What I’ve Learned from Counselling: Anger.

In my last blog I touched on how damaging overthinking can be to our mental health. As I discovered in one of the opening counselling sessions with Lauren, saying you accept a form of trauma and actually accepting it are very different things. When we overthink trauma and apply logic to them we often neglect our emotional needs which in the long run leaves us confused, anxious and overwhelmed. Emotions and feelings need to be accepted and welcomed for us to understand them, rather than overanalysing and boxing them away, telling ourselves I’ll deal with that later. Spoiler: we don’t.

It was in a later session with Lauren that I came unstuck. Again. This was a theme that continued throughout my counselling. The format for my weekly “unstickings” usually went something like this:

  1. Lauren asks me a perfectly normal question e.g. “does that make you feel angry?”.
  2. Josh responds with a bold, assertive statement that he thinks sounds right e.g. “l’m not an angry person. I don’t get angry, it doesn’t help the situation”.
  3. Lauren looks at Josh, eyebrows stitched confusedly, and says “Josh, we all feel anger. You are just denying yourself the ability to feel it”.
  4. Josh becomes unstuck.

In fact, that is exactly how one of our sessions went. Lauren was trying to understand how I had emotionally responded to some of the major things that had happened throughout my life. It was an attempt to untangle the emotional cables that, with my Dad’s death, had become knotted and indistinguishable. This particular segment of the conversation was shaped by the frustration I feel when I think about my left leg. I claimed that I had come to terms with with the lymphoedema, a condition which has left me with a painful, swollen limb for almost all of my adult life.

The cellulitis in my leg went septic and kept me in hospital for 9 days

I applied the same logic as I did with losing my Dad: there is nothing I can do, it isn’t my fault, so there is no use in being angry at something I can’t control. That is reasonable, right? Yes, it is, but it still doesn’t address one critical point and that is that despite me telling myself I am not angry, I still am. It was the same story as the “overthinking” I covered in the previous blog.

“You are denying yourself from feeling the things that your body wants to feel”, Lauren said. “You nearly died because of an infection in your leg which has a life-altering condition and you very casually said that as if it didn’t mean anything?”. She paused and looked at me with concern. I stared back at her blankly and shrugged. “I guess I’m just used to it”. Lauren wasn’t finished.

“I have a feeling you haven’t come to terms with your leg like you think you have”. In that moment I was slightly defensive though deep down I knew she was right. I needed her to be right. “You say you don’t feel frustrated and angry, but I think you may have just conditioned yourself not to feel anger as you think that it is the right response”.

We discussed my leg more and I told Lauren a story of when Charlotte and I were travelling in Thailand. We were heading to the beach and I was wearing shorts – something I was really uncomfortable with doing at the time as it meant my black compression stocking was exposed. We walked hand-in-hand along a sandy path until a local man cycled up to us. Skidding to a stop it was immediately obvious he was high as a kite (if you’ve been to Tonsai beach you’ll know the general vibe of the place). We looked at him to see what he wanted and he just raised his arm and pointed at my leg, laughing in an almost cartoonish way that enabled us to see his tonsils dangling at the entrance to his throat.

Me and my lymphie leg went all over Asia

“I can hear in your voice a sense of frustration Josh. You sound hurt. What are you feeling telling me this story?”, Lauren asked.

“Well, it’s complicated because I know he is from a less developed part of the world so maybe he doesn’t have the same understanding around disabilities”. Lauren looked at me with her eyes wide open.

“You’ve just told me a stranger cycled up to you and pointed and laughed at your disabled leg and your response is to justify his actions!”. Then it hit me. I was doing it AGAIN. “Don’t you see? It doesn’t matter where he has come from, it clearly has hurt you. So let’s try again, how do you feel?”

I almost cried. “It hurts. It really hurts. And it fucking sucks”, I said defeatedly. In that moment I understood what Lauren was referring to. I was denying myself the raw feeling of anger that my body wanted me to feel.

A mood

I have always considered myself a pretty laid-back individual. There have been a lot of peaks in my life predominantly, but plenty of troughs too, and it was in those low points that I prided myself on my ability to keep smiling. It’s what society seems to be telling us to do. You’re almost a maturer, better person if you can “be the bigger person” and put things behind you. I’m not suggesting for a moment that you should hold onto anger and let it manifest into something worse – not at all. But what I’ve learned from my sessions with Lauren is that you need to tune-in and give yourself the room to process anger and then decide what to do with it.

“They don’t call it the fire symbol for nothing”, Lauren said. “Anger as an emotion, when used in the right way, can be incredibly powerful and healing”, she explained, describing anger as the fuel which drives peoples’ passion for change in the world. “It’s when you use it irresponsibly and cause damage to yourself or other people that it becomes dangerous. You’ve been through so much with your leg and now with your Dad it’s okay, and perfectly understandable, for you to feel angry. Don’t bottle it up”.

How do you prevent a fire from spreading? One tactic is to use fire or explosives. Fire is literally used to fight fire. But if you’re not careful fire can also totally decimate an area. Lauren encouraged me to give myself permission to feel anger, but also to check-in: is what I’m feeling and thinking helpful in this moment?

In a future blog I will delve deeper into the conversation I had with Lauren around my leg. I discovered some fascinating things about how my lymphoedema may have distorted my relationship with the world around me so if you have lymphoedema like me, you may want to tune into that one. For my next blog however I will be looking at strength, confidence and self-belief.

What I’ve Learned from Counselling: Overthinking.

I have been going to counselling for the past three months after struggling to cope with the death of my Dad. My GP recommended a local grief counselling service in Hackney and I have found the process more helpful than I could have imagined.

Anxiety is widespread at the moment and death, tragically, is more present in daily life than I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime. I wanted to share some of the things that resonated with me during my grief counselling. Some of the things that I’ll be touching on I feel might be helpful to others in a similar position, but also transferrable to mental health struggles beyond grief too.

I’d like to start with one of my earlier sessions with Lauren, my counsellor, that made a big impact on me (for the sake of this blog I’ve changed my counsellor’s name to Lauren). The first thing I noticed about her was her glasses, as they were very big, and they encompassed two intense brown eyes that rarely broke focus. Lauren’s technique for each session is to sit silently and patiently until her client is ready to speak. This lets them set the pace, though it was a little unsettling at first I must admit.

He always had a smile on his face

Slowing down your thoughts let’s you access your feelings

I had never realised how much sway overthinking can have on your mental health, especially in grief or trauma. I’d always considered myself emotionally in tune and overthinking as a trait was reserved for the people that thought logically, the statisticians, with brains that had to look at the minute details. Not like me who, on the surface, appeared to be an open book with my thoughts and feelings – going with the flow. I didn’t bottle things up I spoke about them. Didn’t I?

What does that mean, “going with the flow?”, Lauren asked me in one of our first sessions. I explained to her that I felt I was accepting of my circumstances. That logically, I understood life doesn’t pick and choose who to take. Death comes for us all, it was just Dad’s time.

“So you think you have accepted your Dad’s death and all the traumas that have come before him passing?”, she enquired. I paused to think. “Yes”, I said. “I have. I understand he has died and he is no longer here, I don’t have the numbness that came with shock anymore”. “So why are you so anxious? Where does that come from? What do you feel right now in your chest speaking about it, about your Dad?”

That is when everything unfolded.

Saying you accept trauma and truly accepting trauma are very different things. Our brains and our emotional body are not the same, but they are connected. I had told myself I had accepted my Dad’s death, but I hadn’t – not at all. Our brains are incredible tools for categorising and filing thoughts away, but they are awful for processing emotions. I like to think of it as a calculator trying to produce poetry; it’s not possible. Often, we have thoughts and responses in grief that on the surface sound right (e.g. I understand Dad has died as I attended his funeral), but they fail to address what we are really experiencing emotionally. Our brains will categorise emotions into tidy statements that can be boxed away and pushed into the attics of our minds, right near the back and safely out-of-sight. They stay there, ignored and unaddressed.

It’s easier to push your emotions aside and focus on your thoughts

How do you feel?

When she asked me this, I instinctively said “Well, on the surface-”

“Josh”, she cut me off. “I don’t want to know the surface. I want to know how you feel. So let’s try again: how do you really feel?”. She probed, softly, so I didn’t feel pressured at all. “I know that factually and logically he is gone and it’s a part of life”. Again, factually and logically. My brain had taken my experience and logically tried to dismantle it. Because of X, I understand Y, so I should be feeling Z. But that is not how our bodies work – well, mine at least doesn’t.

The emotional pain that comes with grief can be too much to bear. Our brains, in an attempt to protect us, can feather around our feelings with logical thoughts in an attempt to avoid them, rather than taking them head on. They try to out manoeuvre our emotions by “making sense of situations”. Now, it is important for us to do this, normally, but sometimes, for us to really understand what we are experiencing, what we are really feeling, we need to switch off the voice in our heads and listen to our emotional bodies. That’s where emotions live and they can be far more nuanced. With our emotions often X does not equal Y.

Taking time to listen

I stopped speaking in an attempt to quieten my mind. How do I feel? Shit, actually, I thought to myself. My heart is beating out of my throat and anxiety seems to be leaking and bleeding into my chest area. I wasn’t okay, even if I was telling myself I knew my Dad had died and that I had come to terms with it.

“What do I do now?”, I asked, fearing the usual spiel around mindfulness and meditation. I believe in them as tools, I really do, but personally I had yet to find a way of making them stick. “Check in”, she replied, “and do so regularly. Try to spot unhealthy patterns of over-thinking”.

It has only been a couple of months but I try to check in as often as I can. I’m trying to quieten my mind when I feel anxiety or sadness brewing, staying vigilant to that voice in my head that has the tendency to over-think, to spiral and categorise and desperately try to make sense of things that aren’t logical. Grief brings a whirlwind of emotions, thoughts and feelings. Why is life so unfair? Why me? Why us? Why is it always my family? These aren’t simple thoughts with simple answers. There’s a lot of anguish, anger and frustration in them and as much I want to breeze through the process, I need to be patient. Grief takes as long as it needs to and it’ll take you with it whether you like it or not. The more you try to fight it the harder it bites. Before I can start to accept the death of my Dad I need to find the time and space to just be with the pain.

“Breathe into the pain. Listen to it, don’t try to figure it out”, Lauren said. “When you listen, you give yourself time and space to feel. That’s where the healing can start, because you’re not bottling it up or ignoring it”. She continued to explain the importance of finding ways of preventing spirals. Whether it’s a nice bath, a nap, or an evening with friends – you need to find the things that keep you from overthinking.

When you’re grieving a nap is easy self-care

On reflection

That session alone taught me so much about myself. I’m not the person I thought I was. I lean far more heavily onto my logical and analytical side than I thought. That side acts as my crutch, my way of dodging uncomfortable emotions; but it’s not always healthy. I’m just starting my journey (a cliche I know), but my toolbox is there with the other tools I’ve discovered in counselling, and I will touch on these in later blogs.

Obviously this is just my experience. Grief and trauma is so personal and everyone’s experiences can be entirely different. But I felt the topic of “overthinking” was a common experience, shared by a lot of us, and a healthy place to start the conversation. Maybe it resonated with you, maybe not. Perhaps my experience might encourage you to give counselling or therapy a go. Either way, I hope you found the blog insightful and if you would like to know more feel free to pop me a message.

Commuting with Lymphoedema

Please offer me a seat. That’s what the badges for people with a disability have written across them. Well, in London at least. They’re about three inches in diameter, blue, and I wear mine centrally on my chest.


I started a new job a few weeks back and with it came a new commute. There’s a lot of rubbing shoulders, armpits in faces and every so often, an unshielded sneeze. Everyday involves a competitive slalom through the tunnels of London’s underground stations. I travel up and down grumbling escalators which connect streams of people from the outside world with the warm, sweaty innards of London’s tube stations. There’s one or two please mind the gaps, plenty of major delays and even the odd this train has now changed destination – a personal favourite of mine.

Onboard you’ll find Kindle readers, tablet tappers, music players and non-stop laptop must-get-my-work-finished-ers; all off to make a buck, some off to make a few. It’s always busy and bustling during rush hour yet, despite the congestion, the trains tend to be silent. The only sounds you’ll hear at this time is the screeching of rickety wheels and tannoy announcements reminding you to hold the hand rails and report suspicious activity.


I am a reader and a watcher. I spend most of my journey reading my Kindle, but if I don’t fancy that, I stick my headphones in and people watch. Humans are entertaining – even more so when listening to a piece of cinematic music. They seem to sway in perfect harmony to the sounds of the instruments, almost like the instruments know what’s unfolding before you.

During the first part of my journey I always get a seat. It’s the first stop on the line meaning there is rarely any competition. Three stops in and I stick my blue badge on just as the train starts to fill. As the doors open new arrivals pour onto the train, each of them scanning the carriage for empty seats. Envious eyes look down at me in my seated comfort. The slightest movement from a sitter and like sheep in a field, the standers will turn their heads in hope of giving their legs a break. There is no reason for me to stick my badge on this early. I know I’ll get a seat and, like the rest of the carriage, I am entitled to a seat. Yet, due to my age I feel the need to show people that actually, I need to sit as much if not more than they do. It’s a strange insecurity and if anything invites more stares than if I left my badge off.

After an hour or so the second part of my commute commences. I get off the first train and walk about six paces across the platform to the next one. By this time the new train is already packed with every seat taken. Small crowds gather at each of the sliding doors and one-by-one we shuffle onto the train. I try to stand in the aisle so I can grab a seat if needs be and thanks to my badge, about sixty percent of the time i’m offered one. Understandably, at eight in the morning, people don’t want to interact with strangers, they just want to pass the time. The best way to do that? Hold on to something physical. Whenever I step onto the train I try to make my badge viewable. The thing is, most of the passengers are facing downwards with their nose in a phone, tablet, newspaper or book. They don’t look up and if they do, it’s to check they haven’t missed their stop. They’ll look through you, not at you.

Why don’t you just ask for a seat?

To be honest, it’s because i‘m not brave enough. Asking for a seat draws attention. Asking for a seat means waking someone up or inconveniencing them. It’s awkward, feels embarrassing (for me), and i’d rather just wait for the next stop and hope people get off. Quite often i’ll have spent the day limping around but even then, I will never ask for a seat. One day i’ll shrug the insecurities off my shoulders, but i’m not there yet and that’s okay.


Transport For London, London’s travel authority, needs to do more for people with disabilities. They’ve improved vastly over the years but still there is a lot more that can be done. People are becoming more aware that not every disability is visible. On a good day, with the right trousers, you’d barely notice my leg however, I shouldn’t have to prove I have disability to be granted a seat from an able-bodied person. I enjoy wearing fashionable clothes. I have a piercing (very unique I know), I wear rings and necklaces, vintage jumpers and ‘edgy’ jackets. When people look at me taking a seat, when one is offered, I feel they often look ay my clothes and start to process whether they think I really need the seat or not. It can be a dangerous place to find yourself in as some days I catch myself passing judgement on those not offering me a seat too, looking at them in the same way others look at me. I get frustrated or angry when in reality they might need the seat more than I do!


I’m sure most of the time it’s my own brain convincing me people are judging but sometimes you can just tell. Their eyes go to your badge. Then they look at your face. They’ll trace your body from head to toe, look at your badge and face again, then make their judgement. I have noticed people stare at me for entire journeys. Some stop caring after a minute. Others smile sympathetically. Either way, it’s exhausting. Constantly I prepare what I am going to say when someone stops to ask me why I have the badge. Just the other day some asked where they can get one. I have no idea if they needed one or not, but the way they laughed made me think not.

Commuting at rush-hour really offers insight as to what people are really like. Some are very selfish and impatient, others are caring and aware. If you have a busy commute, or even if you don’t, I would encourage you to seek a badge or your city’s equivalent – if they have one that is. It’s been a real help for me and helps communicate to strangers a really quite complex subject. It does the talking for you and without it my leg would be a lot more swollen and my body a lot more tired.

You can get them from here: https://tfl.gov.uk/campaign/please-offer-me-a-seat

I think for the hundreds of tannoy announcements there should be at least one along the lines of keep an eye out for people with blue badges, pregnant women or those who struggle to stand. Remember, not every disability is visible. An announcement like this might encourage people facing downwards to look around for a second which would lighten the load on people with disabilities. It would remove the awkwardness of confrontation and help to spread awareness on different forms of disability.

A Trip to Wales with Lymphoedema

Just beyond Dinas Mawdwwy in the north of Wales, nestled at the bottom of a great sloping hillside there is a beautiful quaint cottage. Surrounding the cottage, acres of green bracken punctuated with grey mossy rocks and arching trees can be seen from the kitchen through it’s rustic stable door. A huge fireplace warms the house through, though you need to be careful not to bash your head on the low hanging beam just above it.


In my very first few blogs of Left Leg First I described the nasty encounter I had with cellulitis last summer. The cottage described above is that same cottage I retreated to upon being discharged from hospital. It’s a very special place for me and for all my friends and we have visited it every year for the past decade. It’s a peaceful place full of character and every piece of furniture seems to hold a different story and a different memory. The mugs hanging from the rack never seem to change. The beds creak and the cupboards are full of dusty boardgames with clues to answers I’ve rarely heard of. A freshly brewed pot of tea always sits on the table and muddy boots, damp jumpers and raincoats hang in waiting by the door.

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Shopping with Lymphoedema

Shopping. A real marmite of a pastime. For some, it’s a joyous occasion filled with dummy catwalks, struts and selfies. For others, it’s a gauntlet sure to end in sweat, tears and pure, unadulterated boredom. There’s the people who try the clothes on – the shoppers, and the people who carry the clothes – the walking coat hangers. We’ve all been there and whether you think owning your look is fabulous or frightening it’s an inescapable part of life for near enough every one of us.

Personally, I like shopping. Sorry, I like shopping for me. I have never lacked confidence in walking into a high street store and picking out an armful of clothes that I think make me look “cool” (a near impossible task). However, over the years my experience of shopping has changed somewhat and that is largely down to lymphoedema.

Shopping for clothes involves a lot of standing around

Park the car, walk to the high street, get your bearings. Locate the shop you’re keen to visit, plan route accordingly. Enter shop, browse racks. Lose shopping partner, relocate shopping partner. Critique their choice, show them your finds. Agree you could find nicer/cheaper/more weather appropriate items elsewhere. Leave shop, locate next shop. Repeat X4. Go for lunch. Go back to first shop, try on items. Go to till. Purchase, leave, return to swap item. Grab coffee. Spot sale. Stand in thirty person queue all for a reduced bomber jacket even though it’s mid-July. Lose car.


Shopping is tiring

Sound familiar? Thought so. Standing on your feet for hours at a time can be really sore when your legs are swollen with lymphoedema. By the end of the first hour I am usually waddling from seat to seat. If I am shopping with my girlfriend and we enter a women’s only clothing store I immediately head for the nearest stool. If there is no stool I sit on the floor like a child. If I am really brave, I will ask for the seat inside the waiting area of the changing rooms but that can sometimes attract strange looks.

Often I end up cutting short my girlfriend’s shopping time because I simply can’t last. If the words i’ll come back later leave her mouth I usually breathe a heavy sigh as I know I will probably be in considerable pain by the time later arrives. If I am tired and she holds up two options asking which I prefer, I am likely to pick the option that requires the least amount of trying on. Now this isn’t a major drama in our relationship, but I do feel if you are the nominated shopping partner you should do your bit – especially for your girlfriend. Especially for your girlfriend that supports you with your various lymphoedema-clothing related anxieties.

Trying on clothes is difficult

You know when it’s winter time and the inside of every building is hot like a furnace? Yeah. That. I dislike that a lot. Not only do you dehydrate but you sweat. Compression garments are not comfortable at the best of times and sweating only makes them more uncomfortable. Constantly taking clothes on and off drains your energy and after trying on one singular corduroy shirt (i’m edgy like that) i’ve usually had enough.

For a couple of years, until recently, I refused to wear shorts because I was either too embarrassed or because none fitted my leg right. In fact, I outrightly refused all cream shorts because paired with my beige compression garment I looked an old British colonial general – that’s not a look i’m down with. I could either wear fashionable shorts that cut the circulation to my leg or I could wear baggy shorts that screamed “world’s best dad”.

I mentioned earlier how nominated shopping partners should “do their bit”. I say this lightly and don’t mean you should carry bags around like a donkey, but more that you should offer some real advice or opinions to your shopping partner. I understand for some people this isn’t possible as they quite literally take the “able” out of fashionable but, if you’re like me, you appreciate people’s honesty.

My girlfriend fills me with confidence when it comes to clothing. I have two legs that take two different sizes. Finding trousers is a sensitive subject for me and if there is even a hint of discomfort they’re straight in the no pile. That’s why I appreciate it when she tells me that I look good or helps me to find a different fit. I’ve stopped wearing skinny jeans because they hurt too much and look ridiculous on me. I now go for looser fitting “tapered” trousers which give me more room around the knee.


Tapered trousers from Uni Qlo

I have tried on countless pairs of trousers over the past few years. Most of them don’t work or don’t fit. That is possibly the most frustrating part of shopping with lymphoedema. You can walk into a shop, see all kinds of clothes you’d love to wear, but know almost immediately they won’t fit you correctly. Shoes are a real problem area too. I’ve seen countless lymphies struggle with shoes as you can’t buy them in a different size for each foot – if your lymphoedema is in one leg that is. You either have to walk in giant’s shoes or squeeze your feet in. Or, buy a pair you don’t like purely to avoid discomfort. I bought a pair of Dr Martins a while back. Quality shoes that can last me a life time. The only problem is I can’t break them in as they hurt too much – the leather literally cuts into my swollen ankle.

So, in summary, I still love to shop. However, there are burning issues around accessibility and fashion that need serious attention. Too many people of varying disabilities struggle to find and access clothes they love which seems like such a fixable problem if it was given time buy those abled/in power. I am blessed with a slim frame, but there are men (and women) who are forced into wearing clothes they hate as they simply have no alternative. In an upcoming blog I will give some examples of clothes which are kind on my lymphoedema but still look a bit more fashionable. Well, in my opinion at least.

Got any tips on shopping with lymphoedema? Let me hear them!

Travelling with Lymphoedema: East Asia

A few weeks back I returned from a four month escapade around Asia (queue crying emoticons and “take me back” Instagram posts). A few posts back, I described my experience of travelling around sunny (and also very rainy) South East Asia with lymphoedema. This post and the next will cover the second half our trip, in Far East Asia. “Our”, if you remember rightly, means Charlotte and I, and it’s important I mention Charlotte as my whole experience of travelling would be very different without her organised, caring and sometimes angrily pointing hands.

Tip: Always bring a Charlotte. Remember to provide with food and or wine.

Back in Singapore, my wonderful lymphoedema therapist recommended I detoured away from South East Asia as soon as possible due to my leg’s reaction to the weather. The heat had got to me and my stockings had started to lose their strength, so staying much longer than we did could have been disastrous.

Tip: Leave enough budget spare and don’t book anything too far in advance so you can change plans if needs be.

With that in mind, we decided to cull Laos and Cambodia from our list and decided to head to South Korea which was not only more expensive, but much, much colder.

Comparing the climates of South Korea and S.E. Asia is like comparing an ice-cube with a freshly grilled cheese sandwich. The weather dropped from 28°C to -13°C, we wore scarfs instead of swim-shorts, and we trudged through sparkling snow instead of soft, white sand. The entire contents of our rucksacks were abandoned but thankfully, due to our timely location of Hoi An, we were able to purchase faux North Face jackets, fleeces and socks before we left.

Off we flew across the East China Sea and after five hours or so, we arrived in Seoul. So, what should you expect if you’re visiting South Korea?

South Korea

Firstly, it’s amazing. Alongside a fascinating history, a huge fashion scene and a booming economy, the South Koreans also have the fastest internet speed in the world, a diverse art scene and a tasty although somewhat bizarre cuisine. Their people are proud, very friendly and incredibly polite and will always engage you in conversation or point you in the right direction – even when you show no signs of being lost!

We stayed in a mixture of homestays, Air B&Bs, hostels, traditional Korean homes known as Hanoks and on one special occasion we even stayed the night in a temple with Buddhist nuns. In most buildings across SK the floors are heated and in more traditional households, the people sleep on the floor. To be fair, it is very cosy down there, especially when the snow outside is up to your waistline.

Early in the trip, we visited the Korean demilitarised zone which was a terrifying and humbling experience. We watched Black Panther with the locals in Busan, experienced our first ever VR café in Seoul and were even lucky enough to get tickets to the Winter Olympics.

If you would like any tips on things to see, do and eat in South Korea just drop me a message – I would love to share!

Travelling with Lymphoedema around South Korea

As I mentioned earlier, the change in temperature was a real shock to the system. We didn’t realise quite how cold it was until we stepped off the plane where a bitter breeze slapped us across our tanned freckly cheeks.

The circulation in my swollen leg was poor which meant acclimatising to the cold was difficult. Extremes are never good for lymphoedema, and I learned this within the first few days of our arrival. Where the lymph had gathered, most noticeably in my thigh, the limb turned extremely cold. It felt like I was walking around with a block of ice at times making it tough to walk and very uncomfortable to sit down. With icy pavements, this became even harder so I would recommend you purchase a good, fitted pair of walking boots that allow plenty of room in case of swelling. Charlotte and I also purchased plenty of hand warmers that I rubbed on my legs after lengthy spells outside.

Tip: Head to the high street store Uni Qlo (a global brand) where you can purchase thin but effective thermal trousers, vests and jumpers.

An impressive feature of Seoul is their newly built subway system. The stations sound a charming alarm before the super spacious trains with heated seats arrive. The carriages are air-conned and the locals tend to resist occupying any seating allocated for the disabled, pregnant or elderly. It seemed like a social faux par as far as we could tell. I got quite a few stares mind, but I didn’t particularly care as my leg hurt too much.

Tip: Purchase a T-money card which is a travel card accepted on most trains, buses and certain brands of taxi. It’ll save you a lot of standing around!

We also visited the national museum while in Seoul and the free tour in particular I would highly recommend. We had a great time learning about the Korean language, traditions and history but the most noticeable part for me was the museums accessibility. Wheelchairs were free to use and could be found next to a big sign making visitors aware of their existence. I wheeled myself round, careful not to knock over any ancients jars, and was able to enjoy the tour much easier without straining my already tired leg.

Over 40% of South Korea’s population lives in Seoul. It’s the place to be and it’s not hard to see why. What that does mean however, is that the rest of the country doesn’t offer quite the same experience as the capital. Don’t expect the same transport or accessibility everywhere you go and be aware that the locals rarely speak English or any other language for that matter. Plan your day in advance to avoid long waits, getting lost or any other unwanted experiences!

Have you tried kimchi? The pickled cabbage is the latest craze to hit the UK but personally I’m not sure what all the fuss is about (sorry guys). Bibimbap however really is delicious, nutritious and very filling! When visiting SK, don’t expect to recognise any of the food you see. Overall, they have a big emphasis on healthy side dishes which are quite bold in flavour. They do enjoy their fast food however and a favourite meal, especially amongst students, is fried chicken and beer. Not the best thing for lymphoedema, but certainly delicious.

Surprisingly, I became dehydrated more often in the cold than I did in the warm. The bitter weather tricks you into thinking you have consumed fluids and because you don’t sweat as much, you don’t tend to reach for your bottle every five minutes. Keep that in mind as dehydration will slow you down and worsen your lymphoedema.

Until next time, SK

For us, South Korea was unforgettable. In fact, across our whole trip Seoul took the prize for favourite city which really says a lot considering some of the incredible places we visited.

The country is blessed with proper seasons meaning if you go in the summer period you’ll likely experience extreme heat compared to our extreme cold. However, if you do decide to go in the winter, remember to wrap up snuggly, bring plenty of hand warmers and purchase a flask on arrival!

In my next post I will cover our incredible journey across Japan – stay tuned!

Haikus for Lymphoedema

Today marks the start of Lymphoedema Awareness Week (March 4th – 10th) and since I am currently in Osaka, Japan, I thought I’d recognise the occasion with a local form of poetry called ‘haiku’.

I know, how very cultured of me.

The idea of these short poems is to give a brief window into what life with lymphoedema might look like. They are merely my thoughts and interpretations of the condition, some personal and some observational.



Photography by Maria Molinero, Unsplash


Please give up my seat?

Hidden underneath my clothes

I can barely stand


Lymphoedema is often a discreet condition. It can be hard to talk openly about it, especially in public.



Photography by Pan Xiaozhen, Unsplash


One leg like a tree

The other thin, like a twig

My skin rough like bark


For me, one leg is double the size of the other. Without regular skin care my skin turns rough and sore. For many, both legs and arms are swollen with lymphoedema. For others, the swelling can be in their neck, hips, stomachs, genitals and just about anywhere across the body.



Photography by Pablo Heimplatz, Unsplash


First, it was cancer

Then, my arms started to swell

What’s happening to me?


Lymphoedema is an unfortunate consequence of cancer, in particular breast cancer. After a hellacious cancer cycle, many patients are forced into managing a permanent condition they’ve never even heard of.



Photography by Leio Mclaren, Unsplash


Way up in the sky

Soaring above the ocean

My leg starts to swell


Flying makes for an uncomfortable experience for those with lymphoedema. The pressure causes all sorts of problems.



Photography by Derek Huang, Unsplash


Compression garments

Take a long time to put on

Stop us from swelling


Our compression garments often receive strange looks. But, without them, we couldn’t function normally if at all. They are a little tiring however!



Photography by Martha Dominguez, Unsplash


Something isn’t right

Itchy toes, a dark red foot

Back again I see


Cellulitis is a huge risk for those living with lymphoedema. After the first bout, your chance of the infection reoccurring increases by 80%. The skin infection can quickly become aggressive and septic as I experienced last summer.



Photography by Fedrico Giampieri, Unsplash


What a lovely day

Not a single cloud in sight

Better stay in side


On warm days the heat can be problematic due to increased swelling. For some with lymphoedema, a day in doors is a safer option.



Photography by John Jennings, Unsplash


Swollen, stretched and sore

All for a sip of white wine

Now it’s hard to walk


Alcohol causes our lymphatic channels to dilate causing us to swell almost instantaneously.



Photography by Jennifer Burk, Unsplash


What’s the matter then?

I’ve put on a lot of weight

Do you exercise?


Due to a lack of understanding from medical professionals, many cases of lymphoedema are misdiagnosed as obesity. It’s time for that to change.



Photography by Volkan Olmez, Unsplash


I understand now

What you might be going through

I think to myself


Having lymphoedema has opened my eyes to other people’s situations and suffering.


Have you got lymphoedema or any other medical condition? Why not try writing a few haikus yourself? It’s fun and cathartic, and a great way to communicate your emotions and experiences. You can see how to write a haiku here.

Lymphoedema: Swelling, Signals & Spectrums

Lymphoedema confuses me.

For years it has baffled medical professionals, so I think it’s only fair that I also struggle to grasp it. Just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, when I am convinced all is well, and just as I smile with confidence that I won’t let my condition define me, my leg says “no Josh, back in your box”.

Not literally of course that would be ridiculous. Although, I do find myself talking to my leg as if it could feel emotion. Feeling sorry for it if I get frustrated or blaming it after a bad leg day. Bizarre that.

Lymphoedema is incredibly sensitive. Too much of this or that and it’s time to rest. “This” being anything and “that” being almost everything. Diet, exercise, sleep, stress, posture, commute, sun exposure – you name it, lymphoedema loves and loathes it.

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Travelling with Lymphoedema: South East Asia

Note: S.E.A = South East Asia

In my last post I described my experience of travelling across Indonesia with lymphoedema. The plan was to do this for every country I visited, but, when I finished writing the Malaysia edition, I realised it was all a bit “samey”. That’s not to say the day-to-day experiences of each country were the same, but rather how my lymphoedema responded to the environment was similar.

That’s why I’ve decided to write one mothership post, detailing what one can expect if they were to embark on an adventure across South East Asia. I will then do the same for East Asia which currently has a very different climate (it’s snowy here, minus ten and I am freezing my a*se off).

So, South East Asia. Big place, absolutely manic and certainly not the most welcoming of environments for lymphoedema, especially for those with the intention of backpacking. Take one minute to study the dangers of travelling here (with lymphoedema) and you might think it was a no-go, risk-ridden mass of land almost certain to hand you a healthy dose of cellulitis. On paper it is, but, with a bit of caution and some common sense it can be scaled, explored and enjoyed like any other part of the world… Well, nearly.

I spent roughly two and a half months in South East Asia, starting in Indonesia and passing through Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, with Vietnam concluding our stay.

It’s a fantastic part of the world which bursts with tradition, colour, history, flavour and the friendliest people you will likely ever come across. There is a stark difference between every nation, especially when you consider the modern capitalist powerhouse that is Singapore compared to say, communist Vietnam. However, every single one of these countries shares typically Asian characteristics, some of which lend themselves kindly to travelling with lymphoedema, some of which do not.

I’ll break these down for you and offer some tips whilst I’m at it:


In most of South East Asia they have a variety of seasons. In fact, the seasons differ from region to region within the same country! In the rainy season you will experience reoccurring biblical downpour which will leave you soaked head to toe. Miniature streams will form all around you and all but the brave (the locals selling ponchos) flee inwards. The good thing is the rain reduces the temperature slightly giving you a temporary break from the scorching heat.

However, I found at times my lymphoedema (left leg) was not too appreciative of the wet. My feet got drenched meaning I was regularly drying myself off and applying aloe gel between my toes – a real problem area for me. Litter and waste also moved with the wet, allowing polluted puddles to punctuate the streets. Not an issue if you’re careful, big issue if you misstep. Either side of the rain however came plenty of glorious sunshine.

Temperatures hit the thirties in Malaysia. The lowest temperature we experienced was around 18 degrees in Vietnam. If you could see both Charlotte and I before we left, you’d have thought us ill. Pale we were and prone to burning too, but after enough time soaking up the rich vitamin D we began to tan. But, as wonderful as the heat was, it didn’t take long before it had its way with my leg. I swelled like a balloon at times. The sticky heat wasn’t too comfortable either making my stocking a chore to get on and off, with chafing a frequent problem.

Bring a cooling spray with you such as the menthol infused one Medi supply. Rub it on your problem area and your stockings too. It’s not going to cool you down entirely but it helps nonetheless. Make sure you perform massage twice every day when you can, it goes a long way into relieving a heavy limb after a long day in the heat.

Relevant to: All countries.


In many parts of S.E.A sanitation is lacking somewhat. Some call it unhygienic, some call it relaxed. In tourist or popular spots you tend to be fine. In lesser known, more rural areas you might (definitely) need to bring hand sanitiser and toilet roll. It’s all a part of the backpacking experience I guess, but, bear in mind with lymphoedema there needs to be a certain amount of consideration. I.e. are you particularly prone to illness – especially cellulitis? Expect sneezing with no cover, spitting from the locals (especially elderly folk), stray dogs and cats (in restaurants and homestays).

Relevant to: all countries apart from Singapore.


The religions of S.E.A are an integral part of its cultural makeup. With Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity making up the major sects, you won’t go a day without stumbling across a beautiful place of worship.

Buddhist temples of shimmering gold; stunning geometric patterns which characterise traditional Muslim mosques; Hindu temples decorated with more colour than a rainbow – it will leave you speechless. With these holy grounds come one common trait – the removal of your shoes. After a while it does become frustrating, but if you want to see inside these stunning religious buildings it’s the price you need to pay. Keep an eye on the floor as although some places claim to enforce it, they definitely don’t. If the floor looks mucky consider giving it a miss. I brought spare socks with me that I could put on when necessary.

Relevant to: all countries.


Okay, it makes sense to start with hostels and homestays as they form your basecamp. Most have a shoes off policy which, although understandable, is annoying as unlike areas of worship, hostels and homestays tend to be dirty, well comparatively (especially in the bathroom). It’s not hard to find somewhere cheap and clean however, just do your research and always read the reviews as pictures are often misleading!

A typical trait of S.E.A culture is the famous squatting toilet. Although supposedly the correct position for adhering nature’s call, it does put a strain on your legs. It is definitely not the place you want to slip over in either.

Holes the size of wells line the streets in most of S.E.A sparing only Singapore. Health and safety isn’t too strict in these parts and it is not uncommon for broken windows, fences and railing to be left as they are, exposed to those passing by.

I adore beaches. Especially tropical ones with white sand and sparkling turquoise water. I had yet to experience sand with my lymphoedema as all previous holidays since my diagnosis had been city breaks. The sand gets EVERYWHERE. Your stocking will retain the grains for days to come and can make things a little sore. Bring plasters and aloe gel in your bag, and maybe a spare stocking just in case.

Insects really weren’t too much of a problem for me, even when I did get bitten I was tentative and always kept a close eye on my bites. I sprayed myself with the bug repellent, Deet, daily. Be warned however, it is very strong so if you have particularly sensitive skin try a herbal equivalent which will usually contain lemon and eucalyptus. I kept my legs covered with soft baggy traveller pants which also kept my legs cool.

Relevant to: all countries.


Alongside the heat, commuting has caused me a lot of pain throughout my travels. I would advise to always spend extra to get the best seats, but be aware the etiquette is different. Just because your coach ticket says “seat 1B” means nothing. If you ask politely people tend to move over, but this is no guarantee.

All lymphies know the complications with flying. Wear your stocking, keep moving around, book your seats in advance and ask for assistance at the airport.

Trains have perhaps been the biggest cause of grief for me. In the UK, disability awareness tends to be quite good but only when your condition is overtly present. It is not too dissimilar in S.E.A. The people are extraordinarily kind and will make way for those in need e.g. a pregnant or elderly person. However, I received a lot of stares for taking seats when my leg was in pain and I had no way of communicating my condition. You’ll be up and down like a yoyo, walking stop to stop, platform to platform. It does take its toll eventually. Don’t be a hero, take regular pit stops when your body has had enough.

Download the app Grab (Asian equivalent of Uber). It’s a cheap and easy way to commute around. If you are able, hire a bicycle – it’s even cheaper, good for pumping your leg and a great way to see the sights!

Relevant to: all countries, especially the cities of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.


You’ll need some time to adapt to the food which IS delicious but considerably spicy. I tried my best to taste as much as I could, but some things just didn’t agree with my palate. Two words: chicken feet.

Excuse me in advance for not softening the delivery of this next sentence. You will likely spend a lot of time on the toilet while you adjust to the S.E.A cuisine. It’s really important that you stay hydrated during this integration period as you will lose hella’ bodily fluids which does no favours for lymphoedema.

We have ADORED the food in every country. The difference in taste between each region is distinct, delicious and delightfully satisfying. In Indonesia it was not hard to stay healthy due to the vast amount of cheap fruit. I drank a coconut daily as a minimum. The rest of S.E.A has a real, and I mean really real, taste for chicken, pork and of course, rice. In fact, at times it was hard to get our hands on veg and we had to head to more westernised “health bars” to get our nutrition up. Most of your diet will consist of meat and carbs which aren’t the best options for keeping your lymphoedema in check.

Try to load up on fruit and veg in markets, but be careful not take anything pre-chopped as you won’t know how clean the utensils are.

Finishing note

South East Asia is wonderful place. Friendly, beautiful people, amazing food, stunning sights and never a dull moment.

When travelling this region with lymphoedema you just need to be aware of a few things and bring the appropriate gear to combat any issues (see a condensed, more concise list of travelling tips here). I brought a spare sum on of money which could only be touched in case of emergency and that pot soon ran out. Emergency flights, expensive coaches and above average accommodation for bad leg days – you’ll be surprised at how often you need to a rearrange.

Know your limits, know your body and come ready with a day-to-day plan. You will experience down days forcing you to cancel, rethink and rest, but in doing so you will have the energy to keep on going!

If you have any questions that I might have missed please fire away in the comments section!

You can keep up to date with my travels on Instagram @leftlegfirst_travel

Is it Possible to Travel to Indonesia with Lymphoedema?

In this post I describe the realities of travelling to Indonesia with lymphoedema. I had no idea what to expect from Indonesia. Well, I say Indonesia, but I only visited Bali and for a brief period, due to a certain volcano, Surubaya; the country’s second largest city. It really is a wonderful place, full of smiles that stretch across some of the friendliest faces I’ve ever encountered. Everyone wants to say hello. Everyone wants to be your friend. It took me a week or so to get use to waving so much. I’m from the UK. The South of the UK, near London. We don’t say hello. We hide from conversation, and panic when we catch someone’s eye accidentally, diverting our gaze to the adverts that line our underground trains. If I were to tell you every moment of my time in Indonesia we’d be here all year. So instead, i’m going to cover the noticeable lymphoedema related elements and save the day-to-day highlights for a separate post. Bon. Overview Bali is place that has seen a real surge of tourism in a short period of time. For some locals this has been wonderful, for others not so much. But if we put the argument for the consequences of tourism aside briefly, I’ll talk you through what you can expect from one of my favourite ever places. Lots of fruit. Lots of mopeds. Insects of every variety, from the swat-worthy fly to the infamous mosquito, the praying mantis and beyond. Hills, rice fields and mountains. Big beaches, arching palm trees and unlabeled spirits – drink this at your peril. Dogs, cats, rats and bats and plenty of roosters. Geckos, lizards, turtles and cork-screwing dolphins. The food was great, we ate mostly in what the locals call warungs – i.e. restaurants. However, in places like these, don’t expect a loo seat and never expect toilet roll. If you are looking for comforts closer to home there are plenty of cafes and restaurants catering to tourists. We, Charlotte and I, visited during the rainy season (mid-November) which meant, unsurprisingly, it rained. But not how I expected. It wasn’t torrential downpour every hour of everyday. No, in fact, it came in bursts usually only once in the day for an hour so. But boy did it come down. Starting in the south near Seminyak, we headed north passing through Ubud until we got to Lovina. After that, we departed the mainland and visited a small set of beautiful islands to the east by the name of Gili. Then, in an attempt to flee a brewing volcano, we headed out of Gili and caught a flight to the biggest island of Java. How did my lymphoedema get on? Quite well, actually. Although it was hot, which took some acclimatising, we were never too from water to swim in. Pick your accommodation carefully for somewhere that looks hygienic (inside and pool area) and make sure to pack aloe gel – apply it daily to your problem areas. See more travel tips here.

I tried to drink a fresh coconut every day. They are so cheap in this part of the world and you won’t have a hard time finding them either. Make sure you walk when you can to build up fitness and stimulate flow in the lymph, but don’t be afraid to take a taxi when your body tells you it needs a rest. Often I felt fine, but then all of a sudden I needed to stop, find shade and rest. That might just be my most important tip – listen to your body! We were never on the road for too long and even on our longest journeys we travelled by car with our own personal driver. His name was, and I’m sure it still is, Bagus. But more on him in a later post. Drivers are of minimal cost and allow you to customise your journey, stopping for rests, lunch and areas of interest. Good food is plentiful in Bali and cheap too. Both Charlotte and I agree that we have eaten the healthiest food in Bali. Things to be aware of For all the fun I had in Indonesia, the country is still developing and there is still widespread poverty once you look past the westerinsed cafes which dominate key tourist spots. Not only is this saddening on a moral level, but it also plays into treating lymphoedema as well. In most places the streets aren’t clean. Combine this with torrential downpour and you have yourself streams and puddles of bacteria. Keep an eye on this. If you are wearing sandals, you will find yourself hopping around them daily. Pot holes punctuate the pavements and could be lethal if you are not paying attention, especially at night. Look out for exposed nails and sharp items on the ground, fences and buildings. We had to change our route unexpectedly when Mt Agung started to show signs of eruption. This meant emergency budget needed to be allocated to flights, with more time spent planning an escape route instead of caring for my leg. Just be aware you are sitting on a very naturally active part of the world in Indonesia. I’m not an insect kind of person. We saw a praying mantis which was a treat, but anything that bites or stings I tend not to be the biggest fan of. Indonesia was full of them, although with plenty of bug spray you should be fine. I have worn trousers most of this trip just as a double layer of protection. If you don’t drink enough water the heat will win and your lymphoedema will suffer. It’s simple, drink water regularly. On one or two occasions I became overwhelmed by the constant need to pay attention to my leg, but this is part and parcel of travelling with a chronic swelling condition. What was the usual go-to remedy? Water, water and more water. There’s a shoes off policy which is common across most of South East Asia. If you’re visiting a temple, a hostel and even some shops, expect to take your shoes off. Make sure to bring wipes with you, as well as a pair of socks to wear indoors. Should I visit Indonesia with lymphoedema? This a completely personal choice. We all experience lymphoedema differently, we all react in different ways. For example, when I’m stressed my lymphoedema suffers, but I’m not too bad on long journeys. I didn’t spend months getting fit. In fact, I was only a few months out of A&E when I hopped on my first flight. You need to know your body and its limits but, I urge you not to be afraid of travelling. Yes it’s harder for us than it is for most. Yes you WILL have plenty of frustrations along the way. However, no amount of swelling, if kept under control, will beat the feeling of discovering the world beyond your doorstep. Make a plan, cover all scenarios (including the risk of cellulitis), stay hygienic and you will be absolutely fine.