Many years ago I was in the UK visiting relatives. I hadn’t seen one particular uncle for some time, and when he saw me he burst out: ‘She looks like a Land Girl!’
I was pretty chuffed about that, I can tell you. He must have thought I looked tanned and healthy and cheerful, right?
Land Girl – definitely a compliment.
While I was preening, he elaborated. I had a big, flushed, bright red moon-face, apparently.
Not, perhaps, such a compliment after all.
He was quite right, though.
Back then I hadn’t realised what the flushed face actually meant. I was still suffering badly from rheumatoid arthritis at the time, and it hadn’t been too long since I had recovered from some very nasty viral symptoms. * I perked up a lot for that particular trip – more on that later – but I was still feeling the effects of the long travel. And my face was just starting to show it.
Nowadays I have a better idea of what causes my less-than-elegant ‘Land Army Flush’. It’s a sort of photosensitive rash that crops up whenever I get exposure to the sun – or whenever I’m a bit under the weather. It’s florid and very obvious, and when it’s really bad it’s almost purplish, and slightly bumpy and scaly (gross, sorry).
It’s useful, though, because it turns out to be an excellent barometer for my general health. If I am tired or getting sick or my immune system is active fighting something off (mostly it’s fighting me off), then up come the glowy cheeks and nose and a bit on the front of my neck.
Sometimes I am aware of it. I start to feel a bit tight-headed and fluey, and voila! I look in the mirror and there it is. And I know it’s time to take it a bit easy.
Sometimes I have no idea – most often when it is related to sun exposure. Somebody comments on my florid complexion (polite) and I hadn’t realised I was glowing like a traffic light.
Pic on the left I was starting to feel a bit off-colour. Pic on the right is me feeling more normal.
It can be a bit embarrassing. I’ve been laughed at for looking like I’ve been drinking too much, or told I’ve gotten sunburned. People sometimes like to reassure me that they ‘get a bit flushed from time to time’ so I shouldn’t worry about it. I think people mean well, but there is a big difference between an occasional flush and an autoimmune rash. It’s not helpful when people infer I’m making a big deal of a small thing.
Actually, I should worry about it. At the very least I need to limit my exposure to the sun, and pay attention to the warning signs when they happen. I’ve frequently been told to use steroid cream on it (but I never have: don’t dob me in).
People with medical training usually look at the rash and nod knowingly. They ask if I have lupus (which I don’t); but I believe the pattern of the rash is not uncommon for a number of autoimmune illnesses. My rheumatologist tells me that lots of people have it for the same reason (and that is reassuring).
I’ve noticed as I grow older the pattern of the rash has become pretty much a permanent thing: I always have some colour on that distinctive cheeks-nose-neck area. I don’t know if steroid cream would get rid of it but at this stage I can’t be bothered. **
For all my whingeing here, I don’t really mind the Land Girl flush. On a good day it can pass as a healthy glow, and when it’s really bad you are very unlikely to encounter me anyway as I’ll be skulking at home with tea and painkillers.
But if you ever notice it start up when you see me, feel free to let me know. It’s Nature’s little warning light. And don’t let me get away with walking in the sun without a hat!
Oh, about the fact that I perked up a lot while I was on that trip to the UK. Some people have suggested that it was because of the abrupt change of scenery and food and water: my immune system had too many other things to worry about to be bothered attacking itself.
But my doctor when I got back also suggested it may have been the food we were eating while staying with my aunt and uncle. When I described our food, she was pretty convinced.
My aunt and uncle grew most of their own fruit and veg, in glorious black, crumbly deep local soil. We ate heaps of lovely freshly-picked produce, including the most delicious baby sprouts I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. Also lots of fish and shellfish, and eggs. A small amount of meat. A moderate amount of grains (oats, barley and, yes, bread ***) and legumes. Small amounts of dairy. And vast, endless bucketfuls of strong, stewed black tea.
This memory has stayed with me ever since. I have never been able to replicate the diet exactly because I’ve never grown my own fruit and veg. Perhaps the magic is in the fresh-picked nature of the produce? Perhaps this cosy, comfortable English food is just particularly suited to calming down over-excited immune systems? Perhaps the key was the lovely harvested-locally English shellfish, or the many, many cups of strong black tea? The relatively small amount of meat and dairy? The rarity of processed foods? (I’d definitely like it to have been the small nightly glass of homemade sloe gin!) Who knows?
I do know that once I get my veg garden set up, and when I can get past this AIP thing, I’d like to give it a shot replicating it to the best of my ability (pending any obvious food intolerances that come out of the AIP elimination process) and see what happens. You never know your luck, and anyway, it’s certainly a pleasant and easy way to eat in the long term.
So, having decided that paleo is definitely not for me, I at least have a model to aim for post-AIP. Especially if I can grow a bit of our own food. I can call it the Land Girl Diet! Stay tuned …
* To this day I have no idea what it was. I was diagnosed with Barmah Forest Virus, then undiagnosed, then diagnosed with a vague ‘encephalo virus’, then diagnosed with Barmah Forest again, then I contracted arthritis which I still have, and since then various medical people have proffered various theories about what it was (or, more often, wasn’t), and nobody has any opinions about whether it was related to all my troubles today, and and and … Mostly, I know I was very sick and very miserable for a long time, and have never felt like I ever quite recovered.
** How bad can looking like I’ve just been scoffing gin in the sun for several hours actually be, right?
*** Just saying, all you ‘Oh, oh, grains are the Devil’ people out there …