I’m Olivia. 21 years old, from England and studying for a year in the Netherlands on the Erasmus Exchange programme.
This blog is a place to show my friends, family and hopefully many others this wonderful, inspiring city and my life here. I love living in Amsterdam- you couldn’t not love living here- and I hope this will give you a taste of what it’s like in both a general and personal way by recording my day to day adventures!
I thought I would explain why I started this blog. I actually never thought I would have time to write a blog while I was studying abroad, I thought I would be way too busy having fun of course! However, I have found more time on my hands than I would have expected. There has been a spanner in my works, so to speak, for about 3 years now, as I have had an illness called Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. It began after a 24 hour fever when I was 18, bringing a perplexing set of symptoms which no specialist could make sense of such as painful muscles, itchy eyes and blurred vision, swollen skin, gaining weight that couldn’t be lost, anxiety and low mood, sinus problems, hair dryness, stomach pain, and inability to concentrate to name just a mere few, and then developed into a more debilitating state of chronic fatigue and insulin and blood sugar problems.
I was permanently exhausted out of my mind and felt awful, but the specialist’s tests always came back as normal because sadly this condition is only identified by the NHS when the hormones tested are measured at about 90% “burn-out”. It is then called Adrenal Insuffiency/Addison’s DIsease. I will explain a bit about this condition at the bottom for if anyone is interested/is a biology gueek like me. I finally found a doctor through one of my flatmates who has had 30 years experience in diagnosing and treating this condition when it is not at the level of Addison’s Disease.
Having been ill for almost 3 years now, it hasn’t been a quick-fix to treat. The doctor firstly put me onto a no sugar/no caffeine/no alcohol diet in summer 2014 but this had surprisingly little effect, and the lightheaded/dizziness of insulin resistance continued whenever I ate carbohydrate foods. So, aside from a few improved episodes, I was still very unwell even on this extremely clean diet, and I could laugh now when I think back to the state I was in when I left for my “Woohoo” year abroad in August. Having slept most of the summer, I had been on holiday in Cornwall with my family, and was so fatigued that my Dad had to drag me up the hill to our house, and it took me several minutes to get up the stairs. A few weeks later, I was on a plane with four large suitcases (I like to travel light) to start a new life in Holland. Kind of crazy?! Maybe.
In September 2014, I was put on the more rigorous Ketogenic Diet, designed to cure neurological-based illnesses. It has been shown to cure epilepsy, since seizures originate in the brain, autism, Parkinsons diease, Alzheimers, brain cancer and many more. Pretty amazing really. The diet involves eating 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates and this causes the body to go into a state of ‘Ketosis’ where it burns fat for fuel as the body becomes depleted of glucose and the constant need for insulin. It has taken my body a very long time to adapt to using only fats for energy, however, and I have continually fallen back into episodes of exhaustion. My first semester here in Amsterdam involved many weeks of total exhaustion, blurry headedness and general ill feeling, with most of the aforementioned symptoms still intact. So, that meant goodbye to the year abroad lifestyle I had hoped for myself- perhaps hoped for wildly- considering the state of my health when I got on the plane.
The diet has improved things alot; I have better energy/concentration/less pain etc, and at the end of March, it will be reviewed whether the treatment is working sufficiently, or whether an underlying thyroid problem is preventing a full recovery. I still have to take it very easy to make sure I don’t push myself too hard, provoking fatigue and a domino effect of symptoms. There is the small issue of not eating carbohydrates, or even dairy as it exacerbates things, since they are bulk of basically everyones diets! The sorest point of all has been not being able to bike (which I LOVE), as one week of biking last semester provoked extreme fatigue, but I am hoping to build up to doing it again. So, my Amsterdam life so far has been, lets say, compromised, and opportunities to do stuff and meet people have been compromised for sure. But that’s why I wanted to start this blog, as a constant reminder that I am still living in an amazing and beautiful city, and that regardless of all of these things, I can still see and do things in my own way. My friends and family have been great in reminding me of this in times when I have been particularly downhearted about the situation- so you know who you are, and thankyou.
Although it has had a huge and unavoidable impact on my life for a long time- hence this long explanation- I don’t want to define my time here by illness, and I am starting to live each day more as I feel increasingly better. So I am at a Dutch university, but what am I actually doing? My course for the year is called ‘Literature and Culture’, which is a very broad selection of classes and I have done such an amazing variety of them already. From ‘Literature and Film’ where we studied a text alongside its filmic adaption (Eyes Wide Shut, Rear Window etc), Czech Literature, Polish Literature (in translation, don’t worry!) to a course I am doing at the moment, which studies the texts of Dante, Homer, Cervantes, Virgil, Shakespeare and all such writers that are viewed as foundational to todays world- and why. It is so cool to study things I would never have been able to do through my course at home. As you can gather I am a definitive book/art/film lover, but I guess everything else will become apparent as I the blog unfolds!
I hope I can show you lots of interesting things about Amsterdam and that as i start to feel better and better I will be able to show you more and more of this incredible place. I hope you like reading it too!
Love O xxx
*What is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. The adrenal glands are what produce adrenaline, our set of steroids like cortisol, testosterone and hormones in the brain. They are profoundly important in our bodies due to the level of ‘stress’ we are constantly under. The body perceives all stresses, from running for the train, to eating alot of sugar, to having a heated conversation, to worrying about a deadline, in the same way, and we require sufficient ammounts of these hormones to keep us in homeostatis while withstanding the threat that the stress poses. When the adrenal glands become overworked from a severely stressful episode or longterm situation, their production decreases and the body becomes very unbalanced. Different bodilly processes can slowly begin to decrease in functionality, hence the strange variety of symptoms that this condition provokes. The upside is that it can be cured, and you can go on to live your life in full health after riding the storm, but since you will not be treated on the NHS until it is at the extremely critical stage of Addison’s Disease, it often takes time to find a non-medicated route back to health.