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…

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Creating a bedtime routine

When the clock struck midnight on 2017 I decided to not make a New Years resolution. In fact at the time I was probably drinking a glass of bubbly and wishing I was in bed already 😂. I decided that this year I would focus on my physical health, which as you may know, is problematic. Instead of overwhelming myself I decided that each month I would set one focus to work on. For the first two months l’ve done Veganuary, and tracked my water intake.

For March the focus was sleep and here’s what I learned by tracking and focusing on it.

Medication

In 2016 I wasn’t sleeping for more than 3 to 4 hours a night due to pain and mental health. Being that sleep deprived does bad things to your wellbeing and even worse things to a body coping with autoimmune. When I went into crisis I was prescribed quetiapine which was great as it knocked me out and calmed the mind. The pay off was sleeping ten hours, not being able to wake up, and being in a constant fog. I’ve had huge meds changes over the past 3 months and dropped down in dosage on tablets that help sleep. This means I’m sleeping less but naturally so this focus has really helped me focus on natural sleep.

Undisturbed sleep

So one of my worst habits is waking up at 3am and staying awake till 7.30 am. When you then want to be up by 9 this is no good. I often need to wee in the night and have a terrible dry and painful mouth. This combined with pain in my knees and ankles due to Behcets, or bursitis on my hips that creates painsomnia, means I just couldn’t get 8 hours sleep. The meds above helped but without them I am the most restless sleeper.

Waking up

So I always aim for the average 8 hours to get up around at about 8am daily. I’d usually use the iPhone bedtime alarm on the clock app but often I wouldn’t fall asleep in time, or I’d not feel refreshed from sleep when I did. I have restless legs syndrome so would find I couldn’t get off to sleep in time. I also used my Fitbit this month to track my sleep and found that my sleep was so restless. Not really a surprise, as I mentioned above, my sleep is so disturbed. But I also realised I wasn’t helping myself as when I woke up I would be tempted to watch something on the iPad to help me get back to sleep but it was doing the reverse.

So after all this trying to focus on the problems I’ve decided to try a different approach. I wanted to make a change to the way I get ready for bed so that I set myself up for a good nights sleep and feel more in control of the individual elements. So I created a bedtime routine and thought I’d share it with you.

Making your own personalised routine

So the first thing I did was to pick a bedtime. I chose 11pm so I could aim to wake up at 7.30am ish. Then I worked back in half an hour blocks to create a plan.

10.30 pm

As this is the bit right before bed so you want to be winding down. Take these moments for a last minute tidy, but nothing rushed or intense. Turn your bedroom back into a tidy sanctuary. I put my clothes in the laundry bin and make sure everything is hung back in into place. My clothes are sorted Marie Kondo style so it’s great to keep it this way. I also tidy away any beauty products and clutter from the day. It’s here I take my bedtime meds and then hop/ into bed with a podcast playing. Oh and I found the best thing for right before you settle down, a pillow spray by Feather and Down that helps you get off to sleep. It makes me breathe deeply to inhale the incredible scent which helps with relaxing. Set up your beside table to make this easier.

10pm

I chose this time to try to empty my head. I try to keep it simple and uncomplicated. In true bullet journal style spill your mind out onto a piece of paper > check your journal > make a to do list for the next day > fill in any habit trackers and memories/ gratitude journals. Finally I pack my bag with any books or letters and post needed for the next day. Set up a place to keep your things for the morning including a charging station for your phone and battery packs etc.

9.30pm

Stretch and move. I find a last bit of activity before bed helps to firstly make you feel like your body is tired and secondly helps hugely with restless legs later on. I love yoga with Adriene.

9pmScreen free time! Try as much as possible to cut out your screen during your routine. This is the hardest thing for me to do but it is well known that the blue light affects both our health and sleep patterns so I’m trying really hard. To force me off I use the app Moment. This sets bot a daily limit and screen free time. Try to do something enjoyable in place of your phone so you don’t get tempted. Like reading a chapter of that book you’ve not got round to, or grab that colouring book you were given in 2015 and never completed.

8.30pm

Begin the wind down with a little self care. Take your bath now, I like mine scalding hot so I can feel my heartbeat and my skin turns red. Apparently by raising your temperature in the bath it then lowers your body temperature when you get out and makes you sleepy. If you don’t fancy a bath or don’t have time make sure you take your makeup off earlier in the evening so you’re not too tired and give up when you crash into bed later. I’m also trying to get into the habit of getting my clothes out for the morning, the night before so I don’t have to bother in the morning. I use the Cladwell app to help pick outfits.

So that’s my routine. It’s ambitious I know but I’m dipping into it to begin with. I always go for the slowly, slowly habit learning approach. So maybe pick one of the things to do for a week. Feel free to make it your own and find what works for you. I’d love to hear about your bedtime routines in the comments.

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.

How to find joy

  1. Walk with a dog, more people talk to you than if you walk alone
  2. Use the ‘golden hour’ to take a photo and marvel at your skills 
  3. Wake up just to see the sun rise and do step two. You’re allowed to go back to 
  4. Laugh really really hard till it hurts. Friends and YouTube videos help
  5. Make someone cake for no reason and share their joy 
  6. Show a child ‘wonder’ and watch their joy, it’s infectious 
  7. For slow burning joy plant some seeds and feel joyful each time you see them grow a little bigger, and think ‘I made that happen’ 
  8. Light a fire, indoors or out, and spend time roasting parts of your body till they go red. Decide it’s probably bad for you so sit and stare and getting lost in the flames 
  9. Eat cheese and don’t feel bad
  10. Climb as high as you can to get a really good view

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…

Hawthorn (Maytree)

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She awoke.

It was so dark she didn’t know if she was really there.

She inhaled.

Her face full of the metallic earth, all mud, and rain, and rot.

She twitched.

Her fingers grasped the crisp mulch that seeped into her clothes.

She rose.

It was so dark her eyes could only make out shades of black and blue.

She felt.

Her hand reached up to her matted hair and pulled at a leaf.

She blinked.

The shadows became giants, then trees so tall they scraped the sky.

She noticed.

How much more she could see if she stopped and waited.

She discovered.

The moon shone between the holes in the canopy providing just enough.

She moved.

Clambering to her feet she stretched her damp limbs.

She listened.

Around her the world was slow but more noisy than she ever knew.

She considered.

The path ahead was her way out, why she had come here; to die.

She turned.

The path back from where she came still remained.

She paused.

As she did her eye caught sight of a tree; clusters of flowers as bright as the stars.

She was drawn.

It seemed to become the night sky, full of hope in the dark.

She neared.

And walked with open arms into the mass of branches discovering thorns sharp and true.

She cried.

Each snare snatched at her clothes and tore at her skin, but she pushed forward.

She persisted.

Feeling something ok was on the other side, knowing it was something different.

She emerged.

On the other side of the hawthorn there was a path she hadn’t seen before.

She bravely walked.

With leaves in her hair, the moon in her eyes, and blood on her skin.

She began.

A new life on a path she didn’t know but one that could never be the one she’d trod before.

Brain malfunction

Sorry this talks openly about suicidal thoughts. If you don’t want to know don’t read on.

You know you’re not right when you walk past a beautiful place and think ‘I want to die here’. It just seeps into your conscious like damp in an old house. Then thats it, your head fills with mildew and once again your at the bottom of the hole. You claw your way slowly back towards the light. Knees grazed, nails ripped and dirt in you hair you stand up one more time.

Disclaimer: I’m OK today which is why I can write this so no one send any police or ambulances or whats apps. If its any consolation I had to cross a railway track about 5 metres from said beautiful spot. I stopped and took my earphones out, looked both ways before carefully picking my way across the track. This is what mental health feels like, in a heartbeat you take care crossing the railway but want to drown in the stream. I constantly surprise myself. I got asked what stopped me I couldn’t remember at the time but I remember now. I didn’t have any stones to weigh me down, no painkillers to make me sleep and I thought if my phone gets wet I won’t hear music as my last thing. Rational hey?

Today I am thankful for:

  1. Beth who cares so much
  2. Sally and her words and depth
  3. Cherries

Somedays

Somedays the world is an ugly place. I know this morning was not helped by the anxiety of returning to England and the early start. Maybe I wore the wrong eyes for viewing it? It was a catalogue of bad sights, smells and tastes.

It started with my bag (too heavy) and a very fast bus ride through Barcelona’s packed streets (the driver was a the love child of Jesus and Otto Mann). Add a dash of concrete pounding and avoiding last night’s dried vomit slicks (the pigeons were enjoying it). Finally to the bus,  despite there being 3 staff, they watched and tutted as both me and my sister (both disabled) couldn’t get my bags in. My hands, which shake all the time now, couldn’t grasp the thin paper ticket (don’t cry).

In the airport I waited by the mobility help kiosk (noted there are no chairs). I watched a man vomiting into a bin for 10 minutes before the cheery Xavi picked me up in a wheelchair (I always book ahead now for mobility and I always ask the name of the person assisting me). When you get assistance at airport you end up in all sorts of corridors and pens waiting, seeing behind the scenes. Once over the embarrassment ( I still get weirded out by crutches and wheelchairs) you get taken in buggies and strange contraptions to get you on the plane. You forget all the normal airport stuff but find yourself saying ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ a lot.

I watched amused as the people fight to get ahead in the plane queue. Almost slinking up the walls to get closer to the front. Then our gate changed and everyone made a mad dash across the concourse. The shoal was so choreographed any dancer in a ensemble would be envious. I trailed behind with the cabin crew, no rush, after all we’re all getting on exactly the same plane and our seats are already allocated. The dance continues as people who pay extra can get to the front of the same queue and other frantically sort through bags after bring too many or ones too large. The panic continues on the plane like a game of musical chairs. Last one seated is off,  I guess that’ll be me then (jokes).

Now travelling does something to my head, it makes me time travel to the past or future. I’m terrible at it. I fret and tremble recalling past pains. I nauseate over details of conversations not yet had. I caught myself in the moment of full anxiety (I’m good at catching thoughts by now). I realised what I was doing and I can only describe it as running down a dark alley with doors that open to the past and the future. You witness times of joy and pain and live events that haven’t happened yet (and probably never will). The alley narrows and it gets harder and harder to turn back. As you are squeezed between the ever narrowing walls you realise you’re stuck. It’s so tight and dark you can only see and believe what your brain is showing you. I held back the tears and swallowed the anger. I realised my brain was back in the place of no hope.

By the time I was in my plane seat I’d died a dozen times in my head. To write it down seems ridiculous. As I was drawn back into the real world again I became aware of a boy behind me. He was possibly 8 and making some curious noises. A sort of cry mixed with excitement then outbursts of ‘the plane is going to go. Suddenly the couple behind the family announced the wanted to be moved. This was loud enough for most of the plane to hear. Most people politely stayed looking at their phones but I’m not very good at that. I swivelled round to see a family with children of different ages. This boy clearly had learning difficulties and was anxious at flying. It came out of him in little bursts like he didn’t know whether this was a terrifying place or the most thrilling ride. He hadn’t done anything wrong, he just said out loud the feelings that we probably all were thinking. I watched as the boy’s mother turned in natural defence of her child. ‘Are you asking to move because of my son?’ she asked half vicious in defence and half shocked beyond belief. ‘Yes’ the couple announced to the plane, ‘we are moving because of your son.’ Every part of me wanted to jump in fierce and wild to stop the pain.

I bit my tongue and caught the mum’s eye, I offered her my row of seats in front away from the couple. The cabin crew swept in and expertly moved the couple away to the back of the plane. The mother burst in to tears. The cabin crew tried to placate them both by offering sweets and a ‘trip to the flight deck’. These frantic gestures were lost so they listened whilst the family explained that the couple had been discriminatory and said appalling things about their son. I felt for the mother in that moment, she had tried desperately to shield her child from the horrible hatred. She was in a state of pure panic. How could anyone do this just because the child made a sound or spoke in a way that is ‘abnormal’ (I personally found him a joy)? Later in the journey I turned and caught the mother’s eye. I wanted to say how appalled I was but just mouthed ‘are you ok?’. She whispered back a thank you and smiled. I didn’t want to save her, but just let her know she wasn’t alone and others were with her.

When you enter the world slightly outside of the normal realm you see how difficult and unforgiving the world can be. My sister has talked at length on her blog about grieving (it’s worth a read and is here ). Its not always about the death of a person but sometimes the death of something else, like your expectations or the life you thought you had. I know I have been experiencing extreme grief as part of my relationship breakdown. With this has come a whole lot more. I’ve experienced the death of my life as I know it. I am unable to work, looking at a future on benefits and no longer able to do all the things I once could. Auto Immune has irreparably robbed my life and I sometimes grieve for what I once had.

So forgive me if I get sad from time to time. I’m trying more than you know to keep my shit together. In amongst these moments I cling on to the small acts of kindness we are all capable of performing. Smile at a stranger or ask someones name, it costs nothing but a little bravery. None of us know what path the other is treading, what came before and is to come in the future. Maybe the couple who had asked to move had been anxious flyers or something else had happened that day. Their actions weren’t the best way of behaving, but we all make mistakes right?

I will continue to fight tis anxiety daemon, its not a linear journey and I’ll bounce around. I’ll also continue to to fight the prejudice and invisible illness in the best way I can, with compassion and kindness. I’m back to start all over again.

I saw this today, which says a lot of my ramblings far more succinctly.

Love, and kindness to you all with the most open of hearts.

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