ABLE2UK achiever of 2021: Ian Taverner

Ian Taverner
Ian Taverner

When ABLE2UK reader Ian Taverner developed a debilitating illness he was forced to change his lifestyle.

Instead of giving up Ian found a new passion in cooking, now a proud author of a book and a virtual festival here he tells us his appetite for making the most out of life.

Before my health declined, I was a relatively fit and healthy guy. I ran half marathons, played golf, loved cooking and enjoyed the great outdoors with my family.

Looking back now, I started to slowly struggle with my health. It was taking longer and longer to recover from common illnesses. A pain began in my body. It hit every cell, every sinew and was like nothing I had felt before. It never went away.

It was physically and mentally exhausting / debilitating, and at its worst I needed a wheelchair and walking frames to get around. I had to give up work, missed Christmases and birthdays and felt like I was constantly letting my family and friends down.

I went to see doctors, specialists, surgeons, therapists, you name it. Operations, invasive procedures, injections, misdiagnosis, medications galore. Nothing helped. I wasn’t getting any better and my mental health declining.

It took many years to finally be diagnosed with the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia, a condition I had never heard of and is much more common in women. There was seemingly no clear path from diagnosis to quality of life management and improvement.

It was only after yet more years of suffering that things started to change for the better when I was eventually referred to the NHS Centre for Pain Services in Bath and offered a place on their residential programme. They said they couldn’t cure me, they probably wouldn’t even be able to reduce my pain levels, but their absolute aim was to improve my quality of life by 10-15%. It was enough for me.

It was incredibly daunting and the programme was intense, physically and mentally tough, emotional and reflective. The first thing that struck me was that I was not alone. The second was how inextricably linked physical pain and mental health are and that they had to be looked at as one.

The specialists there helped me to untangle my brain, understand my pain, my head, and my grief (for the loss of who I was and also the loss of my mother). They helped me comprehend the cocktail of medication I was on, what was helpful, and what was not, and how beneficial exercising my mind and body was, and most importantly, what I was capable of.

Cooking had always been a passion but, since falling ill I had lost all of that and any will at all to try. I wanted to try again though! But when I first started, I very quickly realised that it was incredibly difficult. Not just because my mind and body were screaming, but also because I couldn’t hold a knife, let alone chop. I had lost my ability to just naturally make dishes up, improvise.

I went to look at my beloved recipe books, there were more problems. The lovely pictures of end dishes immediately put me off (“there is no way I can make that….”), the recipes seemed all jumbled up, I was getting through some of them, finding I didn’t have or couldn’t find a utensil I suddenly needed, and went into a tailspin, giving up.

I searched everywhere for a cookbook to help people like me, that took into account our illnesses and to help us want to cook… and there wasn’t one! All of the barriers that had been put in place when I started to try cooking again, I knew I could turn around to make cooking a really positive and fun experience, a therapy.

I decided that I would create one for me, for my family; for every fellow chronic pain and mental health sufferer and their loved ones out there; to see if I could give them a chance of more happiness through cooking too. Cookfulness was born.

In Cookfulness there are no glossy pictures of professional final dishes, there’s a list of all of the utensils you will need for each and every recipe, right at the beginning, there is advice tips on how to adapt cooking to match your physical and mental state each day, as each day is different. I created a “Give Yourself Time” feature, the extra time you will need on top of the standard Preparation Time and Cooking Time that all other cookbooks have, for when you are feeling less than ok. It’s the reality of living with these invisible illnesses

I am not a Michelin starred chef or a medical guru but I genuinely believe that this way of cooking can help many people. For me it’s gone from being a thing of terror, of anxiety, of so many potential disasters, to my role, my passion, my way to make mistakes and not let my illnesses control me, my mission to help as many people as I can!

Yes, I still suffer with pain and unpredictable flare-ups. I will never have the life I previously had, but I look forwards, not backwards. My quality of life has improved, my family’s quality of life has improved, and that is priceless.

I want to raise as much awareness as I can to support my mission by harnessing Cookfulness to inspirational and influential platforms and I am always looking for help and support here.

You can follow MY Cookfulness journey on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook on @Cookfulness and share that #Cookfulness joy with me.

I am a proud member of the Footsteps Festival (@festivalpain), a free virtual festival for chronic pain sufferers and their loved ones, where I regularly present cooking demos and Q&As

Cookfulness is available via Bookshop, Amazon, WH Smiths and Waterstones and a part of any proceeds will go to the NHS National Pain Centre in Bath.