my..how it changed my life. I wrote this on May 18th, several weeks back now, and I now feel like I can share it with you all…

Isn’t it crazy how meeting another person can change your life instantly? In reality, nothing really changes; you stick to your same routine of disgruntled wake-up’s, being forced to go for a jog, revision, lunch etc…accept you add in a facebook message to them here, or a random thought there – and it feels like your whole world is changing. You sit there with your morning coffee, listening to your housemates bicker about who’s turn it is to take the bins out, and then suddenly you’re thinking of him. Then you smile like a girl with a teenage crush and go about your day as normal. When he sends you a message you grin and almost tear your phone to pieces so you can see his kind words faster. When you decide it’s time to go to sleep is the worst. A tidal wave of longing rushes over you. With your head on your pillow you contemplate your future with him, if you have a future with him, and hope with everything inside of you that he isn’t Mr. Liar, Mr. Cheater, Mr. Lazy, Mr. Coward or Mr. One-Night-Stand. You pine for him, despite only having spent a handful of hours in his company, the memory of the red wine you drank that night at the front of your mind. Yet, you’ve already clicked together. You are the first two pieces of a thousand-piece jigsaw, eager to find the other missing pieces. Trying to estimate the speed of the process scares you, making you convince yourself that you should just jump off the ride in fear of the impending doom to come; the argument, the inability to reconcile, the throwing around of accusations and insults, the slamming of the door, the parting of a major part of your life. But, occasionally, you’ll find someone who you look at and you just think ‘this is worth a shot’. His eyes are too kind to lie to you, his words soft and unable to cut in deep, his overall nature so new and unique. Three weeks ago I didn’t know this man. But now..he’s all I can think about. It’s time to risk it all in the hope of getting it all. That’s life. Here’s to a future of happiness and no regrets.

Writing a Novel is Not Like Running a Business

The Incompetent Writer

Paul Graham is one of the founders of Y Combinator, a very successful incubators of tech startups. He has funded and instructed companies like Dropbox, Airbnb, and reddit, amongst others.

The other day, I started reading Graham’s many essays about business and technology, and I was struck by one point he made, in “Startup = Growth.” There, he argues that a startup is not like a normal business.

Let’s start with a distinction that should be obvious but is often overlooked: not every newly founded company is a startup. Millions of companies are started every year in the US. Only a tiny fraction are startups. Most are service businesses—restaurants, barbershops, plumbers, and so on. These are not startups, except in a few unusual cases. A barbershop isn’t designed to grow fast. Whereas a search engine, for example, is.

When I say startups are designed to grow fast, I mean it in two…

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How To Become An Adult: There Are No Set Rules For Life

It’s crazy that I don’t have enough fingers to count how many people from my year group in secondary school are now pregnant and/or engaged. I honestly don’t understand how all this is happening. Less than two years ago I remember sitting in my sixth form study room rolling my eyes at one girl for bragging about how drunk she got one night, and how she couldn’t wait to go to Maga in the summer. She’s now a mother (a great one at that) and is totally mature, handling her shit as well as a thirty-something year old who’s been in a stable marriage and a stable job for a decade. Me on the other hand…here I am in my pyjamas, fretting over essay deadlines, trying to decide whether or not I want to go out clubbing for the second time this week, and eating my Tesco Everyday Value dinner out of the saucepan I cooked it in. Did choosing to go to university mess up my personal maturing process? Throughout school and sixth form I was told to go to university to get a good education, so I could have a good job and have an all-round successful life. Yet it seems that I’m lagging behind in life, concentrating on insignificant details and wasting cash on getting wasted. It’s as if I’m taking the long way around becoming an adult. In my eyes I’m not wasting my life – hell, I’ve got plans upon plans upon plans! I’ve recently started pricing up my summer trip to Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, Poland – I’ll see you soon!), and realised that I might actually need to call up my boss to fund the aforementioned trip, and I’ve got my exam dates penned in on my calendar…but despite all these plans, my life is in fact stagnant. On pause. Hindered. But that doesn’t mean that I’m failing in life. These three years at university are in fact an opportunity to mess up, plan epic trips, drink too much, make new friends and not give a crap about the future. Sure, it would be unwise to not contemplate it in the slightest, but to compare myself to these ‘established’ girls I once knew is just as unwise. They’re probably thinking the same thing, only in the backwards format! I bet they struggle with the nappy changing, the wedding plans, the responsibility and so on – and that’s just life for you! The process of becoming an adult is different for everyone, and that is okay. There is no tried-and-tested path that everyone agrees on, no matter how hard you look for one. The only wrong path is to mope around and wait for everything to fall into place. Whether you’re pregnant, engaged, a university student, middle aged…you just have to make the most of your current situation. Go out, make plans, enjoy other peoples’ company, have a laugh…what are you waiting for?

I Wish I Was Uncomfortably Numb

It’s been 17 months since he and I broke up. Enough time to birth two babies, to complete half a degree, enough time to do a lot of complicated, lengthy things. Yet, when he replied to my drunken ‘Merry Christmas’ message, and when my sister mentioned his name..I froze. It was a flight or fight situation. All that made sense to me in that moment was my natural gut feeling – to flee.  I wanted to run, shut out the real world and to get away from the haunting memories of what was. But that’s life. I was in a relationship with him – one filled with happiness, security and overpowering problems. The main difference between me and him in the end was that he had the guts to end it. He had the guts to let go of my hand and accept that our relationship was breaking down. Of course, it hurt me. The realisation that I had to step out of his shadow and stand on my own two feet ripped out my heart and scared me half to death. The realisation that nothing is ever as simple as ‘I promise’. But, despite all the tears and all of the empty whiskey bottles, I’m glad he did it. By leaving me, he freed us both. We’ve both gone on to be able to express ourselves and live for ourselves, without having to constantly consider the other. He may have been my murderer, but he’s also my saviour. In breaking my heart, he gave me the ability to live for myself, to love myself again, to have adventures of my own. Yet, despite this realisation, and the supposedly-rational idea in my head that I’m over him, and that I do not need him in my life…I can’t eliminate the fear I now feel towards him. He may have given me the antidote to the poison, but he will always be the one who committed the original carnage which killed me for a time. They say it takes 17 months and 26 days to get over someone. That may be true. But my love for him has turned into fear. The fear that one day I will return to the crumpled shell of a person I became after first losing him. I refuse to ever return to that pathetic state of existence. I do not wish that state upon anyone.