Whispering Darkness…

Some of you will be aware I write when I need to process. Never more necessary than this week.

I’m struggling right now, both physically & mentally. This is totally down to our disastrous current government. I make no apologies for being political when those very politics are affecting my physical & mental health.

I received notification in June/July this year that even though I had been previously awarded lifetime DLA (Disability Living Allowance) for my chronic & progressive conditions, due to govt changes to the benefit system – namely the introduction of the new PIP (Personal Independence Payment) benefit – I had to reapply. Yes, reapply.

You’d have thought the sensible thing to do for people with lifetime disability awards would be a simple transfer, but no. Reapply as if you’re a completely new claimant. There was an option to allow them to access your previous assessment records for DLA to support your claim – “if they are still available”. Yes, it appears the DWP may have failed to actually keep records properly. Who’d have guessed.

I want to be clear here before moving onto the effect this process is having on me personally – the only reason the govt have rolled out PIP is to get disabled people off benefits. It’s that simple & that barbaric. A UN report in 2017 “accused the Tories of creating a ‘human catastrophe’ in the UK” which violates disabled people’s human rights, the text below is quoted from The Canary, the full article is available here

The UN are currently carrying out another investigation into UK poverty and the impact the current government has had on this, looking at key areas including these listed below – text again is from The Canary, full article is available here.

I kind of wanted to be clear on this – this is not me as a benefit claimant just being awkward or heaven forbid “ungrateful” – but a widely acknowledged truth. Disabled people are being disadvantaged by this government, the facts prove that. The United Nations knows it.

So, back to to this process. I had to call to apply after receiving the letter which was incredibly difficult for me – anything to do with benefit changes causes me severe anxiety – I was physically shaking when I rang, despite being prepared by Citizens Advice on what to expect so I had the information I needed right in front of me. It took a stomach churning twenty minutes. Just to ask for the form.

Once the form arrives in the post there is a four week deadline for completion. The earliest appointment Citizens Advice had was for almost six weeks away. So again I had to go through the ordeal of phoning, this time to request an extension which thankfully was granted.

I cannot begin to describe the vile process of completing that form, even with a trained & sympathetic advisor. I can’t write for any length of time myself because of the RA in my hands, so they had to complete the form for me. It’s invasive, incredibly personal & embarrassing. Answering questions on what medications you take, their side effects, how often you manage to wash yourself, use the toilet, leave the house, eat, get out of bed, the assistance you need but don’t get, and the intimate details of every symptom of your conditions & disability from bowel movements to insomnia, light sensitivity to Myoclonic Jerks.

The awful thing is on a daily basis you are mostly able to avoid thinking about the vastness & sheer weight of multiple conditions & symptoms alongside chronic unceasing pain, you simply deal hour by hour because that is manageable, mostly. This is like plunging into the abyss with your eyes taped wide open. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s traumatic.

Every tiny personal detail of your life is discussed & transcribed, ready to be pored over by faceless strangers – without the requisite medical knowledge – but with the power to remove your income & your car & leave you destitute & housebound. Yes, it’s that f*cking huge.

So – my appointment with the lovely & very empathetic lady at Citizens Advice? Three hours. Three grueling & exhausting hours. And I wasn’t done yet.

It took me another two hours at home to go through, copy & annotate twenty-seven separate pieces of medical evidence going back about 18 months. Scan reports, surgical reports, consultants letters, radiography reports, it all went in there. This took me about three days.

So finally it all went into the post. I had a text on the the 8th August to say my form had been received.

I then heard nothing until Saturday 3rd November when a letter dropped through my door. Yes, just over twelve weeks, or 3 months. Every single day since August my anxiety has grown worse. My depression is also pressing at the edges of my consciousness, whispering of hardships & darkness. My GP is fully aware & we’re monitoring my mental health, the frustration is that we know the exact cause & have no power to remove it.

So the last couple of days I’ve basically gone turtle. I’ve retreated inside my shell, alternating between Netflix & reading depending on my ability to concentrate. The minute I stop either my thoughts are immediately back to this planned assessment. I feel dreadful as stress flares everything. Fortunately I have a wonderful friend who has agreed to be with me for the appointment which is incredibly helpful.

My next task which I couldn’t bring myself to do today is to call them & ask why they’ve not taken on board the request on the form from Citizens Advice & myself for a home visit, and see if its possible to change it. Honestly from what I’ve heard I’m not particularly hopeful.

Then I need to prepare, think of this as a job interview but twenty times worse. Its so easy with fatigue, anxiety & brain fog for me to use the wrong words, forget whole symptoms & conflate conditions. It’s basically a quiz about me where I can get the answers wrong much too easily. I’m terrified of this, and not without reason – so many horror stories of poor assessments are a matter of record.

One last note – DWP or whomever, if you’re reading this and thinking even for one second “well if she can write a blog that makes sense she can work” you are stunningly misinformed about what being chronically ill & disabled looks like.

This, as with many of my posts takes hours – but never all at once. Initial thoughts, a few notes, finding links, remembering what the hell I was talking about when I lose thread mid sentence, stopping for sleep or rest, editing, rechecking, a final read through to make sure I haven’t made a compete idiot of myself. It all takes precious time and energy spread out over days, to do something that when I was well I could have rattled off in ten minutes.

This is my reality, please simply believe me.

PS – for anyone who has bought into MSM (Main Stream Media)’s outright fairy tales about benefit fraud & demonisation of claimants – here’s the real deal from the government’s own data. A tiny 1.2% of benefit claims are fraudulent.

Like HMRC, the DWP also estimates fraud and error for its benefit payments. Its most recent estimate shows that overpayments to claimants in 2017/18 were £3.8bn, or 2.1% of its total bill. Of this, 1.2% (£2.1bn) of its £177.5bn budget was claimant fraud. Full article here.

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A Question of Kindness…

An author I admire, Vironika Tugaleva, asked a question of her followers a while ago – the seemingly simple ‘What is the difference between being nice & being kind?’ I fired off a quick tweet in reply & promptly forgot about it – the transience of twitter!

My response, which was very off the cuff, was this – ‘I think being nice comes from conscious thought, whereas being kind is unconscious & authentic.’

You may understand the moment of sheer (if irrational) panic when she tweeted me back today, saying ‘That’s an interesting distinction. Do you think we need both?’

For a few seconds my brain just fizzled! “Why did I say that, I’ve never really thought about it, what did I actually mean, arghhh!” It was roughly the adult equivalent of sticking your hand up in class at school then realising you’d forgotten the question 🙃

(This only lasted for an instant & I’m actually amused by my thinking. In some dim recess of my mind I’m still, like most of us, waiting for someone to stand up & shout “fraud!” whenever I put my thinking out for scrutiny. Do we ever lose that completely?).

Once I’d taken a breath & re-read my initial response, of course it made sense to me. I’d like to think at the grand but young age of 48 I’m consciously responsible for at least some of my thought process! So my response was thus:

“I’d say yes – for me I think being nice would be saying yes to giving someone a lift even while internally saying “damn that’s going out of my way”, while when being kind I would offer without any thought of inconvenience. Does that make sense?”

(Just realising that even then I’d ended on a plea for understanding, note to self, post with more confidence!)

For me I think both are equally important, especially in today’s hurly burly rush-rush world. I think when we’re on auto-pilot through the day it’s easy to forget to be kind. When you’re perhaps juggling the school run, breakfasts, & getting to work, & you’re already running behind the neighbour asking if you could drop her kids off too is an immediate irritant. It’s too easy to feel like saying ‘fgs can’t you see I’m busy’, & I think a societal expectation of nice or pleasant behavior kicks in & makes you say ‘yes of course, more the merrier’ instead of throwing your smoothie* at her children.

*please don’t try this at home!

On the other hand, when we’re able to slow down & breathe, when we’re living more mindfully, our internal priorities tend to be more aligned with our conscious behavior. And that’s when our innate kindness is to the fore, when we selflessly offer to help others without first weighing up costs to our time, our schedule or our own expectations of the day.

Because being kind is heartfelt & authentic behaviour, it makes us feel good too, because we’re sending a little seed of love & kindness out into the world where it can perhaps take root and grow. And that’s better for everyone.

Wishing you all a joyful week

Namaste 🙏💙

Vironika’s latest book, The Art of Talking to Yourself, is a beautiful read, it’s currently sitting beside my bed & although I’ve not yet finished it I’d highly recommend you treat yourself to a copy – it’s food for the soul.

RD Blog Week #1 – The Medicine

RD Blog Week #1 – The MedicinePatients with autoimmune disease often are not treated well by Doctors & Pharmacists when we ask for or receive pain medication. What has been your experience?

This is a blog I drafted last Friday, whilst it may seem a smidge off topic I feel it accurately reflects the experience of so many of us with chronic pain.

I recently watched a half hour TV programme called ‘Britain on Painkillers – The Silent Epidemic”. I truly wish I hadn’t bothered. I should have realised from the title that this would not be a balanced & factual scientific look at pain medication, with input from all sides of the pain management arena, but instead an incredibly biased piece of presenting laughingly called journalism. Thanks ITV 1, this is exactly why I no longer watch you. I was literally pausing every few seconds to check I was hearing correctly, then stopping to make notes, the more I saw & heard the angrier I became. Hardly my usual Zen Friday evening!

*I’m trying very hard as I proofread this to remove any sarcasm, please forgive me if it can’t help slipping in.

Very early in the programme we were addressed by Dr Frances Cole, a Pain Rehabilitation Specialist who started by saying that whilst Opioids are effective for short-term pain, for chronic pain they are “pretty useless”. She went on to say “People & pain become a muddle of hopelessness, unhappiness, despair, loss of jobs, loss of income. Are Opioids really going to address that? No!” I’m guessing that she meant people IN pain, but same difference. I don’t disagree with her observation that people diagnosed with chronic conditions suffer emotionally, this simple fact is a known truth within the chronic pain community, both anecdotally & from scientific study. Receiving a chronic health diagnosis is life changing.

However…Her question at the end of that statement seems to deliberately obfuscate the point. We do not require or expect effective pain relief to fix our emotional responses, expedite our way through the grieving process or regain employment or mobility for us. We simply want to stop or at least dial down the hurting for some of the time. Not an unreasonable ask, surely?

The presenter then noted that an estimated 43% of British people are suffering with some form of chronic pain. No data or qualification was given so I’m unable confirm or deny this number, but it would seem logical to me that it would be inhumane for any medical professional to expect 43% of the population to just ‘live with it’.

The programme then segued into filmed conversation with a patient; I’ll just call her AB. The presenter stated AB was “plunged into dependency” on Opioids after damage to nerves in her back. Repeated shots of AB lifting blister packs of tablets from a plastic box were shown, interspersed with shots of her playing toddler to emphasise the ‘danger’. The medications she specifically mentioned were Tramadol & Codeine. She said “I have to keep it (the tablets) in the box locked up high because a lot of this is very dangerous, for most people it can be fatal…. I was given these drugs with no guidance or support on how to use them” It was also mentioned that once she’d started taking the meds she suffered with drowsiness, nausea & memory loss.

Where do I begin? I can indeed confirm that both Tramadol & Codeine if taken incorrectly can be fatal. So can paracetamol, arsenic (cherry stone anyone?), sugar, nutmeg and water. Earth is fatal if you are buried in it, in fact life itself could accurately be described as a fatal condition. Ridiculous and more importantly irrelevant nonsense. I think it was at this point my BP rose to nuclear.

To address her other points:

  • No-one in the UK can legally obtain Opioids without a prescription from their doctor. They are a controlled substance. A prescription, by its very nature prescribes (stipulates) how many pills you should take, and how often, as well as if you need to take them with food, or avoid alcohol or driving. If this isn’t enough ‘guidance’ for you, then the instructions are also printed on a label stuck to the box, and warnings about the dangers of not taking them as prescribed are on the patient information leaflet, along with common side effects and advice to report these to your doctor
  • Drowsiness is a common side effect of Opioids and is clearly advised on the prescription label, the box & the leaflet. However drowsiness, nausea and memory loss can also be caused by severe pain. Scientists know that pain interrupts the neural pathways that store information in our memory. This is why so many chronic conditions cause what is known as brain fog, it’s a common & frustrating issue. So whilst it is true that Opioids may have been behind these symptoms, it’s at best disingenuous not to mention another very likely cause

The programme did briefly attempt to explain the way Opioids work by both blocking the way we process the pain signal, and activating a release of Dopamine, saying that this causes a ‘feel good’ feeling, which we then want more and more of, and this is what causes addiction. I’ll leave my very simple response to this claim to real science, using the voice of Dr David Ley – “Dopamine serves many complex functions in the brain, and only kindergarten brain science describes it as an addictive drug.”

Dr Cole was wheeled out again, this time describing how long term Opioid use can cause horrid side effects such as becoming sickly, groggy, confused, drowsy & muddled. As at least two of these terms mean sleepy, and two mean confused one suspects hyperbole. She went on to say Opioids also cause depression, suicidal thoughts, that they affect the “mind through to the body”. Am I saying it’s not possible for them to do this? Absolutely not. But – speak to any chronic pain patient. In fact speak to anyone who has ever received a life changing diagnosis from a doctor. They will all tell you that it sometimes takes weeks, months or even years to grieve. We grieve for our healthy selves, our previous lifestyle, our loss of employment, our sense of identity, our activity levels, our mobility, and many other emotionally impactful changes.

You don’t need a medical degree to be aware that life-changes cause emotional distress, anxiety & depression. Now add in constant debilitating pain. Trust me, life initially feels very bleak. Depression causes among other things an urge to sleep, confusion & suicidal ideation. I’m not saying it’s either/or, but that both need to be factored into a patients mental state – if mind affects body then certainly the reverse is true, body affects mind. Have I said disingenuous already?

Moving on, a Pain Consultant stated that Opioids only work for 1:10 patients anyway. No idea what data was used to make this claim, but even if we accept this as factual I would offer the following comparison as food for thought. Less than 20% of people diagnosed with cancer types which are difficult to diagnose and/or treat survive their cancer for ten years or more (2010-11).  Recent CDC studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population. Both of these measures save lives. No-one is even suggesting that we stop offering treatment or vaccinations because they don’t work for everyone. Yet this is the view offered here. Does one have to be in a life threatening situation before medical professionals will allow us to play the odds? Ask almost any chronic pain patient if they’d like to try a pain relief medication that has a 10% chance of being effective & the answer will undoubtedly be yes please. (The latest data I can find {NIH,2017} suggests Opioids will be effective for 30-50% of Chronic pain patients).

The presenter then talked about an increased number who are addicted to Opioids, again no data was given. She stated that the biggest problem with long term Opioid use is addiction and that ¼ of a million people in Britain are currently struggling with Opioids. Even if one ignores the fact that “struggling with Opioids” is hardly a scientifically defined term, this number seemed very low to me. I’m no maths genius, but, if Great Britain has 65 million folks, and we calculate the % of the population that a ¼ of a million are, we find that according to the programmes own numbers in reality only 0.4% of our Opioid patients are ‘struggling’. I truly feel for those who become addicted to legal painkillers, but this is hardly what one would reasonably describe as an epidemic.

Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with this topic about two thirds of the way through the tone of programme changed from vague to patronising. Almost anyone living with chronic pain will have experienced these pearls of wisdom many times, from not only medical professionals but their friends & family. Trust me, frustrating!

At this point viewers were treated to the opinions of a Dr Rebecca Hennessy. She was very keen we realise that she as a doctor had a ‘responsibility to say no’ when long term pain relief is requested. She started by saying that is easier for patients to take a pill rather than undergo long term courses of therapy. She followed this with “we have to help patients understand why no is in their best interests. The challenge comes when you’ve got someone who is overwhelmed…. they haven’t got much resilience to lose the weight, do the exercise, meditation, all the other things we look for

At this point I was torn between saying ‘what the f*ck’ a lot, laughing hysterically or sobbing. The words I actually scribbled down were patronising garbage.

The same NIH study linked above also says “It is important to emphasize that the term “pain management” has not been clearly defined and sometimes is used erroneously to denote solely pharmacologic tools. Yet pain management may involve the use of a number of tools—both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic—to relieve pain and improve function and quality of life. Before proceeding to a review of these various treatments, it should be noted that, while each may be used on its own, their integration in multimodal strategies that cut across medical disciplines and incorporate a full range of therapeutic options—including cognitive-behavioural, physical/rehabilitation, pharmacologic, and interventional therapies—has been shown to be most effective in the treatment of chronic pain

It goes on to state that unsurprisingly US insurance companies are very reluctant to sign off on nonpharmacologic interventions. A simple equation that unfortunately also afflicts the NHS – money. Mental health care, CBT, massage, physiotherapy etc all cost far more than opioids. So essentially some parts of the medical profession want to remove medication without providing patients with the NIH recommended holistic approach to pain. Quelle Surprise.

Those who know me (& regular readers) will know that I am incredibly open minded when it comes to managing both my illness and my mental health. The two are inextricably linked. However – I also respect real science, and know that treatment for one should not be confused with treatment for the other.  I practice relaxation techniques, I meditate, I practice gratitude daily, and I’ve mostly come through my own grieving process. All of these things take time, and are often a steep learning curve. Do they help me cope with being in pain every single minute of every day? Yes, without doubt. Do they relieve my pain? Not in the bloody slightest, I’m mostly able to process it in a less invasive & emotional way, but it is still there, a constant unasked for traveling companion.

The only things that provide actual pain relief are Tramadol, Oxycodone and Marijuana. As one is illegal here obviously that’s only guesswork(!), but I can confidently assert that the Opioids always turn the pain down by 40-50%, and I always take them as prescribed by my doctor. I don’t even use them daily, not because I’m pain free but because I’ve built up quite a high level of pain tolerance and would rather keep the meds in reserve for when I’m in real discomfort. My choice.

The most frustrating thing for me was that throughout the programme was conflating methods for reducing pain with methods for coping with pain, as well as using the terms dependency and addiction interchangeably. They are all very different things and should be respected as such. I can only surmise that the intention was to deliberately confuse the average viewer.

I’ll finish what has turned into an opus with one of the last statements made by the presenter, which illustrates my last point beautifully. “The long term gain (of reducing Opiod use) will be fewer people trapped in the circle of dependency, a relief for them and their families.” Believe me no-one minds being dependent on a medication, they save lives. Millions of us are dependent, diabetics on insulin, on immunosuppressants, on inhalers, even cardiology patients on simple but life saving aspirin.  We need those medications to survive, to live, to thrive. This is the way in which the majority of chronic pain patients are dependent on Opioids. We are not addicts.

Mandala Metaphor…

We all know what Mandalas are, right? Those pretty round pictures that come in mindfulness coloring books? They have a number of interesting historical meanings, they are said to be a visual metaphor for the innate order and beauty of the universe, as well as metaphors for political, psychological and social statements. Buddhists, who patiently create them in coloured sand tend to use them as a metaphor for transformation and enlightenment.

It’s the transformation and enlightenment aspect that has grabbed me today, though not in that particular order. It’s fascinating to me that this little enlightenment has come through the form of the mandala, which has made me reflect on transformation. Sometimes the universe sends what we need 🕉️

Below is the link to a video that was shared today by the lovely Lene – please do follow her @TheSeatedView , you won’t regret it! It starts at 7m32s so you can see the exact segment we were viewing, which very beautifully shows hand exercises in the form of mandala shapes – clever and easy on the eye.

However… I watched, then went back, paused, watched again and all I could think was ‘are they really bending their hands that far?’. Yep, I can confirm they are, I’ve viewed it verrry closely. And what hit me was that they hadn’t searched the country for four models with “super-hand” abilities, this was how other people’s hands move. All the time, without them even thinking about it.

I tried. And my hands can’t do these movements, and trying hurt. I’ll be honest, I welled up for a moment. The enlightenment here is that I’ve simply failed to consciously notice over the past couple of years just how bad my hands have become. So in a way it was like a sudden… revelation. Almost a shock. Weird huh?!

I think a lot of that is down to the very gradual nature of the transformation (you knew I’d get there!). Had I gone to bed last night with my hands of three years ago, and woken up with my hands of today I’d have been screaming for doctors to fix me. Over three years I’ve slowly made adaptions, changed the way I do some things, stopped doing others, used tools to support etc.

A mish mash of coping methods that has added up to my odd ignorance of just how bad they’ve become. It’s mostly that the RA damage to my tendons and enthesitis have massively restricted my movement, leading over time to loss of hand agility and strength. So I wanted to review exactly what coping methods I use… And to share the extent of how much RA has changed a myriad of small daily tasks to raise awareness. They might even help you, bonus 🙂

  • Changing the bed – my cleaner does it, I can’t even put a quilt cover on or stretch on a fitted sheet
  • I have no grip strength – earlier I needed to open a flat plastic tray of bacon, I made the mistake of trying to grip the corner & pull the plastic film up – rookie error, that finger thumb grip kills me. Its like opening a yoghurt pot or a carton of milk, teeth or knives are needed
  • Kettle – I no longer can use one. I have a Breville One Cup, and when I fill it with water I have to use a plastic jug half filled and use both hands to hold it to pour
  • Tin opener – can only use electric one, the other was binned long ago
  • Jars etc – I have an amazing rubber square from my OT which will grip much better than I can, but occasionally I can’t even open with that & I give in or grab a neighbour
  • Cooking – am slowly giving it up, I last peeled & chopped veg a few weeks ago, then sat down & ordered some pre prepped food & some ready meals. Of course I also can’t move hot saucepans, another reason to keep it simple & safe
  • Cleaning – getting a small stubborn stain out of the carpet recently lost me the use of my wrist & elbow completely for three days – from now on my lovely cleaner’s job if needed
  • Sewing – not that I do loads, but machine only, small movements for hand sewing & even pinning hems really hurts
  • Reading – my biggest love but damn, holding a book is hard. Moving more & more over to my kindle app on my tablet
  • Dressing, washing, doing my hair… the only way I can can dry my hair is to drop my head down and use my knee to support my arm holding the hair dryer. It’s complicated 🙄😅
  • Writing by hand for longer than about three seconds… 🤣

I’m sure there are other people things that will occur the minute I publish this, but frankly I’d bore myself, you get the picture. Yeah, so my hands, pretty crap and mostly painful. So I definitely won’t be doing the Mandala hand workout anytime soon.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the very clever beauty of it. Namaste 🙏💜

https://www.pscp.tv/w/bZo90nR3LTcxMzA5MjM2NHwxTW54bmVhZXp2akpPRqjkRT1-GsBc73pklr4lZ3TaiR4bYZj_G6gv3S73Mew=?t=7m32s

Dear Newly Diagnosed…

You obviously feel in need of support.
I do remember that feeling – that you are really struggling with the whole idea of having RA – of becoming chronically ill.

So you’ve joined a support group, seen a few posts about surgeries and disability and people trying their third biologic, now you’ve gone from slightly concerned to terrified!

It’s important I think that newbies to #chroniclife are made aware that it tends to be those with more severe symptoms who gravitate towards support groups or twitter, and stick around. It’s important we acknowledge that around 40-60% of those diagnosed with RA and treated early will likely achieve controlled remission with medication. That’s actually pretty good odds. And those people often never feel the need to look for support groups online or to stay around if they do.

So our tribe tends to be those who’ve been a bit battered, often suffering with mental as well as physical issues that ergo cause emotional as well as physical pain. It means sometimes posts and tweets can seem dark or bleak, but it also means we have a fabulous empathy with each other and are able to give outpourings of love and support and prayers whenever they are needed – we’ve been there, and many of us have come out stronger for it.

And that’s a really important thing to know – we do come out the other side. My first year with RA was dreadful, I lost my job, I was made homeless. My depression spiralled. It was a dark time, perhaps not dissimilar to where you may find yourself now, and without my online tribe (not forgetting my wonderful IRL family & friends!) I’d have collapsed. These fabulous, generous strangers kept me putting one foot in front of the other when I couldn’t see the way forward. They held up a light.

It was hard and it was sad and it was painful, I won’t pretend otherwise. Antidepressants helped, my GP helped, psychotherapy helped, group therapy helped, and very gradually my feet found new, firmer ground. On balance now I can honestly say chronic illness has brought more good into my life than bad.

The worst happened and the sun still rose and set. That’s life changing right there. Survival. Some great therapy led me to mindfulness which lead me to meditation and gratitude. Despite being ridiculously ill and in constant pain I am genuinely happier with myself than I’ve ever been in my life.

RA was the brute force needed to make me stop & smell the coffee. I know it touched me for a reason. I live more spiritually and much more slowly, I treasure my friendships, I’m more sympathetic, more patient & more kind. I’m grateful for the smallest things, a warm bed, hot coffee, a good book. I’m no longer impressed by the material, but hearing a bird sing or watching the clouds move can and frequently does fill me with with joy. My path has been irreconcilably altered by RA and I’m the better for it.

Yes I still have dark days. I’m very ill, with RA, ME, Fibro & other conditions. So I have constant pain and take a lot of meds. I’m still on antidepressants and fully expect to be for life, they boost chemicals I need to be me and I’m more than fine with that. But my darker days are just that now – days. In the past they would have been weeks or months, my coping strategies developed and yours will too.

I wanted to share this with you not because you’ll do the same or feel the same – we all walk our own path through this life. But to hopefully reassure you a little that you absolutely will find your way. Chronic illness is not an end but a shift to a new beginning, an altered life does not have to be a lesser one.

My newcomer tips?

  • Get enough rest.
  • Listen to your body, if it hurts, stop.
  • Build your pain toolkit – meds, gels, ice, heat, tens, marijuana, movies, whatever works for you.
  • Let go of worry about what others may think – it really doesn’t matter.
  • Look after you – baths, chocolate, candles, pamper yourself.
  • And always, always remember to be as kind to yourself as you would to others – we are way too hard on ourselves.
  • Practice #selfcare daily

Sending blessings, Namaste 🙏🕉️💙

Behind The Illness is Me…

Thanks to Emma, who is part of my twitter tribe and a fellow person with ME for tagging me in #behindtheillness – it’s a lovely reminder that all of us living #chroniclife are also very human! You can find her great blog at NotJustTired

So you can find below some interesting & totally not useful facts about me 😊

Four places I’ve lived:

1. Stroud, Gloucestershire (my actual & spiritual home).

2. Eastbourne, West Sussex

3. Clifford’s Mesne, Gloucestershire
4. Constantine Bay, Cornwall

Four places I’ve worked:

1. The Swan Inn – chef & barmaid extroidinnaire!
2. Stroud College – Lecturer in Floristry
3. JHP Training – teaching then management across the South West
4. Athena, Bournemouth – book retailer

Four favourite hobbies:

1. Reading
2. Knitting (very much a learner)
3. Writing – my blog, poetry & occasionally stories
4. Meditation

Four things I like to watch:

1. Criminal Minds

2. Game of Thrones
3. The Walking Dead
4. Movies, especially good thrillers

Four things I like to read:

1. Fantasy – swords & sorcery – Feist, Eddings, Hobbe, Douglass
2. Spiritual – Thich Naht Hanh, Ruby Wax, Russell Brand, John Kabat-Zinn
3. Thrillers – Koontz especially
4. Poetry – most recent discovery is the C14th Persian poet Hafiz – sheer beauty through words

Four places I have been:

1. Guardalavaca, Cuba
2. Marrakesh, Morocco
3. Vienna, Austria
4. Ghent, Belgium

Four things I love to eat:

1. Chocolate
2. Steak & roasted vegetables
3. Indian food
4. Lamb Tagine

Four favourite things to drink:

1. Coffee especially cappuccino!
2. Green Tea
3. Havana Club aged rum (very occasional treat)
4. Mango & Passionfruit Juice with soda and ice

Four places I want to visit:

1. Budapest
2. Iraq, Iran & Syria (ancient Persia, pictured below)
3. St Petersburg
4. Canadian Rockies

Four bloggers I’d like to tag:

1. The very lovely Wren at RheumablogWren
2. The wonderful disability advocate Shona at ShonaLouise
3. The fabulous & focused Sally at SallyJustME
4. The boldy tweeting and often amusing Elise at TheFragileBones

There are lots of other bloggers I’d love to tag, I’m just hoping I’m not duplicating the tag with my choices!

I initially thought this would be a quick five minutes, then started thinking, reminiscing….. It’s been good fun.

Namaste 💙

Please watch #Unrest

Some of you may know I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or ME/CFS. Many of you will have no idea of what that actually means beyond “being tired” which is so far from the truth. For too long the medical profession & the media have treated ME/CFS as a joke, a mental illness, or fakery. It is none of the above, and the mindset is insulting to every single one of us.

It affects waking & sleeping. It affects cognitive thinking and speech, memory, writing and listening. It causes seizures and myoclonic jerks. Clumsiness. Bowel problems. Joint pain. Muscle pain. Exercise intolerance and PEM (Post Exertional Malaise) which can last for weeks or months. Flu like symptoms. It affects every minute of waking life every single day.

In the face of ignorance and incompetence from those with whom she sought help, Jen did what many of us do. She went online and found a tribe. Somewhere where we are heard, seen and understood. Where we are validated.

She then went much further, eventually creating and filming Unrest. This is her story, but it’s also our story. Thankfully I’ve never been as severe as Jen, I pray I never am.

But I have periods of days when I am invisible, when no-one sees me. I don’t get dressed or leave the house. When I wake from an 18 hour sleep then have a three hour nap. When holding a conversation is impossible. When simply sitting up is just too hard, let alone leaving the bed or sofa. I am too often one of the #millionsmissing

Please watch #Unrest – it’s now on Netflix. The link to the trailer is below. Yes it’s hard viewing. But it will open your eyes to the reality of the lives of millions with ME.

NYE 2017 – Reflections

I was trying to find a theme or quote that represented what 2017 has meant for me to use as a starting point, but nothing seemed quite the right thing. I know New Years Eve tends to bring us bloggers out of the woodwork, I think it’s the creative urge to somehow capture where we’ve been, and perhaps plot where we want to go. Combined with the creative muse that won’t let us know what the next sentence is until we write it.

My year has above all been a catalyst for change, and wending through it has been a series of lessons I hope I’ve learned from. I think I’m a better person than I was twelve months ago, and I hope in twelve months time I can say the same again and mean it as fully as I do now. There’s a lovely aboriginal proverb that says “”We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… And then we return home.”

I have, with the support of some wonderful people, finally discovered the real Joy of Now. Not the superficial trimmings of mindfulness that is pushed by mainstream media, but the real living in the moment stuff. It’s mind altering. Life changing. And it’s so amazing! But I wouldn’t have been ready for this had it happened earlier in my life, I firmly believe that we have to become open and ready to welcome in the new and let go of the old, and do this with with self love and self compassion. Even when it’s as challenging as f*ck. Which it often is.

So how did I get here? I am forever grateful to Demi Schneider my wonderful therapist, who helped me become ready to open these doors almost two years ago now by teaching me how to love myself fully. To Ruby Wax whose fabulous book “A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled” gave my logical brain the understanding it needed of what was going on in my head and how to start rewiring those neural pathways. To the wonderful Calm app which helped me start meditating and sleeping again. To the beautiful Essia for leading me to The Now Project. And to Adrian from the Now Project who held my hand (literally & metaphorically) through one of the darkest hours of my life. And to the whole Now Project Team for just being here.

Does that give you a glimpse of how it all fits? How what seems random and disparate is beautifully interconnected. The Universe guides us to where we need to be even when we have no clue what we need. We can’t rush it, things will happen when they are supposed to. All we need do is live, right now.

For those that don’t know I was diagnosed with a serious lung condition in June, which at the time was believed to be terminal. It wasn’t a shock to me as I’d been expecting it for months, but even so it was definitely one of life’s “oh shit” moments. Thankfully I already had mindfulness and meditation in my life, without either I know I would have spiralled back into severe depression.

And here’s where synchronicity comes in. I attended my first retreat with the Now Project the day after I had this news. (See, I did have a point!) That evening during our informal meet and greet we were asked what we hoped to get from this weekend. As I listened to the others share a voice in my head (mine, of course) suddenly shouted “Nothing, I’m going to die, you can’t help me” In that moment everyone and everything else seemed trivial. Knowing I was about to either sob or scream I quietly left the room.

I went outside and sat under a beautiful willow, looking over the fields in front of the house. And I sobbed my heart out. Until gradually I realised I was watching the midges dance in the twilight. Above them Swifts circled and dove, catching their evening supper. And I found a measure of peace, my feet bare against the grass, grounded in nature.

Of course when someone came to see if I was okay I melted again. And Adrian, a complete stranger to me, sat with me for nearly an hour. Holding my hands. Bringing me back to my breath continually. And that is when I finally understood that we only ever have Now. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Nothing else is real. Catalyst.

I’m incredibly grateful to say that further testing has (at least for now) ruled out any significant impact on my life expectancy. I have Interstitial Lung Disease caused by RA, which in turn causes a lot of breathing issues, but they are manageable by moving slowly. I’ve also been formally diagnosed with ME this year, so fatigue impacts my pace too. And that helps me continue to live in the moment.

So in simple terms facing my own mortality brought me deep joy. I know I’m not the first or last to say this. And others will walk different paths. The one thing we’ll have in common is that realisation of just how essential it is to live Now. Not today or next week or next year – they don’t exist. When we combine that with real love for ourselves exactly as we are we become invincible. Even death holds no fear because it’s just another step towards enlightenment.

It’s quarter to midnight on New Years Eve 2017, the moon is bright and full. I have candles burning gently and the enchanting music of Deva Prema playing in the background. All is well right Now.

Wishing you all a blessed 2018.
Dee 💙

Excuse me, I’m Dormant…

I sort of feel I should start by apologising for being so quiet recently, especially with blogging, but the spoons have been really low for a couple of months. I feel the balance is tipping towards more ‘bad’ days than ‘good’. I dislike using those terms as they feel like I’m judging, I’ve hit the trusty thesaurus, how do dormant days and wakeful days sound?

The definition of dormant seems particularly apt – adjective: dormant (of an animal) having normal physical functions suspended or slowed down for a period of time; in or as if in a deep sleep

That accurately sums up about 40% of my time. Maybe more. At the moment I feel like I’ve hit a medical stalemate – another great word – any position or situation in which no action can be taken or progress made.

I saw my GP (who is fab) on Friday, we ran through a few symptoms where her answers were, not unreasonably, that there’s nothing that can be done. Of course if a,b, or c get worse let her know, if not do my best to continue to live around them. She has the option to refer me back into the hospital Fatigue Management team so to keep that in mind for the future.

FYI I’m not being ignored, I have ongoing support from Thoracic (lungs), Rheumatology (joints & lungs), and Orthopaedics (spinal surgery, sciatica) as well as my GP.

But none of these stop me doing this. Sleeping for 16, 18, 20 hours at a time. I track my sleep now because I’m not sure people believe me, but I’m genuinely out for the count, I don’t wake to pee, drink or eat, and a bomb could go off without me stirring. Usually after a sleep like this I wake but can barely move, it takes everything I have to stay upright just to make a coffee and maybe toast. It’s like the worst flu feeling quadrupled. I literally stagger to the kitchen and back, almost on my knees.

And every time within two hours I’m passing out again. I use passing out deliberately because that’s exactly what it feels like, it’s almost as if I can feel my body shutting down, to quote the Borg “resistance is futile”. I spend approx two to three days a week like this.

To be clear here I’ve been diagnosed with RA, Fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, and RA-ILD (Interstitial Lung Disease). All of which will be contributing to this dreadful fatigue, though my suspicion is this is much more ME than the others. I’ve attended pain management sessions and fatigue management sessions which mostly revolve around pacing and CBT. Unfortunately as anyone with ME knows the use of CBT as a tool to improve fatigue has been totally discredited. And pacing just doesn’t work.

Pacing is actually a very simple technique. One monitors one’s activity and fatigue levels for a few weeks on a chart, then you calculate an energy ‘baseline’. So let’s say the average day allows you three hours of low activity. You plan around this and you slowly work on building up. Sadly this model assumes a number of modes of behaviour are manageble for the patient – such as getting up at the same time every day, sleeping for the requisite number of hours per night, ceasing to nap during the day, and that after sleep one feels refreshed.

None of this applies in my case. When I mentioned to the fatigue team that I can spend two or three days a week sleeping (dormant) they told me this “wasn’t usual” for ME. I thank the stars for the Internet, there is a lively community online who very quickly taught me I’m not alone, and I’m definitely not an aberration. In fact I’m fortunate, there are people with ME who’ve not left their beds for years.

I can sleep four hours or twenty, I never wake feeling refreshed. I can’t choose to not nap when I can be awake and say, reading one minute and the next it’s six hours later. Yes, my internal nap monitor is screwed too, it’s never just twenty minutes! I can’t work to a normal “sleep pattern”, when I’m dormant I not only sleep through alarms, I’ve slept through my cleaner coming and going, and a few weeks ago just crashed on the sofa whilst a friend was building me a walk in closet, thankfully he understood as his mum has ME so he finished quietly and tiptoed away. Bless him.

But I think these examples clearly show this is not down to me giving in or not trying. I don’t see anywhere to go from here clinically. So my only realistic option is to continue to flex and enjoy my Awake around my Dormant.

Yes this makes planning difficult. There are hospital appointments I’ve had to reschedule, blood tests I’ve missed. More important to my sense of engagement with life is the birthdays, the weddings, the lunches and the family events I’ve missed. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt guilty for these, I know now I have to listen to my body, but it still saddens me to have to cancel.

Is this difficult to live with? Yes of course, saying otherwise would be disingenuous. I think anyone faced with the reality of losing maybe three or four days a week, every week, for the rest of their life would be floored. I think the blessing here for me is that this hasn’t been a sudden notification, it’s happened gradually over the past few years and whilst I’ve railed and wept I’ve also become accustomed to these limitations being my life.

It’s just that this conversation on Friday finally drove home that this is here to stay. There is no magic pill or potion, therapy or faith that will make this change. Stalemate.

And so comes acceptance. So I will continue to try to see my dormant days as necessary recharging, to allow my wakeful days to happen. I will continue to try every day to find both gratitude and joy in my world. I will continue to use my toolbox containing items as random as meditation and tramadol, heating pads, mindfulness and antidepressants. And I will continue to find my joy in the smallest and often unlikeliest of places. Eyes wide open.

Namaste 🕉️

Things I wish I’d known.. 

What do I wish I had known at diagnosis? This started out as a short response to a seemingly simple question and ended up here, I guess I always figure why use ten words when you can use hundreds!

1. That there is a fantastic, amazing and committed online support community. That these strangers would become my home, my family, my friends. There is an amazing bunch of people out there, living #chroniclife just as I do, and they are all passionate about providing support, information, safe places to chat and vent, and somewhere to go at 3am when the regular world is asleep.

2. That getting the diagnosis is not the end, it’s the beginning. Just after I very first joined a wise RA’er told me that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Three years later I get it.

3. To take all the RA stuff seriously, but learn to laugh at it at the same time. It’s very easy to get bogged down under it all, so spot the funny moments and treasure them, they do help! (Getting stuck in a hotel bath springs to mind!)

4. That everyone’s RA is different. There are similarities within recognised parameters, but you may suffer some things badly and others not at all. That doesn’t make you odd or weird, we all feel this differently
5. That #selfcare is the single most important thing you’ll learn to do. You can’t pour from an empty bucket, so look after you properly, then you can be there for others. Putting even family before yourself is a mistake, I always think of the airplane oxygen rule, you first, children next.

6. That it’s perfectly possible to have even severe RA and live your life with love and joy and hope. You’ll find your way, and there are others who are here to help, always.

7. That it’s OK to scream and rant and rave and be angry too. We all do it, venting is welcome! Letting off steam occasionally is I believe an essential part of processing and accepting your diagnosis

8. That no one can tell you how a medication will work for you. Not your rheumy, not your doctor and not us. Unfortunately RA treatment is trial and error – many people hit their magic med first or second time and probably never join online groups because they don’t need them. Others will have meds fail them over and over, or provoke allergic reactions. The only way to know what will work for you is to try it with your rheumys support and guidance.

9. That you will find your way through this. You’ll learn how your RA behaves, what helps and what doesn’t, when you need to rest and when you need to work through. It’s not a quick or easy process, but I promise you will get there 💙