Trying to catch the rain….

This may start by sounding a bit egocentric, but sometimes I’m fascinated by the way my mind works! I mean the underlying subconscious thoughts we have, without any kind of input from our conscious self.  Just now and again I catch myself doing something and I stop and think why? And then I realise the why and gently correct myself. 

I guess it’s a technique I picked up from my CBT course last year, not chastising myself for having thoughts that are unhelpful or incorrect, but gently addressing them and turning them round, hopefully learning as I go. 

It’s happened this morning with something I posted in a closed group on facebook, I’ve pasted it exactly below…

Just wanted to share a positive day for a change 🙂
Finally finished the to do list I started about two months ago, including sorting address changes, closing a couple of accounts and filing a tax return for last year. 
Huge sense of relief from sorting stuff, I suffer with anxiety and paperwork kicks it off, so I’m really proud of myself for doing this today!

I shared this for two reasons, mainly because I do feel proud of achieving this, and also because I thought it might help someone else who has similar issues.  I received some lovely responses, saying what an achievement it was, and that I’d done really well to tackle it.  Then ‘it’ occurred to me.

Why had I shared this in closed groups but not on my own timeline? Let’s be honest, we all like to share our achievements with our friends and family, it’s a lot of what Facebook is.  So why not this?

I realised almost as soon as I’d asked myself the question what the answer was – sharing this as an achievement meant sharing that I find something as simple as sorting paperwork a struggle. And for me that’s quite a big admission, a weakness if you will.

I’m someone who had identified myself very closely with my work for a long time, and work meant budgets, spreadsheets, contracts, project management, business analysis, strategic planning and problem solving.  How do I then turn round and admit my brain just doesn’t work in the same way anymore?

Since my RA/Fibromyalgia symptoms started I’ve been increasingly suffering with ‘brain fog’ – a recognised term amongst those with chronic illness.  It’s like trying to catch a handful of rain, little drops make my grip but the rest eludes my grasp. Words dissappear from my mind at the precise second I want to speak them.  Memory jumps, so I can lose track completely mid sentence. 

It makes trying to deal with anything that requires concentration difficult.  And once it becomes difficult I become anxious.  And the anxiety affects concentration.  You can see where this leads…..!! Paperwork is bad, having to make phone calls related to it is nigh on impossible. 

So I procrastinate, I make lists, I shuffle them around. I move papers from one room to another.  I sort them into order, then I sort them again.  Anything but sit down and deal.  And suddenly two or three months have slipped by and I’m annoyed with myself for not getting things done, but no closer to actually doing. 

What changed yesterday? In simple terms I had a less ‘foggy’ day, the fatigue wasn’t as heavy as usual, the pain was lower for a few hours.  So I used the time, and I’m really glad I did.  It’s like a weight has been lifted, I tend to turn the things I put off into mountains to climb, when in fact a couple of hours with a coffee and the laptop and I was slowly but surely caught up. 

So, going back to my starting point here, I have been kind to myself this morning.  Yes I did well yesterday, and I should feel proud.  And that means feeling proud ‘out here in the real world’,  where if I’m honest no one who matters is going to think any less of me, and anyone who has suffered with brain fog &/or anxiety will understand completely. 

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Cyberhugs are Magic….

A friend with RA & Fibromyalgia messaged me this week to say that although she was at home with her loving family, she felt very tearful and alone.

I started to message her a response, and then realised this sense of distance, of separateness, is only something I’ve really noticed since being diagnosed with and talking to people with a chronic illness.

So why is being Chronically Ill the loneliest thing in the world sometimes?  It’s certainly no reflection on anyone’s company, I suspect it’s because we can be talking and laughing,  but behind that we are constantly hurting, a never ceasing reminder we’re not the same. We can’t just go on a trip or sit on a stool or wander into the shops. Or even have a simple glass of wine.  It’s tough feeling different, so sometimes we do feel completely disconnected from those around us.

I’m so grateful that I was diagnosed with a chronic illness in the days of the information super highway, because with it those of us who feel we are alone actually never are.  The isolation is almost immediately eradicated by typing a few words and pressing enter.

Within seconds I can be chatting via IM to friends in the UK, US, Canada and beyond.  We can, thanks to the magic of the Internet share thoughts, feelings  photos, hopes, dreams and fears.  And amazingly lovely, kind, generous people who absolutely get it respond.  A cyber hug should never be devalued.

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I’m proud to say I’m a small part of the RA community on Twitter. I am honoured to belong to a few groups that will never show up on my Facebook feed because they are private.  They are ‘safe’ & loving places to chat with others, compare symptoms, vent, laugh and cry about the daily frustrations of chronic pain, ever changing meds and the annoying variance in advice given by consultants who are supposedly all experts in the same field.

So my immediate support network is made up of my family, my wonderful ‘local’ friends, and a number of very good online friends who I just haven’t met yet.  They are all equally important, when I need to reach out, a quick pm or tweet or post and my RA family are there.  I’m incredibly grateful for this, because I think our pain separates us somewhat from the ‘norm’.

We live within our minds a lot of the time because we have to. 
We lie awake a lot because we have to.
We live slower because we have to. 
We appreciate the small stuff more. 
We become more observant.
We become more self aware.

And having given this some thought, I believe that as a consequence of these gradual changes we are more self intuitive, so we notice this disconnection that we would never have seen before. It would have been filled up with the busy and the clutter of ‘normal’ lives being lived.

The media makes headlines of how much harder it is to be alone at this place in time, something that is often criticised as overload.  And for many running between family, work, friends, parents, school etc there is little space for genuine alone time, quiet contemplation of our place in the world.

But for those of us who spend days in bed, hour on hour alone with pain and fatigue, those who, like me, see 3am far too often (and not for party reasons), there are endless aeons of time to question our value, our worth, our place in this world that measures life and success by income and productivity.

So I am thankful for the wizardry of Sir Tim Berners-Lee  & Co, who probably would never have forseen that their Internet would allow those who are vulnerable, and at most risk of becoming disconnected from the world, to not only participate but to form very real and solid friendships with strangers, bound by chronic illness.  And that truly is magic.