Welcome and a new direction

Hello to anyone new to this space and to those who have followed for a while. If you follow me over on Instagram (where to be honest I feel most active because of the community) you will see that I’ve created a new account @theresawolfatmydoor that is separate from my personal account @spoon.moon.wolf.

There’s A Wolf At My Door is an image that has sat well with me from the beginning of writing this blog. I describe living with chronic illness like living with a wolf constantly at your door. She is the uninvited villain (from fairytales) who creates disruption and havoc. She often stops you leaving the house and if you fight her you are left wounded and scarred. She takes on many forms: physical, mental, social and political. She doesn’t just affect one person but often the whole household she visits. She creates #SpoonieProblems such as loss of mobility, low energy, loss of income and insolvency, weight gain, prejudice and homelessness. Many metaphors have been used to describe these from very similar analogies such as Churchill’s ‘black dog‘ in mental health, to counting spoons (Spoon Theory) when managing fatigue.

The Wolf

I found the wolf because I was initially misdiagnosed with Lupus and as the name Lupus is derived from the wolf. For over ten years I worked as a storyteller and felt connected to the wolf as the villain in stories (there’s a great article on wolf stories here). The wolf is that sinister nighttime creature of terror. It howls at the moon, hunts in packs and on occasion is known to eat humans and pigs! Most of us have heard of the Big Bad Wolf. I feel that living with chronic illness is just like being a Little Pig or Red Riding Hood, it’s living with a threat constantly there.

When I began this blog I started by writing to the wolf and documenting how she was affecting me. I felt like the more I tried to shut the door on her, the more she knocked, and the more she fought to get in. Every time I’d fight her I’d be left with battle scars such as crumbling knees and swollen joints. Ignoring her presence and getting on with my life inside my house meant she just got bigger and smarter. She was the unwelcome visiter who didn’t just affect me but also those around me. The wolf is all encompassing; she prevented me leaving the house and working or having a social life, she gets inside my head and muddles my thinking and increases anxiety, she puts pressure on those I live with and she steals my money and time. She is always lurking and I never know when she will knock. So after a while I began to acknowledge the wolf and let her in. To accept that when she visits I need to stop and slow down and try to feel less guilt. To even appreciate that the wolf isn’t all bad but maybe can bring some good.

So over on my personal account @spoon.moon.wolf I shall stay with stories about me and about my daily life, slow living and creative adventures. The new account @TheresAWolfAtMyDoor is growing into something more. It is becoming a community for those who live with wolves, those who have become #thewolfpack. It will be a place in which we can share what our lives are like when they are shared with a wolf.

So here is my vision:

The Gift of Slow

The wolf is a creature of nature, she rolls with the seasons and appreciates a simple life. Living with her means that I move with her rhythms (listening to my body and how it is responding to the wolf). It’s a life stripped back to its basics: good food, low impact, creativity, frugal and secure living. Nothing can be hurried and we can’t multitask. We listen to our bodies and rhythms and find our own pace. For me this is doing tasks but allowing them to take a longer than usual time. Like creative projects that span a year, and that is ok. Or gardening a little at a time in a manageable way. Or creating thoughtful meals from scratch that nourish and heal. I found that by the wolf stealing my energy she gave me the gift of ‘enforced slow living’. I want my accounts to share my learning and slow living ideas with you and to include the wisdom of other who feel the same way.

So right now if you are local you can join in with ‘The Spoonie Sessions’ which is a monthly meet up group in Canterbury, Kent. The meet up will focus on small creative projects and discussion. There’s info on this here. I’m looking into developing retreat days too.

Coming soon are weekly blog posts about ‘Wolfpack’ issues, and creative and slow living adapted mini activities and projects. These will capture the essence of what I have described above.

In the pipeline (to happen later this year) there will be a more in-depth newsletter that I am working to produce with collaborators. These monthly curated collections will put slow living, sustainable, creative activities in one place and drop them straight into your email box. So watch this space! If you can’t wait and want a 50% discount then you can sign up to be the first to receive a copy when it launches in the Summer.

The Wolf Inside

For me finding out I have an incurable chronic illness was devastating. To be honest even though I’m told to stop I still cannot fully accept that this is the way it is. This, along with losing my housing, company and relationship etc. meant that I fell apart. Despite coming close I’ve never given up and through tenacity, and resilience, and the support of others found a way to live with the wolf. As much as I don’t like being told I am always strong I know that most of the time I am. Going through these trials makes you realise that the wolf isn’t always on the outside of us but we have a fierce, brave and occasionally grumpy beast inside. I don’t think I am different to anyone else, I’ve just been asked to prove it.

To honour those who live with wolves I am launching my podcast in the Spring. This podcast will be fortnightly interviews with other ‘spoonies’ to talk through their stories of triumph and adversity when  with living with a wolf. The making of this can also be supported on my Patreon.


The Wolf Pack

The last and most precious gift is finding that I am part of a wolf pack. Becoming part of the community of spoonies on Instagram has been the most rewarding and supportive thing that has got me through some difficult times. Being one of many allows you to share commonalities, to fight discrimination and ableism and to get advice.

My vision is that Theres A Wolf At My Door in all of it’s formats is a safe and non judgemental space in which people can explore their experiences of living with a wolf. It is not a place of comparison but a place of support and advocacy. It’s a place in which we can creatively explore what being in a wolf pack means.

So I hope you’ll join me on this new adventure. Please let me know if you would like to collaborate or contribute.

In the meantime all of this is being done for free. If you would like to contribute to the running costs (domain and blog costs, podcasting equipment and hosting, camera and editing software, or a cup of coffee for me then please donate via my Patreon)

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Find Your Superpower

What’s your super power? Well I’ll tell you a story about mine…. A while ago my sister had a gene test come back as an abnormal mutation, and as soon as I heard this my brain jumped to the X-men who are all ‘mutants’ with super powers caused by mutated genes. I mentioned it to my doctors (not the x-men bit) at the Behcets Centre and they tested me and unsurprisingly it came back as positive too (TNFRSF1A variant R92Q incase your interested, it’s sometimes associated with TRAPS and MS neither of which I have). Since then we’ve been joking about what our  super power may be, I have ask my doctors when the power is going to appear, we’re all still waiting patiently whilst they look bemused. But it has got me thinking about how recently people with disabilities have been represented as superheroes and what the impact of that is.

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Image from http://superheroseries.co.uk/ who  are ‘the UK’s one and only disability sports series for the Everyday Superhero!’

There’s been a big change in the way people with disabilities have been seen in recent years. The Paralympics in London 2012 showed us athletes who were able to do everything despite having faced illness, accidents or birth defects etc (see Channel 4’s Advert Meet the Super Humans, it still gives me all the feels). Even the popular tv chat show, The Last Leg, sprung up from the games with 2/3 of the hosts having prosthetics. It championed disability and difference through comedy and sport. It’s still broadcasting in the prime Friday night spot over 6 years on (though it has sadly has moved away from its original roots of disability visibility and rights). With its triumphant music, Public Enemy’s Harder Than You May Think, reporting of the games it thrust people with disability into the mainstream as Superhuman, the true X-men.

One of the show’s prominent features is its hashtag #isitok and is used to ask is it ok that… type questions about current issues. In the beginning these were disability related such as.

 

But here’s where I want to ask my own question. #isitok to be disabled and not be a superhuman? #isitok to sometimes be weak and fall apart? #isitok to just be a normal everyday person?

Am I a superhero or a super victim?

Being chronically ill means that I often find myself sometimes being a little bit super hero and sometimes being a little bit the victim, but mostly a real person thats none of these.

I am very aware that people think I’m always winging about being ill or broken or in pain and its true (theres another post coming on this soon). The fact that the constant pain is held in 90% of the time is a feat of superhuman strength that you don’t see. BUT there’s points at which I reach crisis and fall apart and these are my ‘victim’ moments. These points usually come at times when everything reaches a peak pain levels, or I have fought so hard with benefits and housing and come across another stumbling block. At these times everything falls apart and I don’t want to be strong. This is the time that people offer words of support and point out how string I am the rest of the time, how i’m superhuman.

Most of the words about being strong come from others as words of support. I completely hear when someone is saying you are so strong and it is a compliment. It does boost my self esteem because it acknowledges that 90% of the time that my mouth is shut and fighting the pain, or the loss of my life as I knew it. But I’m going to say this because its the truth, not because I want to offend people: at the same time as it being a compliment it is also a burden. I don’t want to always be the hero of this story.

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Sometimes it would be nice to crumble and for that to be ok. To fall apart and someone else play the hero. Sometimes I’m tired beyond tired. The pain has worn me down to the point I can’t live with it anymore. The system of benefits has broken me and I don’t want to feel like a criminal for asking for help from the state that I’ve paid into my whole life so far. I don’t want to hear ‘stay strong’ when I can’t see an end to the housing crisis I’m in. I don’t want to hear this will change when 2 and a half years is my limit and I’m saying its gone on too long. I just want to fall apart and that be ok.

The pressure to perform

So I think you get that living with a disability isn’t fun and we to be honest we are not always feeling superhuman. We are ordinary people and like everyone some like playing sport and others don’t, a small minority will be athletes. The risk of presenting people as superhuman when they compete with a disability means that the rest of us that don’t are not doing enough to help ourselves. To be honest I hate playing sport, especially those played on the olympics (I do love watching them though). This is probably because I’ve been hyper-mobile my whole life and sport really hurts! But it’s just not in me to do it. Does that mean that I am a failure even at disability?

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Invisible illness and sport

When I look at the Paralympics I do also want to ask is it also ok to ask why invisible disabilities are not included in the games? In fact we are rarely represented at all on screen or even as disabled people. How, with fatigue, can we train and practice to compete? How with joints that dislocate can we complete in running, leaping and jumping? How with fluid in our joints and excruciating pain can we whizz round a basketball court or hit a volley ball on the beach. I think all this highlights is that the disabled community itself still hasn’t accepted chronic illness and invisible illness fully. So I’ve asked myself what sport could we compete in? Where are the events for napping, getting dressed, walking the dog? Because sometimes just daily activity is our superhuman feat: that getting out of bed in the morning is like flying to the moon and back.

I’m going to finish this post with an anecdote from a close friend who has narcolepsy (she’d be my competitor on the napping event for sure). She once asked me ‘If you could lose your legs or have a chronic illness which would you choose?’ And my answer in a flash was lose my legs, and she said she had answered the same in a conversation with her husband. It in no way comes from a place of saying losing your legs isn’t life changing and devastating, because it is. But it comes from a place of certainty and being able to adapt. With losing my legs I would learn what I can and can’t do and work with this. My capability wouldn’t change so drastically from day to day, but be a constant thing I could learn around. It wouldn’t be easy but I’d still have my health and energy. I could work towards something like the Paralympics.

Syndromes like Narcolepsy, Behcets, Auto-immune, Fibromyalgia. Lupus, RA, EDS etc. don’t allow for this. They are tricky because its like flu everyday and its unpredictable. They rob your life in a different way. In addition to this the symptoms are often not seen by others so completely misunderstood. You don’t see that under my clothes my joints are hot, full of fluid and dislocating. That I have sores that burn and ache. That at the beginning of the day I can’t walk properly for 3 hours or that at the end I’m moaning in bed from pain of the day. That my biggest spend this Christmas was on eco incontinence pads. That the fear of running our of painkillers produces panic. That I’m tied to medication and its a constant worry. That my diagnosis is permanent, incurable and my life changed forever.

The Paralympics 2012 began to change the world’s view on disability and watching that superhuman advert still fills me with awe. But it is only the beginning. The fight doesn’t stop here. I know that I am not represented by these athletes but I know they’ve opened a gateway into acceptance. That those few people competing have changed the view on what disability means. But most importantly they’ve made disability visible. The next steps are to make ALL disability visible. But to do this in a way that recognises that superhuman means coping with the everyday. I got up and wrote today, no one will give me a medal for that. But I am happy that I’ve achieved this.

I am a superhero of napping, baking, gardening and making. My superpower is creativity. I’ve often been encouraged to apply for the Great British Bake Off but I know I couldn’t because of my disability. I was so encouraged to see Bryony this year compete and that her disability wasn’t drawn attention too, she was a competitor, that was it. I would love to work with producers to find a way for this dream to happen but I just don’t know how it would work.

I found my superpower because it is my everyday and my drive. Everyone has their own too you just have to dig to find it. I also know is it is ok to be strong and also sometimes weak.  It is this that makes the best super hero story, the ones we love are the ones that are human and mess up. We are all super human, some are just a little more tired and achey, but we are just us.

Whats your superpower?

Weather Changes and Autumn as a Spoonie

Welcome Autumn and my favourite time of the year. I adore September and October with their golden afternoons, the abundance of foods, and the cosier evenings. I don’t know about you but I don’t fair well in the heat, it exhausts me and the sun irritates my skin. Neither do I do well in the cold and damp, it makes my joints ache and my mood dip. Autumn, however, seems perfect. I love a crisp but sunny morning, or an afternoon wrapped up warm for a gentle walk.  But something else happens in Autumn that leaves us spoonies floored and I’m not sure quite what it is. I’ve thought through a few of my theories here to try and come up with a Spoonie’s Guide to Autumn.

Weather Changes

So every time a season changes we find ourselves having to adapt. I find at these changing points I’m forever saying ‘we’re just not used to this heat/ cold/ darker nights/ humidity/ damp’ (the list goes on). Yes us Brits like to talk/ moan incessantly about the weather, but I’m sure there’s more to it, especially for us hypersensitive beings. And it seems there is actually proof of this.

Auto Immune I remember my clinic lead, Professor Fortune, telling me that changes in season affect bodies on a cellular level and it seems there is some proof. The BBC has a couple of brilliant articles on this. The first looks at facts behind the myths such as:

  • Rain gives you rheumatism – the answer is maybe but theres no conclusive evidence, its more likely power of the mind.
  • Falling air pressure is a pain in the head – I’m migraine queen aka the human barometer so I swear this is true and one study from Japan seems to suggest its true

The second article is much more focused on an in depth study on how temperature change affects our genes and immunology. In brief an international team of researchers conducted a study, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to look at how this happens. They “found genes involved with immunity – the body’s defence against infection – were more active in cold months. And while this helps fight off viruses such as flu, it may trigger or worsen conditions, such as arthritis, where the body attacks itself, they say.” 

The study examined how this happens on a genetic level and found that when looking at genes “a quarter showed clear signs of seasonal variation”. The genes that were of most interest included ones associated with immunity and inflammation. Interestingly it wasn’t the degree of cold that was initiating the changes but the temperature changes themselves as ‘During cold, winter months – December to February for people living north of the equator and June to August for those in the southern hemisphere – these genes were more active. When they studied people living close to the equator, where the temperatures are fairly high all year round, they noticed a different pattern. Immunity and inflammation was linked to the rainy season, when diseases such as malaria are more rife.” A change is temperature is all that is needed to trigger flare ups as it directly affect the cells and ‘that increase in inflammation could now be a risk factor for diseases of modern life’ Prof John Todd, Study author. Big stuff hey?

Viruses and other factors are also linked to an increase in symptoms and flare ups for Spoonies. Many reasons have been given to why this season is prime cold and flu season. Maybe it is because we stay indoors more, have more close contact with each other or beginning of university and schools terms mean more people mixing. One thing is for certain and thats for those, like me, who take immuno-suppressants the exposure to viruses, infection and bacteria is a headache all in itself. Immuno-suppresants mean that, surprise surprise, our immune systems are suppressed and do not work as well in fighting things off. So don’t be offended if you have a cold and I  instantly grab for the hand gel. Getting a cold or virus also can trigger a flare up, even if we don’t fully develop the original cold. I get far less colds than other people but my body knows if I’ve come into contact with one. Unfortunately my immune system just cannot tell the difference between the things its supposed to be attacking and my own body. At the recent Behçets Syndrome Society conference in Bristol, Professor Fortune said that she has a date in October circled on the calendar every year for when they have to open up loads of emergency appointment slots as so many of us flare.

So how can we deal with all of this? My answer is be prepared as you can and a little acceptance.

The Nature Communications study above concluded that as well as a genetic change “diseases and other factors, such as nutrition and stress, could affect how genes function.” So lets build some of these into the survival guide.

How to embrace and survive Autumn

Autumn Activities – Try some of these spoonie friendly adventures to help with wellbeing

  1. Get outdoors. Take a visit to somewhere you can take in all the beauty of nature and how dramatically its changing at this time of year. Do what you can, you don’t have to hike for miles across farmland and forests to appreciate the changing landscape. You could take a car ride, visit a city park or sit in the last of the warm sunny days in your garden. Boosting vitamin d levels at this time of year can really help with the impending winter blues too.
  2. Get crafty. There are so many things that are nice to make as we want to spend more time being cosy indoors.
    • I am embroidering fabrics in preparation for Christmas presents I am making
  3. Get Cosy and warm and hermit without guilt. Get out blankets and hot water bottles ready for colder evenings. Give them a wash and some care before they do into their full winter sofa bound days. Enjoy activities that are away from screens (save those Netflix binges for sick days). Non screen time is much better for you and there are things that can occupy you. I’ve just found a new love for jigsaw puzzles!
  4. An Autumn Feast – Wow there’s food aplenty at this time of year, especially after a long hot summer, heres how to make the most of it. Enjoy homegrown fruits and vegetables. If you’re like me and have a garden then at the moment you’re probably overrun by crops such as tomatoes. When I’ve had the energy I have been picking them in droves and jarring them as passata. A basic recipe can be found here and its easily adapted to include herbs and spices you’ve grown too.
    1. Get to a local food festival and treat yourself to something scrummy. Food festivals re great at finding a huge variety of foods and you’re more likely to come across diet friendly snacks too. Ive been to two in the past three weeks including a chilli festival!
    2. Go on a forage. From September onwards, you can pick a huge amount for free from forests and hedgerows. Pick fruits such as elderberries, blackberries, rose hips and more. I turned my elders into a vitamin c boost spiced syrup and my hips and chillies into a spiced jelly. Theres also other treasures to be found like sloes, bullaces, crab apples, cob nuts, sweet chestnuts, mushrooms and fungi… just remember to only harvest them if you are 100% sure you know what they are!

Autumn is transition, change and drama. In slow living it’s the time to prepare for what’s ahead. Don’t rush it, save your spoons, enjoy the beauty and prepare for the winter ahead.

To find out more about things mentioned in this post visit…

Spoonie Solutions

Hands up who has #spoonie problems? Me too, I probably whine about them a lot. You’ll know this if you follow my ig stories! So what’s this #spooniesolutions all about? Well it’s turning the hashtag #spoonieproblems on it’s head. Before you cry in protest its not because the problems are not valid, quite the opposite in fact. They matter so much, and need to be highlighted. #spooniesolutions is all about identifying the problems and shouting about them. Then I want to attempt to discover some answers.

This all came about after a combination of discussions, and a personal review of my blog and Instagram. I had a big appointment recently in which I found that, as expected, I have an area of hyperperfusion in my brain. In the appointment I took it in my stride, but as the results sank in I felt very upset. Part of me wanted to jump for joy that I have a positive (as in something showing up not a feel good) result, and part of me was scared and in shock. It explains a lot including migraine, and serious mental health issues, confusion and fatigue. But it broke my heart to think that it is active in the blood vessels in my brain. For my own sanity I had to recognise my upset (spoonie problem) but find a way to deal with it (spoonie solution). For the first week I cried and it still makes me cry now. But I am getting there.

I’m in a position now in which I can reflect on how I’ve survived through the past few years. Yes that’s dramatic but it has been survival. I can hand on heart say that it’s been through living life slowly and taking time to nurture myself by being creative and living a more simple life. I want the solutions to #spoonieproblems to reflect this but also offer a range of approaches that I hope will be useful to me and anyone else that is out there and reading. They’ll include practical advice, campaigning for change, and most importantly opening up the issue for discussion.

As a veteran spoonie I feel qualified to address the issues from an insider’s perspective. But to ensure that the solutions given are thorough and actually useful I will be consulting with other spoonies via the comments here, Instagram and in real life. I will also include resources from medical practitioners, other websites (such as The Mighty), apps (such as HealthUnlocked) and relevant organisations.

I have a few solution guides planned including travel and holidays (vacations), everyday travel, work and benefits, and hobbies. All of these will include parts of my personal story and anecdotes. But I will approach how to deal with them by being creative and living slow.

Please don’t be shy, I’d love to help your share your story and looked at spoonie problems together. Let me know in the comments, via social media or email.

Look forward to hearing from you…

Diagnosis Murder Part 1

Well I’ve attempted to write this a few times and failed. In the past I’ve been given labels and written about them. And in reality my diagnosis is still fluid and ongoing.

It’s mostly described as a list of symptoms with a few anecdotes/ short stories thrown in for goo measure. I’ll start all the way back in the beginning… take a deep breath and grab a comfy seat, it’s a long one.

The early days

When I was younger I used to have bouts of severe stomach aches, and vomiting. I remember my first one so clearly. As a birthday treat my mum and dad had taken me to London to see ‘Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’. Any 80s child, and closet Jason Donavon fan, will remember the song that was at number one for like forever (sorry if it’s now in your head t… any dream will do…). We were too late to see Jason but starring in it was Philip Schofield of the broom cupboard fame. If you’re too young to get the references then you really missed out. I vaguely remember the show and the t-shirt I got a treasured (until my sister pinched it and vommed all over it whilst travel sick). What really sticks out though is the insane stomach ache I had after the show. We had gone to get pizza and I spent the whole time in the toilet unable to hold anything down.

And so it continued from that point and happened anywhere and everywhere. Always coming on super fast and the most painful thing ever. All the attacks were attributed to an almost ten year grumbling appendix. In reality I think they were Abdominal Migrainesthat were mentioned at the time but not really explored. This was the appearance of my first condition, Chronic Migraine.

Head and occasional abdominal migraines are with me to this day. And no they are not just headaches but they are completely dibilitating and so painful you wonder whether you can cope (if someone gave you a shotgun you’d probably pull the trigger). I have ended up in hospital with mine and take meds daily to stop them. In the last 3 months I have had 5 major attacks each lasting from 7 to 24 hours. Sometimes they cluster and sometimes they don’t. They have a significant affect on my life as are so sudden and viscous. They stop me functioning completely. I’ve tried multiple medications including Propranolol (worked a little bit) and Pizotifen (worked a lot but caused massive weight gain) and my current medication Sodium Valproate ( I have it under review). I also find that sumatriptan is the best medication to use when they start. My latest one has lasted 6 days and although I’ve managed to carry on functioning throughout and stave off the big blow out. It’s been painful I’ve lost my appetite and sleep.

Teens

At 17 I had an enormous attack of stomach pain and migraine. I was supposed to be painting the set of a play and ended up rolling around on the floor cloth in agony, I saw the school nurse and begged to just go home. Looking back I was so used to self managing these attacks that I was convincing to others that I was better than I was. (I still do this now, so if you ever do see me asking for an ambulance, I really need it.) On this occasion the School Nurse must have got me a cab home or something. All I remember was the next couple of days wanting to die from the pain. At some point a GP came out to me and when I wouldn’t let her touch me because of the pain she told me I was being a silly little girl. She gave me pethidine and anti sickness and told me I’d sleep for ages then be ok. I woke up twenty minutes after she left and was back in exactly same pain and vomiting. Eventually I was only bringing up pure black liquid (sorry) and had a circular bruise on my forehead where I’d passed out on a bucket and was still being sick. Eventually another GP came and said it was classic appendicitis. I went off to hospital and had my appendix out.

As a side note, the not being believed by doctors, the self managing of the attacks, misdiagnoses. Plus falling behind at school and teachers thinking I didn’t care has had a huge affect on my mental health and self esteem. In particular feeling as though I had failed and feeling guilt for being ill, or though I was using it as an excuse, is still with me now and it hurts to write it. I remember one of the drama teachers, who was involved in the play I mentioned above, pulling me aside and asking me if I should be doing drama! All because I’d missed the play whilst in hospital and hadn’t finished the floor cloth I was writhing on. Despite getting an ‘a’ in that course, completing a degree, and running a successful theatre company for ten years, I still ask myself the same question and it cuts really deep.

After my appendectomy (still don’t know if it was appendicitis or migraine) at 17 I kept getting flu like symptoms. I had constant fatigue and joint pains. It went on for weeks and weeks, then into months. At the time it was attributed to a glandular fever like virus that my body couldn’t fight off. I dropped back a year in sixth form and began the pattern of doing things at my pace. I couldn’t focus in lessons and would fall asleep on my desk despite fighting it. Interestingly at a similar time my sister was diagnosed with Juvenille Arthritus, and what I didn’t know till later was my mum was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. I think this episode was either my autoimmune trigger or the first signs of activity. Multiple blood tests at the time showed positive ANA and white blood cell activity but it was never explored further.

Also from about 15 years old I began to struggle with mental health. At this time it was suggested I had Anxiety and Depression. By the time I went to University at 19 this was really affecting my life and I asked for counselling etc from my GP. By the time I was in my 4th year of university I was having an extremely difficult time personally, with my degree and at home. All of these contributed to a series of severe panic attacks. These were medicated and I just got on with it.

University

Fast forward a couple of years and I wasn’t coping physically at all. Firstly I constantly had the flu and couldn’t function. I worked really hard and just found ways of coping with feeling so ill. I went to the doctors and was told I was ‘unlucky’ to have had flu nearly every month. This was the biggest insult and I just couldn’t cope. I couldn’t get a full time job but built up my self employed work. This meant I was self managing whatever was going on in my body. I could work around the illness by ploughing on with everything I had when in a good patch and hiding when I couldn’t. This managed everything on the surface but in reality I was chasing my own tail constantly. Friends and others constantly commented on how often I was ill, other less kind comments urged me to just suck it up and stop moaning. I remember having conversations with people saying I think I’m going mad but something in my body is really wrong. I still felt like a fraud and the burden of guilt.

In 2005 I began to get severe chest pains. They were so bad I couldn’t use my arms or breathe. The pain was unbearable. My first reaction was that there was something wrong with my heart so I went to my GP. They thought it was either muscular or even anxiety and sent me away with pain killers. But it kept happening in cycles and I could feel the attacks coming. I saw multiple physios who mostly made it worse through their exercises. Eventually I saw a brilliant physio who wrote back to my doctor. She had seen me for a long time and recognised a number of symptoms pointing to something more than a mechanical problem. My trigger points were wide spread and with the other symptoms she thought that maybe it was fibromyalgia. She wrote a long and thorough report for my GP that took into all my symptoms such as fatigue, confusion, dispraxia, flu like symtoms, migraine etc. I returned to my GP who called in a senior partner and they decided together that this was something more. For the very first time I was being listened to and this GP stayed with me through a lot of the next bits.

Adulting

So I finally got referred to a rheumatologist and felt like everything would finally into place. I was finally being listened to and it was recognised that something was wrong. Within seconds of the rheumatologist walking into the room I was crushed. Before even meeting me or talking to me he looked at one set of bloods and announced ‘it’s not lupus, it’s not RA’. Only then did he examine me or ask any questions. But he never really looked or listened. He avoided eye contact with me, choosing instead to stare into his computer screen. I can honestly say I’ve never met a colder or more inhuman person in my life. By the time he abruptly said ‘you can go now’ I was more confused than ever and in tears. I began to walk out as the nurse barked ‘go get your bloods’. ‘What bloods?’ I said as I broke down completely. Then she explained everything the doctor should have done, and that he was a good doctor despite his bedside manner. I don’t think he was a good doctor and triggered lots of mental health issues. Later I got a mystery letter in the post summoning me to a full upper body MRI and physio. Apparently all ordered by the rheumatologist, I didn’t have a clue what was going on. Nor did the physio it seems. I was dumped in a cubicle with a trainee who took one look at me and said ‘I can’t treat you you need someone more senior’. They’d be in contact,  they weren’t.

The next letter I got was summoning me to hydrotherapy. Amazing I thought something practical I could do to help myself. But this was not the case either. The therapists didn’t know why I was there and asked which physio I’d seen, I never had had a proper appointment with any. So they offered me sessions which I tried. The result was cancelling after three seasons as I was in so much pain I couldn’t breathe, move or sleep. My GP wrote a letter of complaint, I was so let down and felt toutured by the treatement both physically and mentally. Again I thought I was going mad, but this time my GP was behind me and persisted. I finally had someone fighting my corner.

So letters of complaint were written and I chose my next rheumatologist at a different hospital. I decided to give it another go and this time couldn’t have been more different. He listened carefully to my history and family history. He said he thought something auto immune like was going on. The first thing he diagnosed me with, however, was Joint Hypermobility Syndrome. This explained a lot of the chest pains I’d been having, as well as other symptoms in most people hypermobility isn’t a problem but with overlapping symptoms it was reeking havoc with my joints, connective tissue and pain. I was finally referred to a specialist physio who confirmed all the previous physio I had received was more damaging than good. I still see her now and she is part of my ‘magic team’ of experts. Without all the sessions I’ve had with her, including ultrasounds and acupuncture, I wouldn’t be able to move half as well as I can today.

To be continued…

Lets rest here for now because I’m tired physically from writing this and mentally from going through it all. I hope this begins to explain to others the extent of what’s going on. But mostly its been a hugely useful process for me to go through it all chronologically and to realise why some of my behaviours and blocks towards the system are there.

Next up in part two, my thirties…

Anxiety girl

Hello anxiety that is making angry, scared and unsociable. Where are you coming from? I know I’ve accidentally missed some important meds and some sleep. I’ve worked quite hard volunteering, and it’s been Christmas, the most anxiety ridden time of the year. But clearly I’m a bad person who can’t manage myself.

I’ve got constant butterflies and I’m trying to do all the things to tell the negative thoughts to go away. But the voice gets stronger and I hear people talking about me and criticising as though they are in the room. I ignore it and carry on but it just gets louder.

Yesterday I didn’t have any sleep because I missed my meds the night before. The meds are the only way I sleep and without them it’s a nightmare of pain and bad thoughts and being fidgety. This combined with a migraine knocked me for six. I tried to take control of it but when the migraine kicked in I crumbled. I ploughed on and went to the cinema with my friends. I fed the migraine with darkness, drugs and caffeine. Eventually the pain subsided and only the tension remained. I felt exhausted and emotional and anything slightly negative made me catastrophise. I couldn’t talk to anyone and was convinced I just pissed everyone off. The wall went up and I teetered with a meltdown.

So I pulled my socks up and went to the pharmacy to get some emergency meds. I did my research and the Nhs website said to try your doctor (they were shut), then your pharmacy, then a walk in centre. I walked to the pharmacy in pain from swollen joints to be met with a pharmacist shaking her head. Instantly she dismissed me and told me she couldn’t help. I pleaded with her that I’d read the Nhs website and this is what it told me to do. She suddenly changed her story and said she could do it if I rang 111 for an emergency script. ‘Are you sure?’ I replied, the Nhs advice didn’t say this at all. But facing another day of suicidal thoughts and crippling anxiety was too much so I complied. ‘If they don’t get you one I’ll do it’ she said ‘but you have to try first’.

Half an hour later I was still sat in Boots. My migraine was returning and I was sat on hold to 111. The bright strip lighting flickered and pounded. I started to feel ridiculously hot and sweat soaked my clothes. My pain meds we’re wearing off. My knees, fingers, ankles, hips and back were screaming. I know I was beginning to fall over fast.

So we begged the pharmacy for somewhere quiet to sit. A super nice pharmacy assistant found us a small room and we sat with the lights off and a fan on. They asked if I wanted to go to hospital. No way Jose was I going just for meds, and a migraine, joint pain and anxiety. I agreed I would if I started vomiting , shaking or fitting.’ I explained that the best thing would be the just get home to bed. The pharmacist then changed her tact and said she’d only accept the 111 prescription and I’d need to go elsewhere if I didn’t get it in time. The inconsistency was a nightmare for my anxiety and I’d been there before to get them so was on their system. I had a bundle of paperwork to prove I was on them but it was a case of ‘computer says no.’ It was as though she was making it as difficult as possible and I was just annoying them.

The assistant, however, was wonderful and we chatted about mental health and chronic illnesses. I began to calm down and eventually spoke to 111 who said they’d get a doctor on it. We then went round in circles for the next 2.5 hours. 111 kept asking if I wanted to go to hospital as my symptoms were alarming. I didn’t want to go, the best place for me was home if only someone would give me the meds I’d manage what I’d manage everyday. I felt like a dick that caused a drama as eventually they tried to get rid of me from the pharmacy and ask me to start the whole thing again with another pharmacy. I felt like a burden and just wanted my bed.

After 3 hours, countless phone calls and giving my details over and over the prescription still hadn’t arrived. The doctor I spoke to was convinced I lived in Norwich. Erm no I said I live in Canterbury and had done for 17 years. I think I went to Norwich once about 12 years ago, it was dark and wet and I didn’t even see the town. So he continued to ask if I was visiting Canterbury. No I explained again, I live here, just like I’d told the two advisers I spoke to. He writes the prescription. Turn forward an hour and the script hasn’t arrived and so I ring them back. Im now in a flap that the store shuts in 15 minutes and I’ve sat here for no reason doing everything everyone is telling me to. I’m trying really hard to sit and be patient despite it making my pain worse. Speaking to the East Kent (not Norfolk) team again I will us to be near the end of the whole sham. Then I was told my surgery was Aldington . Nope I said I’ve given you my details 3 times it’s Chartham, perhaps Aldington is in Norfolk, I suggested!?

Anyway 10 minutes before closing the fax arrived and I was given 6 tablets in a bag by a rude and unsympathetic pharmacist. Lack of pain control and anxiety through the roof I’m a mess, I’ve convinced myself she hates me, all the staff have been talking about me and I never should have said I went to the cinema to hide from the light. I’m not sure who was judging me more, them or myself?

By this point every look, word and action becomes overwhelming. I’d tried to plan a nice New Years Eve with a cocktail menu and funny description bit that means everyone who was coming was included. My friend had rejected it by saying she’d only drink her own cocktail on the list. I knew her reasons were ok, she wanted to stick with one drink to not get too hungover etc. But in this mindset it’s rejection. The menu, lovingly made by me for everyone, went straight in the bin as soon as I got in. I felt as though I’d tried to make a nice gesture then been told I was controlling or had bad taste/ ideas. I was ready to give up and go to sleep and sulk.

Somehow in that moment I managed to pull myself out of it. I put on my dress and lipstick and found some inner strength to have a good night. I rebuffed the negativity and overwhelming thoughts and for the most of it laughed and had a genuinely good time. It didn’t mean I wasn’t squashing the ‘they all hate you’ voice constantly, but as dramatic as it sounds I survived another New Years! I’m proud of myself despite being exhausted because I won a battle.

This morning I’ve woken up with the butterflies. It’s the alcohol I drank acting as a depressant, I tell myself. It’s because you’re ill and tired. I start to work a little on a project I volunteered on. I poured everything I had into it but I feel like a failure. Every time I try to make something happen on it there’s obstacles, politics and I do the wrong thing. Now I’m utterly terrified of the meeting tomorrow and that I’ll be belittled. I can hear the conversations that are going on behind my back and I feel sick with butterflies. But it’s just another day that I’ll get through somehow.

I am anxiety girl and I think I’ve realised at the moment I’m not at my most well. So bear with me, I’m fighting it and it will be ok but I may be a little fragile.

As an after thought. Just like the meme says above I have 99 problems and 86 are in my head. If I’m working with you at the moment, or have been around you it’s more likely my sensitivity and brain than anything that’s real. Chronic worrier here gets all sorts muddled. I’m also excellent at hiding it all, even from myself.

Dear Wolf

It has been a while since we had a little chat. Mostly because I’ve been busy as you know because when I am you sneak in to take a bite or two whilst I’m sleeping.

So it’s been a tough time since not working full-time, trying to manage illness and guilt, both playing off against each other. I have begun to realise that you are a black wolf, the wild cousin of the black dog. You affect me both physically and mentally. We are caught in a perpetual cycle of being ill and tired, or being kind to ourselves then being consumed by guilt for not working or not socialising etc.


My biggest frustration at the moment is when you take up residence inside my head. My head which was once sharp, intelligent, and on the ball. It ran a company, studied and managed large projects. It retained countless random facts and remembered everything. Just lately it’s not even been able to remember simple tasks. 

Most of the time this is amusing, like turning up to appointments a whole day early, despite writing the date out a million times over. Then returning the next day joking how efficient I am. I’ve even tried to lock the front door with the remote for my car and not understood why it wouldn’t work. I laughed at the time I organised an entire road trip to Scotland to visit friends and family. Somehow, despite writing everything down meticulously, I managed to book every visit and every hotel a week behind our actual trip. It was organised chaos on a spectacular level. Luckily, everyone saw the funny side and we managed to find hotels in which to stay. Most things work out eventually so I just laugh it off and rearrange.
Other times though, it is plain humiliating. Like not turning up to a huge schools day on a project I worked on for weeks because my brain just wouldn’t function. I cried when I didn’t see the results and felt like I let everyone down. The amount of tickets booked that have to be cancelled and re-booked because I cant match dates up. Keys permanently left in my front door (yes come rob me) because I forget or get confused. I get to work and they talk about my shift tomorrow and I smile because I had completely not seen that shift on the rota but luckily someone always reminds me (so far). Even as I type this on the train from London to Edinburgh, I redden at the fact the train tickets had to be cancelled and re-booked because, despite checking three times over, I booked entirely the wrong dates and days. Then the ticket collector arrives and I squirm because I cannot find the ticket I was holding just 3 minutes before. It’s humiliating and I can laugh most of the time, but as someone who was so good at life before I feel so stupid now.
The humiliation that has taken me sliding down every rung of the ladder and smashed my face on every step. I still try to see the funny side and always will. 
So Wolf, this week has been one of continuous humiliation, of which I’ll continue my frustrations in my next letter.
At the moment dear Wolfy, I ask that please can you leave my favourite organ – my brain – alone. I’ve always quite liked it and I need it most days…

Learning about Chronic Illness and Autoimmune Disease

About a week ago a book caught my eye: The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook by Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt

For those of you that have been following my journey recently you will know that due to multiple chronic illnesses I have taken a year or so out to live slow and heal. During this time there have been lots of battles in my brain to do with acceptance and grieving for a life lost (My post about diagnosis can be read here). So when I stumbled across the Autoimmune Wellness podcast I was already in. I love a good podcast as they save me when I have painsomnia or on the days I’m too ill to read and sick of screens. In podcast one Mickey and Angie spoke about their own journey and reason behind the book  so I ordered myself a used copy on Amazon. Let my investigation into my body and its quirks begin. I have a very lov/ hate dialogue with my body and chronic illness and for once I feel I may have the space to address this.


To be honest I am a little sceptical. The amount of ‘cures’ thrown at people with Autoimmune and invisible illnesses are huge. Everyone has a method or a miracle cure or the handy advice of ‘exercise more’ or ‘eat better’. What appealed to me here is the fact it’s a DIY guide and not a manual. Not ‘here’s what works’ but a try this journey and see what works for you. Anything I can adapt works for me and they have podcasts and Instagra. Sign me up, I’m a social media sucker!


So the book arrived and it has a pretty cover so I like that ✔️

Then a friendly story about the authors, another  ✔️ for me. 

It explains how it works in simple terms ✔️. 

Then my fave bit, a checklist quiz all about where you are on the spectrum of Autoimmune, I loved this ✔️✔️✔️.


Then I made the big bad mistake of skipping through the book to the section on food. I knew I’d panic when I saw the elimination diet but OMG it’s epic. It literally excludes everything I like. Bad me, I shouldnt have done this but I did. The pleasure of food and eating is one of the things I feel I have left, and the thought of a strict regime makes me panic a little inside. Even if it made my illness manageble I’m so stubborn and I love caffiene, cake and cheese!

 

Even though I don’t think I’ll manage this saintly diet I’m going to stick with the book for now. Those who know me well will know I’m a typical Gemini who follows the next shiny thing so this may be a short lived project. But my intent is to work slowly through the process and get to the diet when I’m ready and less resistent. It’s worth a shot no?

I’ve recently realised that I dont have to be the best at everything, I don’t have to do everything perfectly. I can start things and even if I dont do them to the letter I can extract some good from them. For example I did a smartphone detox a while back and I’m far from saintly, still addicted, but I no longer have notifications on, deleted the Facebook app and am able to  put it down. 3 good things came of that so thats success not failure right?
I’m going to attempt to blog my journey with this tis book so welcome to the adventrue be it long or short…

Mother’s Day Fallout

Dear Wolf

Its been a while since we had a chat about things. Mental health has taken prevalence over physical but I think both belong to you. You are the wolf that bites and the black dog that lurks. Mental health and physical health are linked.

Partly this is because mental health is physical. Maybe its nervous system damage or a chemical imbalance. Currently my diagnosis dances between ‘born with it’ and ‘bad experiences’. The old nature or nurture argument. It drives me mad that mental health is treated separately, but more on this another time.

What I really want to have is a little chat about that phrase ‘Its not surprising you’re feeling down with all that s going on’. Nope it really isn’t. Being limited and constrained feels unfair and chronic pain is simply torture.

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, some say another hallmark day, I like just letting my mum know I’m grateful for her being my mum. But when you celebrate a group of people there’s always a whole group of people excluded. In this case women who are not mothers. My sister captured the feeling in her Instagram stories on the day…

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That shouldn’t be a problem, I hear you grumble, and generally it isn’t. It’s just sometimes it makes us feel sad to be left out. Sad to not have a choice in the first place. I don’t want to go into extensive detail. But diseases like Lupus are common in causing miscarriages, make for a high risk pregnancy and the meds we take are too strong. We are told fiercely by our doctors not to get pregnant. You can read a little more about it here.

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That’s the physical side and mentally it affects you too. I have an innate fear that I couldn’t care for a baby or child when I’m so exhausted all the time. I can’t even look after myself, let alone someone else. Also there’s a part of me which says ‘what if I pass it on’.

IMG_5143For me the most significant part of not being in the club are the questions from others. So I guess this post is a little get out clause for me. HAVING CHILDREN IS NOT A SIMPLE OPTION. And before you suggest giving up meds/ just doing it anyway/ not being so pessimistic/ tick tock time is running out/  when you’re better/ please believe me that these are things we’ve tried ver and over or run through in our heads.

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It just isn’t that simple and on top of the usual worries people have about money/ career/ relationships we just don’t have the choice. That is it really, as with all chronic illness it is being robbed of choice or options.

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So I’ll send my card and appreciate mums everywhere. I’ll ignore the targeted adverts about fertility or baby clothes. Pick my self up and keep on being me (with a little ache inside).

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