dear big sister

IBS and Me


Dear big sister,

IBS has been a really big part of my life recently. Bigger than I would like it to be. Still, I don't think I have been giving it the attention it needs. Does that make any sense? Let me explain. My symptoms have been worse recently and I have been beating myself up about it. I haven't actually dealt with anything productively, though. Lots of stress, not enough care. I firmly believe, that looking back helps to go forward, so here is my IBS-story: 

I have had IBS for a long time, but I thought it was normal. I thought everyone had stomach troubles all the time. I think the first time I noticed, that I was different was when I went to Italy for an exchange semester. I was 16. One day, I had a horrible stomach ache and I asked my host-mother to stay home from school. My own mother usually let me make the decision, whether I was well enough to go to school. My host mother had a different philosophy though: She took my temperature and told me I was fine and sent me to school. She was a lovely women and didn't mean anything bad, this was just what she knew. That was miserable day. 

Even though I have had these problems for longer, during my late teens everything just got so much worse. I never really focused on it. I did try leaving out different foods, like gluten or lactose, but there was no system. Some things made it better, but since the symptoms were never gone, I didn't bother to stick with anything. Whenever I restarted to eat something, I didn't immediately go back to feeling bad. I gradually got worse until I got a full blown flare up. I did try to figure out what it was once. I went to a doctor and asked if it was possible I had celiac disease, but I didn't. The doctor made me feel bad for self-diagnosing with such a serious illness and sent me home. So I didn't bother another doctor about it for a couple of years.

The stomach issues just got worse and worse though. More cramps, more diarrhea, a near constant exhaustion and lots of neausea. I got myself together and decided to finally find out what was wrong with me. I went to a new doctor, she was very understanding and did every test under the sun. Blood tests, urin tests, stool samples, ultra sounds and finally even a colonoscopy. None of them showed anything out of the ordinary, it was the most frustrating process I have ever endured. But last summer, at the age of 21, I finally got a diagnonsis: Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

While it was a relief, to finally name the beast, doctors still didn't know what was wrong with me. They don't know the cause and they can't cure it. I thought I could anyway, if I only tried hard enough. I started the lowFODMAP diet, I exercised more and I organised my life better, to deal with this. The problem was: I still got flare ups. And somehow, since I now felt better in general, the flare ups felt worse. Slowly I started to realize, that I can't cure it. With this came quite a long period of trying to ignore it. If it doesn't go away, why bother doing anything, right? Well, I want to bother now. It is still infinitely better to go from "really good" to "bad occasionally" , than to hover in limbo between "bad" and "worse". 

I realize now, that it is going to be a long process, until I get to where I want to be. So I will take baby steps. Set myself small goals. The first goal is to go back to a strict lowFODMAP diet for two weeks and keep a food and symptom journal throughout it. While I have somewhat followed the lowFODMAP diet since September, I have been making too many exceptions lately. So I want to do two weeks with no exceptions. Then, in two weeks, I will set myself the next goal. 

All the best, 




Dear little sister,

Here is a confession: I find life to be an overwhelming place. I do one thing and feel like I should be doing another, and I feel like things are just being continuously heaped on my plate. There are all the  "musts" and "shoulds", but also all the "but I wanted to's" and "wouldn't it be great-if" and the most dangerous ones of all. The "of course I wills". 

And before I know it, I am desperately pedalling just to keep up with the urgent, let alone taking time for the important. It's exhausting. Not just tiring, but exhausting.  I don't mind being tired after a day well spent, but when it piles up until I'm just running from one to the other, doing things here and doing things there, without getting anything done, sooner or later things start to give. I know I've definitely overdone it when I find myself skim-reading bad romance novels at 3 am on a weekday. Don't laugh, it's a stress response. Somewhere between all of that I lose track of what is really important. 

For the last few years I have tried to live a more simple life. I’m still struggling with what exactly that means for me, but in essence it is about cutting down on complexity. Less things, less commitments, less choices, less projects and less ideals. It’s about figuring out what is truly important, and then making sure that becomes a regular, and reliable, part of my life. It’s about keeping the urgent at bay, and focusing on the quiet, long term and important.

Breakfast is a good example, since we are on the subject anyway. I used to struggle with eating any. I’d be out of ingredients, don’t know what I want or don’t have any time. It was a healthy fruit salad one day, then a couple of biscuits running out the door on the next.

Now, I eat porridge. Every morning. I have been doing it for years. Oats and milk, and then a slowly rotating range of toppings. The last few months is has been a couple of fresh fruits and a handful of seeds. It makes my mornings incredibly easy, because I don’t have to think about it. I’m never out of the ingredients. Bowl, oats, milk, water, microwave, chop the fruits. Done. When the oats are empty, I buy more. When there is no fruit, I eat the porridge plain. I don’t have to think, and not having to think about it means that I get a healthy breakfast, every morning, that keeps me full for a good few hours. It’s one less decision to make in my day, one less ‘should’. Having a strong habit removes complexity, and gives me time and mental energy for other things. Of course, eating the same thing every day is a little boring (if tasty) so I will indulge on the weekend, when I have time to make pancakes or fry eggs. But during the week, it’s porridge every morning. Life is a whole lot better when I have a healthy, filling breakfast every morning. It’s only a little better than that if I have a different breakfast every morning, and the effort is not worth the extra cost. So porridge it is.

For me, that is simplicity. Find something that works, and that I enjoy, and then do it. Just that,  because it means this area of my life is taken care off, leaving more room and energy for others. I am very much still working on expanding that philosophy to other areas of my life.

All the best,


dear little sister

On joy and anticipation


Dear little sister,

you know what else helps to keep a positive outlook and a happy life? Making the most of the special moments that are already there. Happiness, especially the one caused by special moments, is so fleeting. An hour of concert, a week of holiday, a great day out with friends from far away, and before you know it they are all over and it’s back to Monday morning. This is why it is so important to try to make the most of them by actively fostering anticipation, and cherishing memories. When planning something in advance, there are weeks or even months to look forward to it! After it passes, there are months to fondly think back to the best bits. It’s like worrying, but in reverse! It doesn’t even have to be complicated, all I need to do is tap into the enthusiasm that is already there, and take a minute to enjoy it, whenever I remember that something is coming up.  Pre-living and re-living the good moments makes them last longer and feel like a bigger part of my life, and it helps against that feeling that time is slipping through my fingers, one day the same as the next. Turns out my life is already pretty varied and exciting, I just need to make sure I remember it.

The breakfast cups look great! I’m firmly hooked on porridge every morning, but they look like amazing snacks for a hiking trip or a Sunday picnic.

All the very best,



Happiness and a Breakfast-Food-Rut


Dear big sister

When you wrote me your last letter, you said you admire my positivity. Thank you for that lovely compliment (and all the others too). This one particularly stuck with me, since I firmly believe that this is not a character trait, but a choice and a habit. I do try my best to have an optimistic outlook on the world and I have worked to keep it that way. The thing is, it is not that hard. All you have to do is actively focus on the good instead of the bad. Look at this morning for example; there are two ways of telling it:

"I had to get up really early this morning, which was a real pain. Then I forgot to wash my hair last night, so showering took longer than necessary. After that I got dressed, but my jeans had a stain so I had to get dressed again, just to look presentable enough for the office. Next I only had milk and oats for breakfast, just like every day last week, before I had to rush out of the house to catch my tram. I forgot my hairband too. I hate when my hair gets in my face at work. It ruined my entire day."

The exact same morning can be retold like this:

"I set my alarm a little early this morning, so I would have enough time to get ready without a hurry. I took a nice long shower, since it was a hair wash day, which was so relaxing. Since spring has finally arrived, I could wear a nice dress to work, which was just as well since I had a stain on my jeans. Breakfast was a little dull, since I had just milk and oats, but I did sneak in a cookie, which was delicious. I do have to do something about that breakfast rut though... I went off to work, the wind blowing in my hair, ready to take on the day."

Objectively, the exact same things happened in both those stories. But the experience was completely different. Changing your point of view from the first to the second takes practice though. In the beginning, it is an effort to overlook the bad things and focus on the good. It's a habit though. Once you practice it a little more, it becomes natural. I used to be much more negative than I am now, but I wanted to make that change. I actively took it upon myself to choose happiness, instead of letting anxiety and sadness take over. It doesn't work all the time; I still have bad days and good days. To not let the bad ones win, though, I have created a little ritual to remind myself of the good. Every night, before I go to sleep, I write down three good things that happened that day. Even on my worst days, I try to find three happy things that happened. And on my best day I still choose just three. That way, it is not a competition with myself. I never think. "Oh no, I can only think of three things, yesterday I had five, so today must have been a bad day." No. On any given day, there are three good things, big or small, happend.

So here are my three things for today:

  1. I had a cookie for breakfast. I can do that since I am an adult. ;)
  2. I had a good day at work. Lots of productivity with minimum stress.
  3. I solved my breakfast-food shortage, by making banana-oat-breakfast-cups (see the recipe below).

All the best,


P.S: Here is the recipe, which got me out of my breakfast rut:

LowFODMAP Banana-Oatmeal Breakfast-Cups

These breakfast cups are perfect for an easy, on-the-go breakfast. They are quick to make too and so delicious! I made mine with coarsly chopped, dark chocolate and macadamia nuts, but these would also go wonderfully with other flavours such as rasperries and hazelnuts or blueberries and walnuts... Really whatever takes your fancy!

Basic breakfast cup recipe:
3 bananas
3 eggs
160g quick oats
1 vanilla bean
1 tsp cinnamon

100g dark chocolate
35g macadamia nuts

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a muffin tray with paper muffin liners.
2. In a big bowl mash the bananas with a fork. Add the eggs and vanilla, and whisk until well combined.
3. Add the oats and the cinnamon and let it sit for a couple of minutes. The oats will soak up some of the liquid to make a more solid dough.
4. During this time, I coarsely chopped some dark chocolate and macadamia nuts, which I added at to the big bowl as well.
5. Next, divide the dough into the twelve cups and bake them for about 20 minutes.

dear little sister

Scattered thoughts


Dear little sister,

two letters, and so much wisdom in both. Thank you for both, and particularly thank you for all the lovely compliments. I think there are many things you are great at too. You already mentioned many of the things I admire about you, but to add to the list: you are great at making a plan and just doing it, you have great taste in clothes and interior design, and you have a positivity, ability to dream and way of understanding people that I admire.  

Reading over your letter on passion, I think you hit upon a truth there: to be satisfying, the process has to be at least as important as the result. Not only does that help when the inevitable stumbling blocks turn up, but it also maximises the chance for joy and fulfilment. After all, the process takes up most of the time, whereas the moment of completion is very short. I think this is why we so often come up with ideas that we never see through: because we focus so much on the final result, we forget to ask ourselves if we really want to invest the time and energy to get there. When it comes to it, we find out we don’t. Of course, the process doesn’t have to be fun all the time, and I think it’s dangerous to assume it will be or should be. Instead, it has to be meaningful in some way, a balance between enjoying what you do, and knowing why you do it. I feel like there are more things to be said about this but I am struggling to put them on paper at the moment, so I will come back to it. 

I love the idea of taking yourself on a date. I’m so glad you did! I’m always surprised how often the todo lists can, indeed, wait another day. And I think you are right: looking after yourself sometimes means giving yourself permission to stay firmly in the comfort zone. I am all for adventuring and reaching and growing, but here is a truth: It is exhausting. It takes energy, and nobody has endless energy. There is a time to challenge ourselves and there is a time to enjoy what we have already discovered. Like so many things in life, it is a balance. Too much comfort, and we can become stuck. Too much reaching and we end up toppling over. We are so often encouraged to reach higher and try harder, and forget that to do so, we need a solid foundation that can support us. You can’t build a tall building on shaky foundations. Taking yourself on a cinema date sounds like a great way to regroup! There is something about a dark room, a film playing and a cardboard box of popcorn that locks out the world, and all its demands and questions. My favourite treat for myself, for a very similar feeling, is a really fancy cup of coffee in a nice coffee shop. I love the quiet comfort of a busy coffee shop, the feeling of luxury that someone made me a warm cup of milky coffee, and the space it gives me to read or write or just sip and think. The world stays outside for a while. It can wait.

All the best,


dear big sister

Dinner and a Movie


Dear big sister,

This wednesday, I did something revolutionary: After a long and stressful day at work, I was walking home, thinking of all the stuff to do and I just stopped. I turned around and walked the other direction. I left all the to-do-lists, cleaning schedules, people-to-see and places-to-go behind. I just ducked out of all my plans and spontaneously took myself to dinner and a movie. 

Instead of being crushed by what I felt like I needed to do, I just took some time for myself. To Breathe. I took the freedom of not caring about anything but myself for a night. Not in a selfish way, more in a self-preserving way. Society seems to tell us, that good expierinces need to be shared. If nobody sees how much fun you are having, it is like it didn't happen. But the secret is: it did. Nobody needs to know but you.

So tonight I took myself out on a little date. I didn't clean or think about work or even had a conversation with a friend. I took the freedom of a true night off. To get to know myself a little bit more. I allowed myself the freedom of not pushing myself. Of conciously staying inside my comfort zone, when I usually like to challange myself. Not tonight.

I walked to my favourite vietnamese place and had my favourite soup. I took the long route to the cinema, passing places I know like the back of my hand. I window shopped at all the lovely shops I usually just hurry past. I grabbed the best ice-cream and picked the cinema, that I know has the most comfy seats. I treated myself to popcorn and coke, my favourite movie-snack. 

I snuggled into my seat, watched the remake of a movie I love and just enjoyed my little bubble of calm happiness. No surprises, no pressure, no stress. All the rest can wait another day. 



dear big sister

Finding your passion


Dear big sister

I planned a different post today, but I wanted to reply to your post first. So here it goes: It is not true, that you do not know how to do things. That you don't have a passion you have worked on for years. For as long as I can remember, you have made things. Different things, of course but there were always projects. I remember very clearly being a part of a little film you made when you were 13(ish). I remember admiring the rococo-dress you made when you were 16. I remember a couple of Christmases ago, when you came up with a beautiful table decoration, just quickly.

Maybe part of the way to get there were shortcuts. But you know what wasn’t a shortcut? Starting another creative project, each time you finished the one before or lost interest. That is still continuity. That is a passion. A passion for the creative process. A passion for your own curiosity. I believe it is a socially constructed idea that everyone has to have one true passion, one true skill. A dancer becomes a dancer because they love the process of dancing. That is what truly matters about finding what you love. Of course it takes practice and failure to perfect a skill. But if you are not intrigued by and in love with the process of it, then you will not restart after every setback. 

That is, in my opinion, why the quick-fixes "Play the cello in just three easy steps" doesn't work, and why the results don't gratify us as much as they promise to. Because it was never about the result in the first place. This really bothers me about the culture we live in. The process is often forgotten, or even purposefully reduced to be irrelevant. How many times has someone complimented you on a photograph and you said: "Oh, that was just a quick snap". Or someone complimented your cooking and you said: "What? This? I just whipped this up." 

Our culture is so focused on results, it makes the process look easy. Being proud of things we make is often unacceptable. This brushing off of compliments sends the wrong message in two different ways. Firstly, it undermines the accomplishment of the maker. That in return, diminishes the worth of the result. If we think we can replicate this thing in 20 minutes, it loses what makes it special. This is why people believe they can "learn ballet in 5 easy steps". No you can't. It's really hard. 

Secondly, what happens when we brush off a compliment is, that the artist forgets how special such a skill actually is. It becomes normal. If you realize, that you just created something that any random person could not have made in just three easy steps, that deserves respect. But ignorance of this is the true problem. I had a conversation about the Olympics with a friend the other day. He suggested letting just a random person from the audience compete, just to show how truly amazing those athletes are. Because if you compare the 10 fastest runners in the world, the loser of that race is still very fast. But after losing that race, he probably doesn't feel very accomplished. He takes his skills for granted and so do the millions of people watching the olympics. 

So I just want to list a couple of things that I am pretty good at, but take for granted a lot of the time: Cooking, baking, finding new ways to let out my creative energies, collecting journals, food photography, being curious, to put myself in someday else’s position, understanding complex societal and political processes, creative reading and, of course, writing haikus.  

Here is a list of things I think you are pretty good at: photography, giving advice, listening, cooking, improvising, all of the physics things I don't understand, inspiring others, mediating in fights, being silly and decorating, just to give a few examples. Don't let the notion of the end result keep you from enjoying the process. It isn't one all-powerful passion that creates happiness. Lots of little ones are just as good. Doing them right is what counts.  

And, just for the record, I do not think you are impatient with all of your projects. Just one example: you are literally the only person I know with a hand-sewn outfit in the style of the middle ages. Seriously, I would have probably given up after the bonnet. 



P.S. I loved the cookies. I just ate the last of them while writing this.