New Year, New Me

New Year, New Me

Hello everyone, my name is Clair Willcocks, I am 27 years old (only just turned, it was my birthday on the 28th December!) and I am Galen Medical Nutrition’s new PKU blogger. I am an adult with PKU and I was diagnosed with Classical PKU 8 days after birth. I am on 5 exchanges of protein a day and currently taking the PKU EASY Microtabs substitute 6 times a day.

I live in Kent with my husband Chris, a black cat called Cosmic and corn snake called Spike.

I currently work as a Trade Administrator at Dunlop BTL Ltd and in my spare time I enjoy watching films, playing on the Xbox and being a part of a monthly book club.

I have always enjoyed reading books from when I was very little. My favourite genre of book is science fiction and because of this love of reading, I have also always enjoyed writing. I started blogging specifically about PKU in my personal blog ‘Thoughts from a Ginger PKU’ and found I really enjoyed blogging as a way of expressing myself creatively. I wasn’t really a daily blogger or even monthly blogger; in my blog I mainly spoke about the larger impacting topics within the PKU world such as the sugar tax and the desperate need for a home blood testing kit, but it was during the big lockdown of 2020 that got me blogging more frequently about how PKU affected me in my day-to-day life.

During lockdown, I, like many others was also on furlough, so I used my blog not only to try and raise awareness of the impact on PKU but I also used my blog while trying to get back on diet as a tool to reflect on the many different methods and experiments I was trying. I will be honest and say there are still elements of the diet I struggle with. Although I am 27, I am still not by any means perfect but every day I am learning and getting better. With these blogs I am writing for Galen I’m really looking forward to sharing what I have learnt as a PKU adult, including all the different stages of life I’ve been through, to discuss the big topics affecting PKU life and to maybe share other people’s viewpoints and experiences.

‘New year, new me’ …but same problems!?

It is a motto that always gets thrown around at this time of year, it is meant to encourage us in January to maybe join a gym, drink less alcohol or give up any other general bad habit. Either way the end goal is to focus on what we were doing badly last year, to create a resolution to improve that in some way this year, with January being the month we aim to make the change, so we can start the year off as we mean to go on.

However, as great as this sounds on paper, everyone always ends up making the same mistakes, they try to make and reach unrealistic goals or try to give up habits they have had all their life in just a single month. This of course leads to them feeling overwhelmed and unfortunately this does result in a lot of people giving up their new year’s resolutions by the time January is over. However, when it comes to living with PKU it can feel like we have these unrealistic targets and goals all year round and that we are never quite achieving them. Unlike the other people at the end of January, we never get the luxury of being able to give up when it gets too much! It can be incredibly overwhelming for anyone, whether it is an adult trying to maintain a work/life/PKU balance or new parents trying to get their head around this strange new diet for their young child. This overwhelming feeling can really make us feel low and that we have tried everything, yet nothing seems to be getting better!

So, what do we do when it is January again and everyone around us is saying ‘new year, new me’ but for those living with PKU, the struggles do not end in January and they are not particularly new? In fact, they are rather old and annoying!

I think an excellent thing that has come out amongst all the awful events of 2020; is the focus that has been made on mental health. The awareness that was raised, with the reminder to be gentle to ourselves, that we are all just doing our best and that we are not alone in this. This message is no different when it comes to those people living with PKU.

An example of this from my own experience is when in the first lockdown I took the time to focus on my food. I was trying to get back to being on the strict diet, which meant going back to basics again. I was surprised to discover that when trying to make an effective change in your life, it is not just about the physical changes but also the mental changes that need to be made. It was not about all the things I needed to do better or the things I was doing wrong but celebrating and focusing the things I was doing right, all the positive changes I was making, no matter how big or small!

It seems obvious to me now, but can it be a big challenge trying to change the way our minds think. As I found when I was making mistakes, I was really beating myself up about it and thinking “I’ve not had enough drinks for the day/I forgot to weigh this potato, I’m doing so badly/I’ll never get the hang of this/I might as well give up etc.” Our brains think that criticising ourselves like this is what helps us make the change we want but I had to learn that all it does is just lead us on a downward spiral of guilt and shame that can be hard to crawl back from. Having good mental health is about being gentle with ourselves, remembering that we are only human, that we make mistakes and that we will not always be on the ball, especially when it comes to PKU.

When I noticed I was having these thoughts, instead of letting my brain go down that spiral, I instead took a deep breath, calmed my mind and challenged myself to think differently. I chose to encourage myself, to think, “I did forget to weigh that potato tonight/to have my last substitute but it’s okay, tomorrow is a new day and so I can always try again tomorrow.” While we are trying to make these big or small changes, it is so important to remember to be kind to ourselves, sometimes we really can be our worst critics, when we are only trying our best. If we can change the way we think, it means that in these challenges, every small win pushes us up and onward to try and achieve more rather than only focusing on the bad that only pushes us down!

It is also important to remember we are not alone; connection is a huge part of mental health and there are other people out there with PKU or who have family with PKU. People who are going through the same experiences as us and who want to help, whether it is sharing meal ideas, advice or who also want to celebrate our wins along with us. I really recommend going on social media such as Facebook or Twitter, search for PKU or the #PKU hash tag and see who you find! I have always felt so much positivity with the online PKU community whenever I have shared a picture of a meal I have just made (most of mine taste better than they look) and that small bit of encouragement can make such a difference. So, this January I do not challenge this month for us to be a ‘new year, new me’ I challenge us all to have a ‘new year, encouraging me!’

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