How I’m fighting depression and illness – and winning

**I know this is a travel blog and travel does play a part in my battle with depression. However, I think this blog is a good platform for me to get this off my chest and help other people who are going through the same struggle. I’m not guaranteeing that I can help you with what you are feeling, but this may be a new perspective for some people and it may change your life like it’s changing mine.**

Firstly, I’d like to start with my first encounters with depression. Depression is a weird thing because we speak about it like it exists to the unlucky, but I think it affects most people, if not, everyone to varying degrees. My first encounters were in my late teens, which may have been down to the fact that depression was cool then. A lot of the music I listened to contained romanticized poetry themed around depression and glorified suicide, anxiety and anything in that category. It was ‘cool’ to be depressed back then, or ’emo’ or ‘goth’ as it was called. Everything was revolved around doom and gloom, black clothes, pagan.gothic designs, spider webs yada yada… but this poetic version of depression actually helped a lot of people of my generation. It helped them face the reality of mental illness and the grit of real-life issues, something which pop music avoids at all costs until recently. These days it seems to be a topic that music magazines are willing to discuss on a serious level. Anyway, my point in telling you this is that when I became an adult and experienced my first deep depression, it wasn’t as cool as kids thought it was in the 00s.

I won’t go into every instance, but I’ll talk about my most recent and deepest depression and what things helped me to deal with it. So it started in the summer of 2016, when I went to Scotland on a long distance walk. Long story short, I got caught with my pants down (not literally) in a storm and ended up getting acute hypothermia and returning home. It took me over 24 hours to stop shaking and I lay in bed for a few days to get rid of the aches and pains you’d expect from hiking 20 in the pouring rain without walking shoes. I stayed with my family for a few days and decided it would be best to go to the town that I study in – to find work. I didn’t feel 100% but the weather was really nice for the first few days and I felt like all was good. Then, I had a relapse.

Little did I know then, that I was 6 months away from being diagnosed with crohn’s disease. From August to November I experienced intense pains on a regular basis. The pains were abdominal and I couldn’t walk further than 500 meters without curling up into a ball in agony, so I rarely ventured outside other than to collect groceries. I had diarrhea almost everyday for those 3-4 months and had so many blood tests related to my stomach that even the nurse who took my blood said she’d never seen anyone tested so much. All the tests came back negative and the doctors were trying to find new ways of finding the cause of my cramps. I had a camera down my throat, but they found nothing, so I was booked in to get an ultra scan on my small bowel. During this time, I was in agonizing pain on almost a daily basis, and I thought about suicide on a few occasions, but thought about how cruel it would be to my family and friends. The battle raged on in my mind on a daily basis, sometimes even hourly, but other times I would feel fine. The pain affected me so much that when my roommates drew my portrait to stick on our fridge, they captioned it ‘sad eyes’. On an almost daily basis, my roommates would ask if they could help, and where they could help, they did, but for the most part there was nothing they could do. I tried to stay positive and sometimes I would have ‘better’ days when it would seem like I wasn’t in that much pain, but sometimes I would just come back to my room and curl up in pain.

When November passed, December brought new challenges. The weight I had lost in November had degenerated discs in my back and caused my hip to seize up. The main symptom of this was sciatica, but means pain or irritation in the sciatic nerve which runs from your pelvis area down to your toes. It’s a common symptom for a lot of back and hip problems and it fucking sucks. Sometimes heat helps, sometimes you can stretch and relieve the pain, cold can help too, but sometimes nothing helps. You lie down, but you’re in pain, so you sit up, stand up, walk around, try different chairs, lie down again, take medicine, try the TENS machine, heat pad, ice pack, stretch your legs, hang over the bed, but nothing helps. This pain has lasted until today, but it is literally 95% better than it was back in December. I still sleep with a pillow between my legs and I still do physio and joined a gym just to stop this pain.

Maybe this post has made you feel depressed yourself, and or that I’m sorry, so let’s talk about how I took the fight to depression and crohn’s.

The first step was the diagnosis. When I had my ultrasound on January 5th, the doctor told me I had crohn’s and a few days later, I had a letter confirming. By January 20th, I was on a drug called Entocort. Entocort was great but it has side effects such as anxiety, depression, acne and short temper. The drug was helping, but it only lasted 3 months and as the dosage slowly dropped, my flare up started again and I was put on a stronger drug as well as Entocort. The new drug is also full of weird side-effects like sunlight sensitivity, dizziness and a lowered immune system, but I can deal with that if it helps my Crohn’s.

Once I was diagnosed and had started the course of Entocort, I started to gain weight and my sciatic pain became bearable. At my lowest point, my weight was about 58 kg, which for someone my height is less than 17 bmi, borderline organ failure. I am now at 64 kg and rising fast, but I still had to find something that could help me get back to health.

The most important thing I found was the Wim Hof method. The Wim Hof method is a combination of breathing techniques, cold water, and mindfulness. It might sound a bit hippie-trippy, but what makes Wim Hof different is that he has results backed up by science. A study in Holland found that he has conscious control of his autoimmune system and he has a number of world records such as longest time in ice bath and longest swim underneath an ice sheet. Oh yeah, he ran a marathon in the arctic circle too. Little did I know that cold showers reduce inflammation, increase testosterone, increase circulation, reduce the affects of depression among many other things. If I was to describe the feeling of coming out of a cold shower, it would be that of a warrior coming out of a battle. You feel invincible. It’s not going to cure cancer, but it is going to make you feel great.

The next thing is going to the gym. I think this one is more obvious and many people have mentioned the benefits of this online already. I go to the gym whenever I can and whenever I’m not aching all over. It can be tough if I have a relapse because I’ll ache for longer, but guess what? The cold showers also help reduce aches!

The other thing that has helped me is having something to look forward to. Usually a trip in my case, but it can be anything really. My next trip is from Romania down to Croatia with a quick stop in Serbia and a look in Bosnia. I’m not sure what my plans are for next year, but I’m not too worried because I can always change my mind and do something else. I think if you want to be ‘happy’ you have to be willing to recognize when something is not working and have the balls to do something about it.

My last thing that keeps me on my toes is always having aims or learning something everyday. I heard a quote somewhere, that when you stop learning, you start dying. I always try and learn little bits of language wherever I go and when I’m not traveling, I’m learning about places and looking at where would be cool to visit (at the minute I’m fixated on Ethiopia and Somaliland). I also like to challenge myself everyday. The easiest way that I do this is to watch something on the news that is liberal and then see the conservative perspective. I think this has helped my mind grow and gives me the strength to think of positives in negative situations.

So that is how I’m fighting Crohn’s and the depression that has plagued me for the last few months. It’s not really that complicated, but when you fall down a hole you can only see a small section of the sky above. You need to arm yourselves with the tools to climb out of that hole and mine are cold showers, gym bro-ing, booking things, and learning other things. Hope this helps you out there. You’re not alone.

Peace out!

Lee

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Track 3

Using the samples I collected last week, I will be making track 3 with yet another abstract idea in Abelton Live. This process is more complicated than track 2 and does make a huge difference to the sounds that were collected from the Buchla, which were mainly drones. What I am to do is turn these drones into transient rhythms using a technique that I discovered by myself last year. The process is as follows:

Take an audio sample and choose freeze mode in Ableton (this saves all the settings on the audio and whatever effects may be applied internally to the sound)

Flatten the audio sample (save the audio sample with the applied effects included. This means no more adjustments can be made to that effect but new effects can be added)

Consolidate the audio samples (this joins audio samples to things like reverb tails or delays that continued after the audio has finished.)

Right click and slice audio to MIDI track. Choose the option you would like the ones I used were 1/16 notes, 1/32 notes, 1/8 notes and detected transients.

Once the audio is in MIDI a new sample option will become available in the effects area. This allows you to change the attack, decay, and release of the MIDI and has a few loop settings that can create interesting effects.

Adjust the sample settings and if necessary, rearrange the notes and make a new melody with the transients.

After listening to the track, I called it molecules because it reminds me of something small like a molecule.

How To Cold Shower For Wimps!

well, straight off the bat. If you’re reading this and even considering to take a cold shower, you’re already 20% less of a wimp than 5 seconds ago. But why on earth should you take a cold shower anyway? Well the benefits are endless …. clears acne, boosts testosterone (not sure about women), boosts immune system, fights inflammation, helps with depression and anxiety, but the main reason is something way deeper. In a world, where everything is cotton-wool wrapped and sanitized, our bodies and minds are seizing up on us. We are losing the vital connections that used to force us to respect the land and respect ourselves. We have become so molly-coddled that we don’t want to see blood in our meat, our fruit is wrapped in plastic despite having it’s own protective skin, we don’t speak to each other or appreciate face-to-face contact, we are developing in many ways – but we are regressing in many more. We are depressed, unfit, unsociable, unhappy, incapable of catering to our primal needs as humans.  Cold showers are a way to resist the killing comfort of modern life and a chance to start each day by the balls. I can see you getting worked up, go on, do it, storm into the shower, now and…. hold on, don’t forget the reason people stopped taking them in the first place.

Let’s be frank, they do kinda suck when you’re not used to them. There are a million reasons not to turn that shower down to the coldest setting, the main one being the fact that the same shower head can give you a nice, warm shower. I know it’s not easy to get started, but there is a way for us wimps. I’ll go through step by step with you how I started and where you can go from here.

The best way to start is to have a warm shower and when you’ve finished, have a cold blast. Now, the best way to do this short cold shower is to the shower into your hand and point it at your feet. Turn the shower to the coldest setting and just wet your feet for now. It does suck a little, but within 20 seconds, you will feel a numbness and the water will actually feel warm unless it touches a new spot on your body. If you are okay with the feet and you want to carry on wet your shins and knees and and keep going up and down from your knees to your feet. The same numbness will come and then you go to the rest of the body in this order:

Thighs / knees
genitals / hips (side to side)
back of the thigh down to the knee
abdomen moving side to side slowly going up to chest
buttocks (surprisingly sensitive)
hands and work your way up to bicep
shoulders and back round to chest
buttocks up to back

*while you do this, try and control your breathing as it can help take your mind off the shock and pay attention to your body as well.*

And that’s it for now. Now, you should only do this for 2 minutes or less to start with because it’s a bit of a shock and you may feel a slight ‘high’ or ‘buzz’. If you are shaking violently for any reason, turn the shower off and get warm as quick as you can. If you are okay, just dry yourself off as normal and enjoy the invigorated feeling. Notice how I never mentioned face or head. While I recommend splashing your face if you can handle it, wetting your head can be dangerous so I would ease into it.

You should be doing this every time you shower from now on and each time spend and extra 30 seconds then the time before. After a week or two, you should consider not taking a hot shower at all unless you want to wash your hair. You can use the cold shower to wash your body as normal.

Eventually, your body will become used to cold showers and you can spend up to 10 minutes in there if you like. Next, I would suggest looking more into cold water therapy if you can feel the benefits. Look into a guy called Wim Hof who has a whole series and is an expert on the subject. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t take much research, just take a cold bath with ice cubes, but make sure someone is there to look over you while you’re getting used to the cold.

So there it is, my wimp’s guide. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now and I feel really good when I take the cold showers. There is still a part of me that doesn’t want to take them, but it’s the same part of you that would stay in bed eating junk food all day if you gave it the chance. I recommend everyone to take the plunge and watch how your lifestyle improves with this simple addition to your day.

Peace.

Netherlands train hack: 7 euros day return to anywhere

It’s important when traveling in Western countries to look out for the cheapest way to travel. If you don’t, you’ll be watching your funds dwindle so rapidly, you’ll be in your overdraft before you can spell waffle. Travel in Europe isn’t always that expensive if you know where to look. Ryan air makes it the cheapest continent to fly around and Megabus is a handy way to get around the UK (used to be all of western Europe, shed a tear). The most expensive way to travel in Europe is definitely by train. Here in the Netherlands, however, there is a beaming ray of hope. Group tickets.

There are group tickets in a lot of countries, I’m sure of it, but I wouldn’t know where to find them and how to buy them, but being with a resident of the Netherlands, I’ve been introduced to the secret world of group tickets. This is how you go about getting them.

First of all you need a few things.

Facebook account
Passport
Bank account that can send transfers (one without charges in the Netherlands would be best)
access to a printer
Exact date you want to travel
Location of where you’re going from or going to (the bigger the city, the easier to find tickets)

If you have all of those things and you’re up for spending a bit of a time to save some money, you can try the next step.

Add this group NS group tickets – Rotterdam. There are also groups in Amsterdam, Groningen and all the other big cities. In the groups, you will find posts with dates and locations like this…

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-25-42-pm

Once you find the date you wish to travel, you join the group where you can exchange bank details and email accounts. How it works is that the main buyer will pay for all the tickets, but only once they have collected enough money to pay for 10 tickets. 10 is the maximum number of tickets and for 10 tickets it will cost them 70 euros, meaning you pay 7 euros per ticket for the return journey. You can get as many tickets as you like, as long as it adds up and if you’re traveling in a group of 10, you can just buy the group ticket yourself. However, this is highly unlikely, so the groups should do you well.

Once the buyer has received enough to buy 10 tickets, they will send you a message to let you know and then you will receive your ticket in an e-mail. Open the ticket and you will have to put in some personal details such as name, location of where you’re going, and date of birth. Then, straight to the printer and voila.

You need your passport or at least some form of photo ID to travel on this ticket and if you want to hack it even further, you can get off the train at a city that is on the way to where you’re going, but make sure the train you get on afterwards came from the same destination that you came from.

Enjoy this little hack and if you want to understand the kind of money you’ll save, a ticket from Rotterdam to Amsterdam is usually about 24 euros.

 

 

Euro Megabus is gone. The ride is over.

2016 has been a funny year, eh? Well, celebrity deaths aside, we’ve just lost our cheapest option into continental Europe – Megabus. Megabus has been available in the UK, France, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands for a while but in the last 2 years they added Germany and Italy making cheap travel even more epic. Tickets were as low as £1 with a 50p booking, and still are in the UK. However, Megabus Europe has been bought out by the more expensive but slightly snazzier – Flixbus.

What this means to budget travellers in the continent is no more cheap tickets, but possibly a more comfortable ride. Just last summer I had the chance to traverse northern Italy for a total of 8 euros. That went from Turin – La Spezia – Milano – Venice – Genoa – Bologna and for the same journey with flixbus I think you’re talking at least 60-70 euros. Quite a considerable loss if you ask me, but at times I did wonder how a company could give away so many cheap rides.

RIP megabus Europe, you will be sadly missed.

How NOT to do the West Highland Way!

On wednesday 10th August, I attempted a walk in the Scottish Highlands from Milngavie (Glasgow) to Fort William (near Ben Nevis). The route is notorious for having bad weather, but more famous for stunning views and crowds of walkers that are there to witness them. It’s 96 miles long, so I gave myself 6 days to do it, but nature had different plans and after 2 days of walking, I had to give up on the route. This is how it all went down in the West Highlands.

Day 1:
I arrived in Birmingham at about 12:30 and had 50 minutes to get some last minute supplies before I head to the coach stop. I bought some matches and batteries and then I was pretty much set to go. I waited at the bus stop for about 2 hours because Megabus is always pissing late. The coach was supposed to make up time on the way, but we never did and we ended up arriving 3 hours late. I was tempted to book into a hostel and claim it back on Megabus for dropping me off so late that I had no onward travel, but there was one more train left to Milngavie. I dashed to the train station and ended up catching the last train, arriving at about 12:10 am. All the shops were closed when I arrived, so I thought I’d find the starting point of the route and make a start. At the gate I met a group of Germans and we started walking together. One of them had friends nearby who had set up camp, so we went to that area. It was raining heavily at that point and I just wanted to get my tarp set up, so I could get dry. I was staying in a jungle hammock, whereas most people on WHW use a tent. While the Germans went and set up their tent, I had to wander into the woods and find two suitable trees that I could hang my hammock on. I find a nice spot, so first I got my tarp out. I always set up my tarp first so I can get out the rain and think about the best way to set up. When I got the tarp out of its sack, the chords were all knotted. I’ve practiced setting up millions of times, but the first time I really need it I have to spend 10 minutes unravelling chords whilst being pissed on by the weather. It took 40 minutes to get set up, which is a very long time in the rain. I was wet and tired, so I got in and tried to get some shut eye. I kept hearing a strange noise like a deep sigh and I convinced myself it was a Highland cow. I tried to sleep, but I kept thinking about this cow goring its way through my hammock. I even woke up twice to find the cow and never found it. Weird start.

Day 2:
I woke up at day break and got my kit packed up. I wanted to get on the road, but i needed a few more supplies. I went into the town and it was dead, but luckily they had a huge tesco. I had no idea at the time, but it was about 6 in the morning and by 7 I was back on the route. The first hour is quite easy on the way, so I made up a fair bit of distance, but the route is poorly signposted. The signs always disappear and I had to turn my phone on a few times to figure out if I was going the right way. After about 3 hours, an older couple maybe late 50s joined me on the walk, but they had no luggage with them, I was carrying about 20 kg. They were timing themselves and keeping a very fast pace. I spent the next few hours keeping up with them. This was my first HUGE mistake. I’ve now learnt that there are 3 paces on the walk: The no luggage pace, The heavy luggage pace, and the German pace. Germans are famous for spending about 2 weeks on the walk while most other nationalities do it in less than a week. By late afternoon, the weather turned on me a bit and there was now a heavy rain setting in. I could feel my trousers getting wet through my waterproofs and my shoes were soaked through at this point which highlights my second HUGE mistake – don’t take running shoes that aren’t waterproof. I found a forest where I could hang my tarp and sit under it for a while to get dry. I was about 13 miles into the route, and I wanted to be doing about 16 a day. I spent a good 1 hour just sitting there. I was cold and wet, but I was still enjoying the walk. The rain kept coming down, but I said to myself that I had to get a few more miles in. I got another 2 miles in and it started to get more difficult. I reached a steep hill climb and at the top there were views of Loch Lomond. It wasn’t too clear, but it was still a very beautiful sight.
I wanted to set up my hammock in this area, but there were no trees. I had to walk another half-mile and I came across a few forests. Some were too dense and it would be impossible to hang a hammock, but on the other hand, some forests were too old. Old forests with bigger trees are more dangerous as old trees can just fall without warning. In the end, I had no choice but to settle with an old pine forest. It wasn’t ideal, but I just wanted a rest for a bit and hung my hammock on 2 big trees, surrounded by bigger trees. At first, it was peaceful just lying in the hammock, but the wind kept getting stronger.The trees around me were now shaking pretty violently. I decided to look around to see how many trees had fallen. It was a lot. Now I was getting worried. It got dark and I lay in my hammock being swung occasionally by a gust of wind. I couldn’t stop thinking about trees falling on me, and every blast of wind I would listen for a tree falling. This went on for hours, in fact, through the whole night as the wind got stronger and rain came down harder. I managed to stay dry, but had virtually no sleep. It got to 7 o clock in the morning and the wind died down a bit. I managed to get an hour’s sleep.

Day 3:
I decided that I should head for a campsite and a shop in the village which was apparently about 5 miles away. I needed some creature comforts and I thought it would be worth taking a walk in the rain. I got my waterproof trousers and felt the inside – they were wet. At that point it was spitting and I thought it may dry up like day 2, so I packed my kit up and walked without my waterproof bottoms. Another HUGE mistake made. I was sore all over, in particular, my hips and bum were aching like mad and my shoulders were on fire. I expected aches and pains, so I trotted on. I got only 50 meters from my camp when I came to a gate. The gate had a sign on it saying I was entering the no camping zone. That was lucky. The gate was an entrance to a sheep field. All trees were gone and it was just grass, sheep and a path in the middle. The path started easy, but quickly took me up to higher ground were the rain was picking up. Before I knew it, I was in 50 mile an hour winds and the rain was smashing me from all angles. My trousers soaked through in about 2 minutes, then my shoes, then my boxers, by the end my hoody was soaked despite being under my waterproofs because the water travelled up my sleeves that were hanging out a tiny bit. I walked in these conditions for 2 hours. To say I was panicking, was an understatement. There was nobody else on the way. I couldn’t see anything except for occasional piles of sheep shit and grey all around. I thought the path would head downhill but it kept taking me higher where the winds were stronger. I reached a mental state where I just stopped caring about what was logical or the best option. I just knew I had to get to this town and fast. After an hour and a half, I saw a guy walking towards me. I thought to myself, “maybe this is just a typical day on the way”. I stopped and had a chat with him. He told me that he was bailing because his gear was soaked. He had done the route 3 times and said this was the worst. I had to hear that, because I wasn’t even thinking of quitting at that point. He told me that 7 miles from the next town was a hostel, and that if I could get there I could dry off and wait for the nice weather. I walked on to the next town down the mountain that I’d spent 2 hours climbing up. By half way, it became painful as my shoes were wet and rubbing my feet. I took them off to find my feet were bleeding from my little toes. This made the descent just that much harder and the weight of my bag was really putting pressure on my knees. I got into the next town and felt like a corpse. I went straight to the village shops and raided it for junk food like parma violets, peperami and other junk crap. I sat in the bus stop and contemplated leaving the route and going back to Glasgow. While I sat there, I met a few more people who were bailing from the route. A guy from Birmingham, a few Germans and some other girl who never spoke. We got the bus to Balloch which is a town near Glasgow. Just being on a warm bus for half an hour felt like heaven. When we arrived though, I found that I had seized up and couldn’t walk properly. I ended up limping around Glasgow like this for hours with bleeding feet, shaking. I now realise, if I’d have carried on, the risk of hypothermia or pneumonia were real.

Thank god I got home by 7 o clock the next day after an overnight bus! It’s been 3 days and I am almost recovered. I couldn’t walk properly until this morning and my feet are a mess. I thought I was coming down with an illness, but it turns out I’m okay for now. If you are thinking of doing the West Highland way here is some advice from a failed attempt

Get professional gear (especially decent waterproofs)
Take hiking books that are waterproof
Take a tent rather than a hammock
Don’t do it alone. You’ll meet people anyway, but a few friends would have helped me a lot.
pace yourself.
Take spare clothes.
Dry bags are your friend.
Prepare well. There really aren’t many shops, pubs or anything.

I’m determined to have a shot next year, but until then, I’ll be trying other walks and adventures.

Lee

West Highland Way – Pre trip checks

This Wednesday I will be heading back to Scotland to do the West Highland Way, Scotlands most famous long distance walk. The walk is 98 miles long from Milngavie to Fort William and goes through the south highlands past Loch Lomond and near to Glecoe and other areas. Today is Monday, and I’m nearly ready except for two unexpected items as my mate gave me a full Trangia camping stove last night, which I want to use. The whole point of these blogs is to teach you something and maybe open your eyes to new ways to travel and explore, so I will list all of my kit with the intention of helping people in the future achieve a similar goal.

Rucksack 65 litres (make sure it’s a comfy one)
Tenth wonder Green Hornet Hammock (with mosquito net and customized rigging system)
Tenth wonder 3x3m tarp (stops rain getting in)
Cheap sleeping bag (2 seasons)
Trangia stove ( I’m using methylated fuel, but there are others)
Flask
Water purification tablets (incase I get water from a stream)
Waterproof jacket / bottoms (Scotland after all)
Dry bags ( a 5, 10, and 15 liter just incase I get soaked or something burst in my bag)
Clothes ( few tees, 2 bottoms, loads of socks, boxers)
Brooks running shoes (didn’t walking walking boots as they aren’t breathable and I don’t want blisters)
Spork
Gerber knife (small one)
Deep heat muscle rub
Micro towel
Toothpaste (we’ll see how that goes when we’re there)
Food (loads of rice, pasta, bread, energy bars, oranges, we’ll see how it goes again)

and that’s pretty much it unless I have forgotten something. I’ll hopefully review some of the kit like hammocks and stuff and put it on here. It’s gonna be a blast.