Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Funky Monkeys

Seraphina has just emailed a link to her blog don’t forget the monkey. If you’re a monkey fan (who isn’t?) you will love it.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Nailed On

Just because I seem to spend most of my time larking around with cancer specialists in Harley Street don’t mistake me for bone idle. Today, after a consultation with my psychiatrist (depression improving, he says) I did the rounds of the beauty shops. Enthusiasm for my work carried me away – I ended up buying a foundation, a lip gloss, some henna and a bottle of nail polish.

Now I shall have to spend hours and hours testing and researching these goodies on your behalf. As my old mate Lao Tzu always says: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I’ll start with the nail polish.

I have written previously about the ‘big 3’ toxic chemicals in nail polish: Toluene; Formaldehyde and Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP). Thanks in part to the EU banning DBP along with a lot of public pressure in the USA, many cosmetics companies have now reformulated their nail polishes to be ‘3 free’.

My all-time favourite nail polish is a startling shade of neon pink by Essie. I threw the box away long ago so I have no idea what is in it. I search for it on the Cosmetics Database. The following formulation is listed:

Butyl Acetate, Toluene, Nitrocellulose, Ethyl Acetate, Tosylamide/Formaldehyde Resin, Dibutyl Phthalate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Camphor, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Benzophenone 1, May Contain: Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), D&C Red 6 Barium Lake (CI 15850), FD&C Yellow 5 Aluminum Lake (CI 19140), D&C Red 7 Calcium Lake (CI 15850:1), Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide (CI 77510), Red Iron Oxide (CI 77491), Black Iron Oxide (CI 77499), Bismuth Oxychloride (CI 77163), D&C Red 34 Calcium Lake (CI 15880:1), Violet 2 (CI 75150), Aluminum Powder (CI 77000), Guanine (CI 75150), Blue 1 (CI 422090), Red 33 (CI 17200), Red 30 (CI 73360), Ultramarines (CI 77007), Polyethylene Teraphthalate, Mica

Now this raises a question in my mind. As far as I know Dibutyl Phthalate has been banned in cosmetics in the EU for some time. I bought the nail polish at Selfridges last year so I think I can safely assume that the ingredient listing on the Cosmetics Database is either USA specific or simply out of date.

Essie don’t seem to make my beloved lurid pink colour anymore. I email them and quick as a flash the answer comes back:

Essie Punchy Pink nail polish

May contain: CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide), CI 15880 (D&C Red 6 Barium Lake), CI 15880 (D&C Red 7 Calcium Lake), CI 19140 (D&C Red 34 Calcium Lake), CI 19140 (FD&C Yellow 5 Aluminium Lake), CI 77510 (Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide), Polyester-3, CI 77491 (Red Iron Oxide), CI 45380 (D&C Red 21), CI 45410 (D&C Red 28)

So the formulation has been vastly improved, although it still contains the suspected carcinogens Ethyl Acetate, Isopropyl Alcohol and Camphor as well as Benzophenone 1 a suspected endocrine disruptor. In addition, there is absolutely no data on Phthalic Anhydride/Trimellitic Anhydride/Glycols Co-polymer, meaning that its safety for cosmetic use has not been assessed by anyone at all.

Q: What do I deduce from all of this?
A (1): That nail varnishes can be and have been made a lot less toxic than they used to be – so what the hell took them so long to do it?
A (2): That I have lots of bottles of nail varnish hanging around in my bathroom and no idea how long they’ve been there, in which country I bought them or what is in them.

(1) Campaigning can produce positive change. 
(2) Chuck out any old nail polish – better safe than sorry.

Phew. Now, on to my review.

Priti 631 Kingfisher Daisy. Priti claims to be luxury and eco-friendly nail polish... completely non-toxic and made without toluene, dibutyl phthalate and formaldehyde...” It goes on quite thinly and dries but dries quickly so I am able to apply more coats without endless hanging around. After three coats the colour coverage is complete - yet completely matte. To be fair, all of that is also true of the Essie Punchy Pink.

I reach for my trusty old bottle of Bloom Crystal Clear and apply a final coat of gloss (ingredients: unknown, age: unknown, country of origin: unknown). Obviously this defeats the object of the whole exercise but my nails now look lustrously gorgeous.

Priti 631 Kingfisher Daisy.

ALL COLORS HAVE BEEN FDA APPROVED. MAY CONTAIN: D&C Red #6 Barium Lake. D&C Red #7 Calcium Lake. D&C Red #34 Calcium Lake. FD&C Yellow #5 Aluminum Lake. D&C Yellow #10 Aluminum Lake. FD&C Blue #1. Aluminum Lake. Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide. Red Iron Oxide. Black Iron Oxide. Guanine. Bismuth Oxychloride. Mica. D&C Violet #2. D&C Red #17. D&C Red #33. D&C Yellow #11. FD&C Blue #1. FD&C Green #3. D&C Green #6. D&C Yellow #10. Polyethylene Terephthalate. Calcium Sodium Borosilicate (and) Tin Oxides. Silica (and) Aluminum Powder (and) Iron Oxides. Aluminum Powder

Ha. My new “eco-friendly... completely non-toxic” nail polish also contains Ethyl Acetate and Isopropyl Alcohol. There’s no Camphor or Benzophenone 1 but it does contain the mystery ingredient Phthalic Anhydride/Trimellitic Anhydride/Glycols Co-polymer as well as Adipic Acid/Fumaric Acid/Phthalic Acid/Tricyclodecane Dimethanol Copolymer, another substance that has not been assessed for safety in cosmetic use.

The truth is that nail polish is one of those products that can never be made totally ‘safe’. At least not if we want it to be colourful, shiny and long lasting. The alternative is to paint one’s nails with little Lily's watercolour set.

My resolve is to make the best of a bad job by seeking out the most un-toxic nail polishes I can find and then using them only once a month. The rest of the time I shall shine my nails up with mum’s lovely nail buffer.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Chemo Brain

Tessa called me yesterday. “Tess, I’m at the checkout in Sainsbury’s. Can I call you back in five minutes?” And then I didn’t remember to call her until just now. This is not an isolated incident. I wander into rooms and wonder what I’m doing there. I find laundry in the washing machine that has been mouldering for three days. Recently I discovered some money in a savings account that I had completely forgotten about. I have missed a few medical appointments too, which has proved costly.

I take some comfort from a study that was publicised on the BBC last year. One of the findings was that those with cancer at the study's start were 43% less likely to develop Alzheimer's than the cancer free.”

It seems likely to me that my forgetfulness could be attributed to a condition known as chemo brain. My friend Dawn has had chemotherapy too. As if to confirm my suspicion, she rings and tells me at length about how it takes her an age to get out of her house because of forgetting this and that. She also describes becoming overwhelmed by simple daily tasks and events. I can relate.

Forgetfulness and a feeling of being swamped can also be symptoms of depression, so who’s to say? Whatever is causing our brain fog, one thing is for sure – it’s real. The good news is that both chemo brain and reactive depression are temporary states of affairs.

On the Cancer Research UK website I read about the signs of chemo brain:

     Memory loss - forgetting things that you normally remember
     Difficulty thinking of the right word for a particular object
     Difficulty following the flow of a conversation
     Trouble concentrating or focusing on one thing
     Difficulty doing more than one thing at a time (multi tasking)
     More difficulty doing things you used to do easily, such as adding up in your head
     Fatigue (tiredness and lack of energy)
•   Mental fogginess

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

Since nobody knows what causes chemo brain, nobody knows how to cure it. Common sense tells me to take a fish oil supplement. I recall that Bertie Wooster would always command Jeeves to eat a can of sardines whenever they were faced with a particularly thorny dilemma. I sprinkle brewer’s yeast on my breakfast for vitamin B. I buy the Engevita yeast flakes by Marigold. They don’t taste horrible like the powder. The Cancer Research UK website also suggests taking aspirin. Aspirin seems to have numerous health benefits including reducing the risk of blood clots and strokes.* A recent study in the USA suggested that regularly taking aspirin may be associated with a reduction in breast cancer recurrence.

But really, drugs and supplements are unlikely to cure chemo brain. The best way to deal with it is to develop strategies for coping. Here, again, are suggestions from Cancer Research UK.

     Keep life simple
Hah. Fat chance!
•      Don’t try and do too many things at once
I make a cup of tea before I pick up the phone.
     Write lists about what you need to do, things you need to buy and where you left things
I never go to the shops without a shopping list. Even then I am liable to forget something. I try to be very methodical about where I put things, for example, I always hang my keys on a hook by the door.    
     Write people’s names down with a brief description to help you remember them
Seems impractical to me. I'd just lose the notes.
     Repeat things back to people, for example, repeat the names of people you meet for the first time
Always a good strategy in life.
     When arranging to meet someone or organising an event write the details down and repeat them back to someone
I write down everything in my diary. I mean everything. Not just appointments but also phone calls I need to make, what’s on tv, birthdays, household chores I need to do and bills to be paid.
     Talk to people somewhere quiet with few distractions
Impossible. I live in London.
•     Keep a calendar on your wall
I feel it’s better to just have one diary with everything in it. Otherwise there is room for slip-ups.
    Write yourself 'Post it' notes and stick them up where you can see them to remind you to do things
Maybe I will write a post-it note saying GET UP and stick it on my forehead before I go to bed.
     Eat healthily, exercise, and get plenty of rest - don’t get over tired
Good advice.
•      Keep your mind active doing crosswords, sudoku and puzzles
A few months ago I started obsessively doing number puzzles. Now I’m really good at Kakuro and Killer Sudoku but I still can’t figure out my mortgage.

I would add: if you are taking daily medication, use a marked pill box.

* Be aware that there are also risks associated with taking aspirin regularly.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Harley Street Style

It’s Friday and I’m back at the Harley Street Clinic, my home-from-home. I strip off and, before Mr Hadjiminas can say anything, I tackle the obvious controversy head on. “I’m not wearing the compression bra today. I’m fed up with it.”

“But I’ve brought this,” I add, brandishing the big stretchy bandage, “I thought maybe we can cut it in half and I can wear it just below my breasts.” 

I’m not asking. 

“No, that won’t work,” says Mr H, “the best thing would be to cut two holes in it.”

“What,” says Honoria, like something you’d get in a sex shop in Soho?”

“No. Well. Hmmm...” says Mr H, “...and bring us some photos when you’ve done it” He jabs a syringe full of steroid into my back.

Re-dressed I join the medics on the other side of the screen. “So, what’s next?” I ask. “Come back and see me in three or four weeks,” says Mr H. “Then I’m due back in November for another mammogram and stuff,” I say. “Yes that’s right,” he says. “Phhhht,” say I, expelling air through pursed lips. Then I feel bad, “It’s not that I don’t love you,” I hasten to explain. “I know,” says Mr H.

As I’m walking out the door Mr Hadjiminas calls me back. “Lily, if you need another one of those bandages let me know and I will get you one.” “What,” I say, “do you think I’m going to bugger it all up with the scissors? I did go to fashion college you know.”

F**k 'Em All

At the Highlever Road roundabout I swerve sharply to avoid running over the head of a man who is lying spread-eagled in the middle of the road, smoking a cigarette. 

Buddy, I know how you feel.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Flash a Lash

I have always suffered from panda eyes, a ghastly feminine affliction. Mascara rubs off onto my lower eye bags in great big black smudges. It must be something to do with the shape of my face. A few years ago I was overjoyed to discover a new type of mascara that coats the eyelashes with little ‘tubes’. I have no idea how it works but tubing mascara doesn’t come off except with the combination of both water and pressure. When those two things are applied together it simply slides off the lashes in little spidery black strands. So, for example, if you cry and then rub your eyes with a tissue... to tell the truth I have had quite a lot of spidery little black strands scattered over my cheeks this year.

Anyway, in keeping with Chemo Chic’s new policy of exposure de maquillage, I decided to find out what is in it.

Blinc Mascara - black

Many of the ingredients seem on the less harmful end of the scale, apart from triethanolamine and two of the dreaded parabens sisters: Methyl and Propyl.*

A study led by Dr Phillipa Darbre at the University of Reading found parabens in all of the samples of breast tumours tested. According to Dr Darbre: Their detection in human breast tumours is of concern since parabens have been shown to be able to mimic the action of the female hormone oestrogen and oestrogen can drive the growth of human breast tumours. It would therefore seem especially prudent to consider whether parabens should continue to be used in such a wide range of cosmetics applied to the breast area (including antiperspirants and deodorants).”

The Cosmetics Database gives Blinc mascara a hazard rating of 5 (out of 10). I should add that the Blinc website states that “Blinc does not penetrate your skin or your lashes, unlike most mascaras”.

I return to Being Content to check out alternatives. “Natural mascaras tend to be a bit dry,” says Imelda, “There isn’t a waterproof one but you can get water resistant. On the whole,” she adds, “alternative mascaras have not yet been perfected.”

The best of the bunch seems to be Oy! Volumising Mascara by Green People. It is soft and easy to apply. It gives good length and doesn’t clump. But, I am sorry to say, after a few hours wear the mascara has crept downward and pooled in two black smudges beneath my lower lids. Maybe panda eyes will one day become the hot look amongst informed fashionistas? Until then, I have heard that Margo Marrone at the Organic Pharmacy has spent five years developing Organic Glam mascara. When I get around to trying it out I will give you my report.

Oy! Volumising Mascara
Ingredients: Aqua (water), Cera alba (beeswax)*, Prunus amygdalus dulcis (sweet almond) oil*, Cera carnauba (carnauba wax)*, Stearic acid, Butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter*, Glycerin, Triticum vulgare (wheat) starch*, Glyceryl stearate, Glyceryl caprylate, Tocopherol, Helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, Xanthan gum, Potassium hydroxide, Benzyl alcohol, Dehydroacetic acid. May contain: CI 77891, CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499, CI 77007, CI 77288, CI 77289, CI 77742, CI 77510 (mineral pigments). *23.4% organic / 98.71% natural ingredients.

*p.s I feel that I should let you know that parabens can be added to your food too. E218 is methylparaben, E214 is ethylparaben and E216 is propylparaben. Butylparaben is not used in food, so no E-number is assigned to it.

p.p.s. Here are some more baby panda pics, because they're just so cute.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Rash Moments

The swelling in my back started to recur about two weeks ago. A few days ago I noticed a pinky-purple blotchiness on the side of my left breast. This morning it has spread to my whole breast.

“Good morning, Mr Hadjiminas’ office, Joy speaking.”

“Good morning Joy, this is Canalily.”

“Oh hello Lily. How are you?”

“I’m very well. Well no I’m not. I’m very worried...”

I sketch a livid picture of the sitch. “Oh my goodness,” says Joy, “I will speak to Mr Hadjiminas immediately.”

Fifteen minutes later Joy calls me back. “Mr H says to take your temperature and come to see him at one o’clock.”

I put the phone down. Now I have two-and-a-half hours to imagine the worst. To counter visions of having my breast and probably my whole left arm amputated I decide it might be helpful to do some googling. With thermometer clamped firmly in mouth I type in ‘muscle death after surgery’. Quick as a flash Wikipedia presents me with a page describing something called 'compartment syndrome' along with a picture of a grossly enlarged foot. The symptoms are as follows: pain; paraesthesia (pins and needles to you); pallor; paralysis and pulselessness. I can’t honestly say that I’m experiencing any of those and there is no mention of a rash either but, still, I could be coming down with a rare, hitherto undescribed form of compartment syndrome.

Or maybe it is something worse. I type in ‘necrotising fasciitis’ a horror I learned about on Holby City. Back at Wikipedia I try to avert my eyes from the revolting photographs of this flesh-eating disease. I learn that King Herod the great may have suffered from Founier gangrene – a necrotising fasciitis of the groin and genitals (no pictures on Wikipedia, thanks be). For a moment I wonder if Iris might know a spell for plaguing ex-boyfriends with Fournier gangrene (temporarily, of course). Symptoms of necrotising fasciitis: intense pain; swelling; diarrhoea and vomiting. I tick one out of four, although to be fair the swelling is in my back, not my breast and it predates the rash. Weighing it up I decide, with relief, that I have not developed necrotising fasciitis.

But then, at the bottom of the page there is a link. ‘See also: cellulitis’. I’m sure it’s not that. My breast is as smooth as a peach. I click on it anyway. Oh my Lord. This could be the one. Cellulitis, it turns out, is not the dreaded orange peel skin – that’s cellulite. Rather it is a ‘a diffuse inflammation of connective tissue with severe inflammation of dermal and subcutaneous layers of the skinAmongst the predisposing conditions recent surgery is listed. It is most common on the face or lower legs but may occur anywhere on the body. Wikipedia is not that clear on how to tell if one definitely has cellulitis. Apparently you have to see a doctor. Which, thank goodness, I am just about to do.

Behind the screen at the Harley Street Clinic nurse Honoria helps me to pull my clothes off. I look down at my chest in order to point out the scary discolouration. “It’s gone,” I exclaim.

Mr H pops his head round the screen. “It’s gone,” I repeat lamely, “but you should have seen it this morning. It was bright pink.” “Actually,” says Honoria, “I can see faintly where it was.” I shoot her a look of gratitude. Mr H gives it a poke with his finger. “It doesn’t change colour when I poke it,” he declares. That, it seems, is a good thing. “There is an unexplained rash that people get after they’ve had their lymph nodes removed,” says Mr Hadjiminas. “Nothing to worry about.”

Watch This

Before you buy another beauty product.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Mackerel Escabèche

Mackerel is full of health enhancing omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains selenium, vitamins B6, B12 and niacin. It is yummy and it’s cheap too. What’s not to love?

Best to use an anodised aluminium frying pan to cook this recipe. Boiling vinegar in a steel pan can give a metallic taste.

Get two nice fat mackerel. Fresh mackerel will have shiny skin and clear eyes, like the ones in this picture. They will be firm to touch and not smell fishy. Ask the fishmonger to fillet them for you.

Peel and thinly slice a carrot, a small white onion, two cloves of garlic and half a stick of celery or half a small bulb of fennel. Chop up a big handful of fresh green herbs: oregano is lovely; you could also use flat-leaf parsley, thyme or coriander.

Dry the mackerel fillets with a paper towel and then shake them in a paper bag with some plain flour, salt and pepper so that they’re lightly dusted, not caked, with flour.

Pour a good sploosh of organic cold-pressed olive oil into the frying pan and fry the mackerel fillets on both sides until they’re golden.

Put the mackerel fillets, skin side down, into a shallow dish that is just large enough for them to lie snugly side-by-side.

Pour another sploosh of olive oil into the pan and gently fry the carrots, onion, garlic and celery or fennel until they just begin to colour. Now pour in four tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar and four tablespoons of water. Add a pinch of salt, a few mills of pepper and a few crushed coriander seeds, if you have them. Chuck in the herbs. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are cooked (it won’t take long).

Pour the vegetables and liquid over the mackerel fillets.

This is delicious eaten warm with crunchy toast or keep it in the fridge and then take it on a picnic.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Help Needed

I need a smart (preferably smarter than me) and capable intern to help me with Chemo Chic, the book. The work is mostly typing up transcripts and doing online research. It is based in West London but quite a lot could be done from home. No £££ but I can provide travel fares and a healthy lunch. Your own laptop would be a definite plus.

This will be great experience working on a real book for publication.

If you’re interested please email me: 

Please include:

·    Your first and last name and your email address
·    Why you would like to intern on Chemo Chic
·    If you have a blog, the name and URL
  • Your work and education history
  • Something you’re really good at

Friday, 17 September 2010

Lions, Tigers and Bears. Oh My!

Sheldon has gone to the country for a few weeks – well Essex. It’s so remote down there that they don’t have mobile phone reception. No more 9 a.m. wake-up calls for Lily. Meanwhile, Wanda and Mr W have gone on holiday to Tanzania. How exotic.

My knowledge of Tanzania is limited but I imagine that it must be stuffed with zebras, hippopotami, alligators and lions. I’m thrilled when my iPhone ting-a-lings. It’s a text from Wanda. I pop it open in full expectation of seeing an exciting photo of Wanda cuddling a tiger cub or Mr W saving her from the jaws of a rhino.

Text from Wanda:
Canalily, get out of bed your life is waiting! Love from Wx in Tanzania.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Brush Your Teeth With Confidence

I recently began a forensic inspection of all the personal care products in my bathroom. At the time I was quite put out to discover the hazardous potential of the several different brands of toothpaste that were lying around.

The ingredients are seldom listed on the tube, or on the websites of the manufacturers. But it’s a safe bet to assume that one’s toothpaste may contain some or all of the following: sodium fluoride; triclosan; hydrogen peroxide; sodium hydroxide; polyethylene glycol; Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS); Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES); sodium saccharin and sodium monofluorophosphate.

Eeek. I mean, I put this stuff in my mouth two or three times a day!

My number 2 spectacles and I paid a visit to Portobello Wholefoods where we scanned the shelves. There were quite a few strong contenders but eventually I plumped for Weleda’s Salt Toothpaste, just because I find the idea intriguing.

I love it! It is very different from any other toothpaste I’ve ever tried. First of all, it is not white or blue but a kind of pink-amber colour. It tastes strongly of salt and even more strongly of peppermint oil. It reminds me slightly of those salty lemon drinks that one quaffs in India to stave off dehydration. Leaves a decidedly fresh, tingly feeling in the mouth.

Ingredients (from the Weleda website): Sodium Bicarbonate, Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Silica, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil, Prunus Spinosa Fruit Juice, Commiphora Myrrha Extract, Krameria Triandra Root Extract, Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut) Bark Extract, Arum Maculatum Root Extract**, Sodium Chloride, Cyanopsis Tetragonalba (Guar) Gum, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Alcohol, Esculin, Flavour (Aroma)*, Limonene*, Linalool*. *from natural essential oils ** In highly diluted Form/ Extremement Dilue

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Bribery and Corruption

“Lily? It’s Wanda. I’ve bought you some of that Jasmine tea that you love, as a present. But you can only have it if you get out of bed before ten o’clock.”

Monday, 6 September 2010


I apologise for my long absence. The difficulty I have been having is getting out of bed in the mornings. Left to my own devices I can sleep until lunchtime. I dread waking up and coming back to reality. My first waking thoughts are “How has my life gone so wrong?” followed closely by “What is going to go wrong next?”

Sheldon phones me at 9 a.m. every morning. “Lily, are you out of bed?” It’s a great help, not only because I sometimes actually get up but also because a quick conversation with a friend derails my negative train of thought.

Getting to sleep is equally problematic. To divert my attention from my own head I often listen to the radio. Last night, being Sunday, Radio 4 broadcast a quasi-spiritual-religious-philosophical programme called Something Understood. The topic was trust, or the lack of it. There was discussion of how, as a society, we have grown less trusting of one another. Yes, there are a lot of unscrupulous people out there and it is wise to take care. Only last week a friend of mine nearly fell victim to a rent deposit scam. But our own actions go a long way towards promoting this atmosphere of fear and suspicion. In our pursuit of a ‘me first’ life we seldom consider how our actions may be damaging those around us. Do we stop and think: is what I am about to do going to destroy another person’s trust? Yet trust is the cement that binds friends, families, couples, businesses and institutions together. Without it our society would disintegrate.

The presenter summarised: “Loss of trust is corrosive. It leads to despair.”

Anyway, this is all a long-winded way of explaining how I come to be teetering up the gangplank of a houseboat moored at Chelsea Reach on the river Thames. I have come to visit Suzanne Thomas, a highly recommended hypnotherapist and counsellor. I duck and enter her sanctum, minding not to hit my head on the ceiling. Once safely sitting down I tell Suzanne my story and the source of my despair. Having been so thoroughly let down, first by my body and then by the man I loved, I have lost trust in the world.

“This is not your fault Lily,” Suzanne reassures me, “You’ve experienced a huge shock and a terrible betrayal. Really cruel. Your ex-boyfriend sounds like a classic case of a man suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”

I have heard these very words from many different lips yet I still need to hear them again. And again.

Anxiety, Suzanne says, is living in the future, constantly obsessing about “What if...?” Depression, on the other hand, is living in the past. “If only...” To be healthy and happy, we can only operate in the present moment. What Eckhart Tolle calls the now.

But how do I do that? “Wiggle your toes,” says Suzanne. “When you’re anxious, trying to live in the future, or depressed, trying to live in the past, actually you’ve lost touch with your body. So wiggle your toes. It immediately drags you back into the present. Then notice all your senses one by one. See what you see, hear what you hear, touch what you touch, smell what you smell, taste what you taste. It will root you in the present. It’s a much less scary place to be. I can see that lamp. It’s orange with green bits. I can hear the traffic. I can feel my elbows resting on the cool arms of the chair, my hand holding this coffee cup. I can smell that the air is warm and fresh today. I can taste the coffee in my mouth.

“Another rule to remember,” says Suzanne, “is that the true opposite of fear is love. The two things are mutually exclusive. You can’t have love where there is fear and you can’t have fear where there is love. So surrounding yourself with as much love as possible is a very good idea. Some people are in the middle of a circle of loving friends and family. That is fantastic though it’s got its definite drawbacks as well. But for many of us that is not the case. You may be doing this more or less by yourself but that doesn’t mean that you can’t receive love equally.”

Suzanne’s exercise to bring love into your life.

Sit in a chair. Imagine drawing around you at arm’s length a golden circle. Trace around and around that golden circle. Know that this is no ordinary golden circle. It’s a golden circle of love and protection. You’re in the centre of it.
As you trace around and around you notice that, high above the centre of your golden circle is the source of whatever you think of as your higher power. From that point golden light is pouring down on you. You are bathed in love and protection.
As you trace around and around your golden circle you see that there is a stream of blue, travelling in a clockwise direction, just inside your golden circle. Going around like a stream. Make any adjustments to the colour or the speed until you’re happy with it. That blue is drawing strength to you.
You remain in your golden circle, with golden light pouring down on you. You notice that if you look a little wider around you, you can see for miles, to the horizon, all the way around.
From every point on the horizon, figures are approaching. People. Animals. Maybe too far away to recognise at first. But as they get closer you begin to see who they are. Friends, family, animals you may know or have known. And the more they come the more they come.
There are people here who you haven’t seen for years. People who may have died. People who you’ve had serious and deep relationships with, other people, maybe an old lady at a bus stop who you once had a chat with or your best friend at primary school. And the more they come, the more they come.
They’re forming a circle around you. Not too close but close enough. And that circle is added to and added to. Now you are in the centre of your golden circle. You don’t need to do a thing. Your heart receives love all by itself. And love flows back to them. There’s nothing you need to do. Just let that happen.
Once you do this exercise from time to time, you can start to recall it when you’re just chatting to people or waiting for the train. “Yes, I’m in my golden circle.” You can’t possibly feel stressed when you’re in it. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you’re always in your golden circle. And that’s wonderful. You can just enjoy it.