I have always lived with dogs. Farm dogs when I was growing up. My first puppy when I was 12 – a black Labrador cross called Pip, whose ear I marked with a bit of red nail varnish when I chose her from a litter of identical puppies. Pip was a very uncomplicated animal, sweet-natured and eager to please.

My first as an adult was, and still is, Wolfie (right). I got her as a seven-week-old puppy, instead of a third child. Chris knows how to drive a bargain. The Wolfer was, and still is, a dream dog so I was secretly a little nervous about welcoming another pup into our home. How could they ever live up to Wolfie? Would they chew our shoes and bark all night? Happily, we have lucked out yet again.

Araminta Brightingale aka Minty aka The Mintus aka Oodleberry is everything that a puppy should be. Cheeky, mischievous, full of energy, bright and eager to learn. This is India’s puppy so she is taking a lead in training. But I get to dogsit during school-time and everyone in the family is smitten.

What makes Minty even more special is that she was abandoned with her seven brothers and sisters at the local dog refuge so we have no idea what her mum and dad look like. A wonderful foster mum raised them for the first months of their little lives and all eight Blonde Bombshells were adopted immediately. We were incredibly lucky to get this one – the smallest of the litter but only in size.

As Charlie Brown once said, life is definitely better with a dog. And although a dog is for life, not just for Christmas, it’s jolly nice when both happen at the same time. Merry festivities everyone 🙂

After weeks of constant headaches and chronic fatigue that started at the beginning of September, I made an important decision. To say ‘yes’ to any of my friends and students who offered to help me. This was not as easy as it should have been as I find it much easier to give than to receive…

But I am surrounded by people with hearts full of love and hands full of energy, so I decided to let them in. Prior to life with Lyme, I have never felt in need of ‘healing’ so although I have heard a lot about different energy treatments, I have never actually experienced them.

Despite this, I know they work. The whole universe is made of energy. I feel it all the time, especially when I do and teach yoga. And as with any treatment, the most important thing is faith. I have that, in buckets.

The first treatment I had is called Access Bars. I lay down for over an hour while my friend applied gentle pressure to different points on my head. I experienced it as a long meditation journey, seeing vivid images and colours. After the treatment, I felt like I’d been steamrollered.

The second treatment was PBA (Psycho-Bio-Acupressure). I lay down for an hour while my friend made a circuit of five acupressure points to clear energy blocks. I felt curious during the treatment as I didn’t know what was going on. But immediately afterwards, I started feeling better (and still do).

The third treatment was Reiki, with a friend who had already invited me to an energy healing circle in a chapel. In the chapel, I lay down for a guided meditation, with a drop of myrrh on my forehead. I had almost felt too ill to go but during and afterwards I felt wonderfully relaxed and more comfortable. For the reiki session yesterday, I lay down for just 40 minutes while my friend used her hands to move energy through me. It was lovely and very profound. I felt something being pulled out of me, leaving space for light.

Who knows how this stuff works? Who knows if it really works at all? How do I know these treatments didn’t just coincide with the end of an episode and that’s why I feel better? Personally, I don’t need to know. I am happy to admit there are things we don’t know, to plant a mystery flag, to stop thinking with my brain and start feeling with my heart. And you know what, I feel great. Thank you, my lovely friends.

I watched the Jesy Nelson documentary ‘Odd One Out’ the other day. I was lying in bed for the second day in a row, cradling my Chronic Lyme Disease, feeling horrible and utterly sorry for myself. But by the end of the documentary (which is definitely worth watching on iPlayer) something had shifted. I found my mind, which does not function like my normal Happy Kate self when I’m having an episode, suddenly focused on something I needed to do. I had to write a blog about bullying.

Imagine winning the X-Factor as part of a four-teenage-girl group, put together for the show. And the day you win, waking up to find hundreds of horrible comments all over social media, calling you “the ugly one”, “the fat whale”. Cyber bullies almost broke Jesy but this brave girl, despite admitting to changing her appearance to try to please the haters, hung on in there and has found both success and happiness.

I grew up hearing ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ but that is bollocks. That’s just a mantra we teach to kids who are being bullied in the hope that it will protect them from damage. Because words are weapons that can break something much more serious than your body. Words can break your spirit and severely affect your mental health. So instead of teaching kids lame sayings that aren’t even true, we should be teaching them about the devastating power of words and how to use them.

When my children were small, I wanted to be a really good role model for them – my best me, if you like. So I started becoming aware of every word that came out of my mouth. Now, I like a good laugh and found that I would often say unkind things about myself or others to raise a giggle. I may even have made a ‘funny’ comment about Jesy Nelson. So I started a new practice. First, I noticed every time I said something negative. And stopped. Then, I started to notice every time I thought something negative. And stopped.

It didn’t happen overnight – in fact, it probably took around seven years all told – but gradually I trained my brain out of negative thinking. Now, I can see an unkind thought coming from a mile away and automatically send in the peacekeepers before it takes hold. Lyme disease can cause neurological problems and depression and although I did feel really down last weekend, I am absolutely sure that this practice is helping me cope with the constant pain, fatigue and mental instability. So what’s the magic ingredient? Kindness.

For me, kindness is the most important thing in the world and words have a big part to play. I often hear how people don’t like Facebook because of all the negativity. Well, I love Facebook. I do see negative posts pop up every now and then but I have a choice and I choose not to engage, as where attention goes, energy flows. The ridiculous comments about Greta Thunberg are just that and they don’t deserve any attention at all. It’s not that I ignore the difficult shit happening in the world but focusing on it and spreading it around isn’t going to help.

Negativity and criticism often come from feeling helpless but this is something that everyone can do. Start your own kindness practice, first becoming aware of everything you say or write, then what you think. And teach others to do the same. It could be the new pandemic.

Back to school on Monday for the kids, after a blissful ten weeks of summer. It started with a visit to family in the UK  – highlights were a Thai massage from heaven in Twickenham (enabled by Lou), India riding with Vicky for the first time, and woodland assault courses with Mum and Bruce.

The rest of August was intentionally pretty relaxed, my only work teaching pre-wedding yoga to a bride getting married at her new parents-in-law’s French house in the next village. It culminated in me marrying the happy couple before returning home to our annual shindig, a perfect weekend of fun and friends to round off an amazing summer.

The best thing about life here is that instead of feeling sad the summer is over, we are all looking forward to shifting into September. After a hectic few months of parties, pilgrims, campers and visitors galore, it is always a welcome change. And only six weeks until the next school holidays. Happy Rentrée everyone.

We did it. We survived crazy July. And what’s more, we all enjoyed it! I did wonder, what with my treatment for Lyme’s Disease that meant I couldn’t go in the sun, working full-time, having a French student to stay for two weeks to learn English, workaways leaving and arriving, teenage girls in our tent, Granny Lulu staying for a week, and the usual pilgrims and campers. Oh, and three triple-party weekends in a row…

Honestly, it could have been a complete nightmare. But I’m living ‘au jour le jour’ at the moment so I didn’t even let myself worry. And unbelievably, the combination of people and personalities meant the two weeks passed in a haze of fun. A massive player was the Pond of Huw and the people who inhabit it. An oasis of natural beauty where the kids swim all night and I usually hog the best swingseat in the world.

Then there were the fêtes – Lahitte village fête, Montaner medieval festival and the incredible Lahitte Retrovintage day. Add to that a couple of private parties, a day at the water park, an afternoon canoeing down the Adour, a trip to the Chateau Fort in Lourdes, a very rowdy DJ night, a picnic by the river complete with bridge jumping and a Shakespeare reading and you have our July so far. Not everyone’s cup of tea but Granny Lulu loved it. And everybody loved her.

Our workaways, Jaime from the UK and Jacopo from Italy, were just perfect. Our French student, Alex, was my favourite student ever. 17 and with a good level of English, he got on brilliantly with everyone and was a joy to teach. And Tilly and Isabella… what can we say? You brought laughter, crazy dancing and general hilarity to Happy Coulson. Can’t wait to see the rest of your family in August for more of the same. What a month. But I have to admit it was lovely when there was no one here but me, floating in the pool on a giant watermelon. Off to the UK on Thursday with the kids for 10 days seeing family, then back for a chilled August. Bring it on.

Ok, so I have Lyme’s Disease.  After months of malfunctioning knees, headaches and fatigue, the mystery has been solved. How I got it, however, remains an enigma as I haven’t seen a tick or bite on me for years…

I found out last Monday after a wonderful week in the UK doing a yoga teacher training with a favourite teacher and catching up with lovely friends. Trips like this are one of my greatest pleasures but this time I didn’t even want to go. I was tired, sore and didn’t want to have to face not being able to do the things I really love, like yoga and walking.

But in fact I could do both. Gently. The theme of the training was meeting your own needs, taking care of yourself, which fitted perfectly with what I have been both experiencing and teaching. One of the most important parts of the course for me was the daily meditation. I have been moving slowly towards a daily meditation practice, especially since my knees often make my usual personal yoga practice impossible. It is not easy but I am finding that sitting with what is going on inside is making a lot of sense.

I had a feeling I would come home to news as while I was in London I was unable to find out the results of my latest blood tests online. Turns out they had been sent to another lab to confirm the diagnosis. I hear my mouth saying a lot that it is good to have a diagnosis at last. And it is. And it isn’t. There is a lot going on inside my head – everyone has something different to say about the disease and there is so much unknown. But I have found a specialist in a mountain town just 40 minutes away. I am seeing Dr Médinsky next Tuesday, the day after we come back from Camp Disco, a family festival in Derbyshire organised and populated by dear friends. And I am meditating, sitting with whatever comes up. Tout va bien.

Wonderful first retreat in France with 14 of my lovely students at Santosha Yoga in Conilhac-de-la-Montagne. I have LOVED leading the two retreats in Morocco but it was such a treat to discover such an incredible place just three hours away. Not to mention the joy of teaching in just one language!

Before the retreat, I was a little worried that my knees would get in the way so I asked the Adourables Thérapeutes (a network of therapists from the Val d’Adour of which I’m a member) for their best suggestions. They advised me to do a fast. Just water. For six days. So I started the following day.

Not eating was easy as I had a very good reason not to. But I found the lack of energy tough going as I was still teaching full-time. I managed to get to the end but had to drink some vegetable juice during the last afternoon so I had enough energy to teach my evening class.  During and after the fast, my knees felt almost back to normal and my skin was radiant! I was able to thoroughly enjoy my retreat, especially the delicious vegan food that was the perfect follow-up. I even managed a two-hour walk with zero knee pain during or after.

What an incredible bunch of women. And Neil and Gillian were the perfect hosts. We had such an amazing time that I am already looking at dates for next year… Unfortunately, a few days after I got back my left knee had a funny turn, so I’m booked in for more tests and a trip to a Centre de Rheumatologie in Pau. But the sun is out, my mum has just been to visit, our vegetable garden is looking great, and we have a new workaway – the first 20-year-old I’ve met who knows how to put a pillowcase on properly. Happy days.

My story of self-care  so  far.  After two  months of sore knees and neck and general bleuch-ness I think I am getting better. I say ‘I think’ as it’s been up and down so I don’t want to get too excited. And it is very important that I don’t run before I can walk. Literally.

What I’m going through is small fry compared to what others are dealing with, but I’m hoping that everyone can learn from my mistakes. Being unable to walk or move properly has been challenging, not least because I am a yoga teacher. But also because, for me, most enjoyment involves movement.

Learning how to deal with things changing is part of growing older. Over the past few weeks, I have had to accept that, even at the tender age of 45, I can no longer do everything that I want to do, all of the time. I am learning that I need to listen to what my body is saying to me, thanks in no small part to my wise friend, Maryjane Claydon, who sent me the following message:

“Hello Kate” said body. “Hello body” said Kate. “I want to be your friend” said body. “You have to do what I say” said Kate. “OK I’ll try” said body. … “I’m not feeling too good today” said body. “I don’t care” said Kate “you have to do what I want”. “OK I’ll try” said body. “We’re going skiing” said Kate. “You’re joking?” said body. “You have to do what I say” said Kate. “OK I’ll try” said body “but I’m really not feeling too good”. “I’m in charge” said Kate. And body thought secretly to Herself “Enough is enough, I shall bring her to her knees. It is time for her to surrender to me. In you go headache, in you go stiff neck, off to her knees”. “Oh body!” said Kate “you are not doing want I want, I will prod you and look at you to find out why.” “Just listen” said body. “Surrender to me. I will guide you exactly but LISTEN TO ME. I have done my best to be your friend but you just keep pushing me right to the end. Now is the time, a moment to celebrate, to unite as a team now don’t be late! I’m in charge now as you can see with a Wisdom so wise just LISTEN TO ME. Can we be friends? Proper friends I mean, not a massage to relax your mind! Proper, proper friends where we actually talk and you tell me what you want, I tell you how I feel and you do actually LISTEN TO ME! All will be fine for a long, long time, just please give me a break from that demanding mind! I know you love to do, do, do and I do too. But I also just love to chill out! It is my turn now to be in charge and like it or not I can be large! And here now this poem-ish comes to an end. So please Kate, can we be friends?”

So I’m taking it easy – doing the minimum, sleeping lots, relaxing instead of racing around, letting other people do things for me. I’m trying various natural cures suggested by trusted friends and I’ve even been on a mini yoga retreat, just for me. And it’s working. We are feeling good, my body and me.

My knees hurt. I insisted on skiing while I had flu and the doctor thinks the virus went into my knees and caused viral arthritis. My lovely yoga students think differently. Several of them have pointed out that in French the word for knees is ‘genoux’ or ‘je’ (I) and ‘nous’ (us). And if we don’t look after ourselves then our knees will remind us. Loudly.

Even before the holidays, I knew I was running on empty and I was really looking forward to spending a couple of days on my own in our mountain apartment while Tana was on his work experience placement at the local aquarium. But I only managed one day of relaxing. I used the other one to squeeze in a 20km cross-country skiing circuit. Before racing home to go to full-contact karate. Before a week of skiing every day from 9am until 5pm. And a 10km walk up a mountain to round it off.

I am really good at telling other people to look after themselves. In fact, I have made it my job. But for me to actually practice what I preach, my knees have to be virtually disabled. I was forced to spend a few days on the sofa, letting people help me, which I find acutely difficult. But I have an amazing family. My husband forbade me to do anything remotely active and I was bowled over by how proficient the children are at doing what I do. They even managed to clean my yoga rooms to my exacting standards!

I can walk again now but I have stopped taking the antiinflammatories and the pain and swelling is coming back. So I am forced to admit that this is just the tip of the iceberg and my ‘je/nous’ mean business. It is time for me to get serious about self-care and I have already booked two wonderful yoga breaks this year, just for me. Thank you, Chris. I have also signed up to a very scary journey of self-discovery, facing some old, deep scars that might just be at the root of all this. This blog is part of that journey. Let’s do this.

I have been finding time to connect with new friends, especially women, which is unusual for me. I have never been someone who needed or wanted close female friends. I was always happier with the boys while growing up and as I met my boy-for-life when I was 19, my friendship needs were met.

Recently, though, I have really been enjoying female company. Maybe it’s because I am approaching the menopause and I want to go in blazing, with a strong sisterhood around me. Maybe it’s that my kids need me less now, and I enjoy spending time with others who are going through the same thing.

Whatever the reason, I have found, and continue to find, in France and the UK, a bunch of incredible women. I look forward to spending more time with them as the years pass – we’ll be the Women Behaving Badly 😉

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