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.

superhero+series+powered+npowe+banner
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.

fullsizeoutput_50c@bymariandrew

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?

fullsizeoutput_50e

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?

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.

Through the looking glass.

And the world spun on and she disappeared in between the gaps. The mirror looked like another room, but as she stepped through there was no drama or magic. She just slipped, into another place between the glass and out of sight.

It wasn’t a sudden event but had been a gradual process of slipping and fading. She once had burnt brightly and fiercer. She once had maybe been liked or even loved (or maybe duped into believing so). But friends who declared allegiance grew tired of her melancholy and as the dramas faded away, they too stopped calling. They wouldn’t be there with their promises a second time round. Their false declarations of solidarity and support made it feel worse.

Life was old news, just like her. She was unable to move forward, no energy to write a new chapter. Her brightness and glow from inside dissolved. Whilst those around flourished and grew from strength to strength and she wilted. She became a nobodies somebody. 

The world turned and as she did she slipped further into the shadows. Everything she’d achieved and earned burnt away as others shone so bright. The world had robbed her and left everyone else with something whilst she was nothing. 

She can’t do this world. She’s too tired, too lonely, too weak envious, too much, in pain and doesn’t want to anymore. Fed up of pretending, enough was enough. That’s when she discovered that the no place was a real place. A chance to step away and begin from scratch. It was her story, owned by her and she held the pen. She could write something new in a way that was  like no one else’s.

She held the pen and began to draw. The first thing she drew was a boat. Not grand, just a tiny vessel. Nothing more than a board bench and some oars. She climbed onboard and launched into the inky sea, and didn’t look behind even once.


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…

The snap election that made me snap

On Tuesday I was driving to Bristol to see my sister and her family. On the way down came the news over the radio of a snap election. Oh no, more disappointment and strife. I know that’s dramatic but I’ve been so hopeful in recent elections, and the referendum, to then be squashed and let down. Me stuck in my echo chamber of disbelief that bounces around my nearest and dearest. I didn’t even dare to hope that this may bring a different outcome. I feel defeated, dejected and a little out of fight and it’s not even begun.

But as I listened to Theresa May’s speech about her reasons why she has made an election u-turn I found myself screaming at the radio. It wasn’t anything to do with the fact she’s gone back on her word about the election in general. I get it situations, tactics, and people change.

It wasn’t even the section that declared it was Westminster that was fractured, not the country, that made me snap. I mean that part did make my blood boil. After all it’s your job as a politician to be divided in views and options and to argue and debate these. Oh yeah and the country are clearly are all at odds, hence the split vote of Brexit.

The bit that made me completely snap was this:

“Our opponents believe that because the Government’s majority is so small, our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course.

“They are wrong.

“They under-estimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country.”

Sorry, say what?! She is not prepared to endanger the security of working people?! So what, everyone else can be thrown into the sacrificial fire? Children, young people, students, retired, people with disabilities, unemployed and sick, terminally ill you can be endangered, have your security threatened and suffer to save the ‘working’.

To me a prime minister should be saying  I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of people across the country. Because that is the job of the Prime Minister; to be working for her nation. To serve the people and protect them, a nation as a whole, not just the ones you select.

I am fully aware she may have meant protecting people’s jobs when Brexit happens, but life is more than that. It’s people’s health, wellbeing, education, culture, families, freedom of expression, right to live. Brexit is about more than jobs.

I’m about to reveal a big shocker. Sometimes life isn’t black and white! Sometimes things just go wrong and the person that was working suddenly finds themselves in a different place to where they dreamed. I wonder if you have ever experienced that Teresa?

Please take a moment to step into my shoes. I followed the formula: I went to college then to university. I’ve always worked hard and above and beyond. I worked 50 hour weeks as a student and after I graduated. For years I dreamed of setting up my own arts company and worked in all sorts of jobs to make this happen. I’ve always paid tax and N.I. the whole way.

From 17 years old my mental and physical health began to play up. Despite this I carried on and tried to earn a living but always ended up in the renting and credit/ debt game. When I started to not cope and drown in symptoms these loans and debt and renting weighed me down further. I tried to live within my limits and keep on earning. I tried to reach for help to budget and dug myself out of holes. I never asked for help from anyone and being fiercely proud I did it all myself.

Inevitably when my health worsened I sunk. I blame myself for poor choices and being defiant by working in the arts. I blame myself for running a non for profit company to help others. I blame myself for getting ill and wonder if I just pulled my socks up I’d somehow manage to work.

The final rock in my pocket is your prejudice as a Prime Minister Mrs May. Your promise to protect working people leaves me out cold. It’s another albatross of guilt strung around my neck. It’s the nail in the coffin of my self-worth. I hide inside the house a lot, incase I’m showing I’m enjoying my life for not working. The reality is very different. The other day I visited a garden with a friend. I posted pictures of my adventures. What I chose not to post were the 4 hours I had to sleep to regain a little energy. The 3 days of back pain and mobility issue as payment for walking. The looks you get for not being at work when everyone else is. And most of all the boredom and frustration at not being able to have a choice.

Just before the election announcement I was visited by a Conservative Party campaigner. He arrived at the garden gate and stood for five minutes talking loudly on his mobile. I began to stumble trip down the garden to meet him and waited for him to finish his call. Eventually he did and he was pleasant enough. He asked me if I would vote Conservative in May’s local election. I told him bluntly that I never would. His response was ‘what if I said we would reduce your council tax, then would you vote for us?’ To me this was the catalyst to a rant. I politely explained back that I am currently in a system to which I’ve always paid tax and I’m being humiliated and let down. The lack of social housing means I face eviction, court, homelessness, living in a bed a breakfast and still may not get help. I spend hours filling out forms, exposing my entire soul-destroying medical history to strangers. My voice raised and my lip wobbled as I told him I’m doubted and tested and have to fight every corner to gain pretty much nothing. Funnily enough I don’t think we should be paying less council tax, but more to help and care for everyone’s security.

He looked shocked and said he ‘was sorry’ as he was already backing away. I know I may have fooled him as I’m not your typical ‘benefits scrounger’. I live in the countryside and I’m mostly well presented. I’m well-educated, intelligent and speak with a slightly posh accent. Maybe I was in disguise or maybe, just maybe, there isn’t a typical non worker. He couldn’t have got away from me quicker once I revealed my ‘not working’ card. What he should have done if wanting to talk to people face to face was stayed and listened. He could have reported back the faults in the system and cared enough to make a change to all people, not just those of certain income or social standing.

I get that people out there play the benefits system. I get that there needs to be a level of testing. But this does not mean all people who don’t work do this out of choice. I’d literally give my legs or right arm to be able to work (no pun intended). I would love to see my passion and skills put to good use, but I can’t. This has nearly destroyed me inside without the judgement of others from the outside. Save your council tax bribery and your tiny words of judgement.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but that one tiny word ‘working’ made me feel sick. Like I wasn’t worth looking after. Than I am a villain for claiming benefits and it makes me a burden; a cheat, a lower class of person. That cleverly placed word amongst all the others wasn’t a mistake. It was deliberately put there to make people fear and hate those not working.

Make sure when you judge someone for not working you know their story first, or even better? Just don’t judge.

Reality

For all those that may think my 6 months off is a lark heres a link to a little video. Do you know what it is and it isn’t fun, just like working is and isn’t. This is what most days look like unless I’m off finding a small break in the misery like flying a kite or walking my pup.

Plus I’m broke, on the verge of homelessness and generally a bit of a whinge.

I also carry massive amounts of guilt for not working.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FChronicIllnessOnThemighty%2Fvideos%2F1374582545896823%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Thanksgiving

Some days/ weeks are a complete right off. I woke up this morning full of joy that I was meeting up with Beth. I moved my head and uh oh, ran straight downstairs to puke. Another migraine, I’m averaging one a week at the moment. My neck was stiff, I felt like I was on a boat at sea, reeling all over. Always in my right eyeball, it felt ready to explode. I looked for a meme to post and found this…

img_2942

Anyone who knows me will see it bears an uncanny resemblance. So anyway I took Imigram, it didn’t work, so I cancelled my day. I was supposed to be at physio for this very thing, but not today.

All day I’ve puked or slept. All day my dogs have cuddled me. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for their un-judgemental adoration. They know when you’re down and are there for you no matter. My two are naughty but they give so much love.

Recently, when I’ve been in crisis, the RSPCA helped me out big time. They took my two babies and housed them for weeks. Before this, when I got back from staying at my sisters, I was distressed to see that both had lost weight, and Ida had a terrible ear infection. Out of all the break up this was the worst bit, seeing that my pups had been neglected. Nothing makes me more angry. But they still show more love than you’d know and are my shadows.

The RSPCA looked after them whilst I got things together, and into a place of safety. After their stay they were returned to me as beautiful and healthy as I’d left them. They have a scheme which helps families in refuge and they agreed to help me. For this I will be eternally grateful. I have donated to them, though it’s not a lot, I will always be thankful to them. I hope in the future I will be in a position to be a foster carer. In the meantime if you can foster a dog or make a donation please think seriously about doing it.

My thanksgiving today goes out to my pups and the RSPCA.

 

Some days are for warmth…

So today I woke up feeling pretty horrid. New meds are making me sleep for nearly 10 hours a night, and then groggy the next day. I guess this beats the 4 hours average I’ve had for the past few months.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

I’ve begun a new kinder morning routine. It mainly is about not rushing:

Wake Up | Check my journal (not phone) | Feed and let the dogs out | Enjoy coffee / breakfast | Put myself first with yoga or mindfulness | Get ready | Walk the dogs | Check the post | Plan meals and actions for the day

In today’s journal I had scheduled a Weight Watchers meeting, crafts with a friend, followed by a show at the theatre. After sleeping past the Weight Watchers meeting time, and walking the dogs, falling over in the mud, and nearly passing out I knew I wasn’t up to much. In the panic of pain and fatigue I cancelled everything.

Then I realised I did really want to see people and that I needed company and inspiration. I don’t know about you but I am constantly in battle with myself for shared time and alone time? So today I back tracked and rewrote the day. I’m sticking to 3 things at the moment so my new plan was:

  • Drive to the Cowshed to pick up craft materials
  • Meet with Helen, to eat her home made soup and chat and maybe craft
  • Make chickpea blondies

So I did all these things instead of a disaster it was wonderful. Driving through the autumn landscape in no hurry meant seeing the countryside in all it’s glory. Then getting home it’s all warm and cosy and the dogs were waiting.

Helen arrived with a box full of crafts, and her delicious homemade squash soup (I’ll endeavour to get the recipe). We chatted about life, and ideas, and drank coffee. We both, being spoonies, decide to keep the craft simple and make our own ‘advent calendars’. It was Helen’s idea as a way to be kind to ourselves. I provided the labels to write them on and we both came up with ideas for an action a day that would be treating or nourishing ourselves.

Thats all there is to it really. We wrote on luggage labels and decorated them with stickers. I ended up doing 31 to take me all the way to New Year, and have a whole month of adventures. The idea is to pick one each day to do. If it is completely impossible with your schedule we decided we would be allowed to swap one but you should then make time to fit in the discarded one so all the tasks are at least attempted throughout the month. I’ve decided to do mine with the food bank advent idea. In this I put an item of food into a box each day to donate to the local food bank.

Finally I made ‘chickpea blondies’ as a quick sweet treat, they sound odd but they are amazing. I found the recipe here. They are great for lazy days and you literally shove everything in the blender and bake. Oh and then eat of course, still warm from the pan with oozing bitter chocolate.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What do you do to stay warm once the weather turns colder and the nights are shorter?