Yes, This Hurts!

Some of you will already know that I’m losing my motability car on the 23rd of April. I’m incredibly angry as this effectively leaves me housebound. So I’m having to spend money I can’t spare on buying an ‘old banger’ so I can get out.

So why is this happening?

  • Because this govt don’t want people on disability benefits
  • Because in conjunction with the MSM they have wrongly demonised disabled claimants as scroungers
  • Because they’ve moved the eligibility goalposts to make it even harder to evidence disability
  • Because their contracted “health assessors” (who aren’t experts in many conditions including mental health issues) are targeted on reducing benefit levels
  • Because their contracted assessors blatantly lie, misinterpret & make erroneous assumptions in their reports which are then treated as gospel over claimant evidence, scans, & consultant correspondence
  • Because they f*cking can & the MSM is complicit in covering up their lies

I know I’m not alone in this, I know other people who’ve been through this right to the appeal tribunal stage & won back their rightful benefits because at a tribunal you’re dealing with humans, not dwp targets. But I also know so many are just too ill, too tired, too anxious, too stressed, too alone, too defeated & too confused, and have given up without appealing even though they know they’d likely win. The fight is too hard & this govt are relying on that to cull numbers.

Almost a third of DLA to PIP claimants lose benefits, cutting their independence & their income. Disability charity Scope said these figures are “deeply concerning” and called for an “urgent overhaul” of the assessment process

“It’s deeply concerning that so many disabled people are facing a sudden drop in vital financial support,” said James Taylor from Scope.

“Life costs more if you are disabled. These extra costs haven’t disappeared just because there is a different assessment process.

“Without an urgent overhaul of the PIP assessment process, the system will continue to work against disabled people, instead of for them.”

I won’t go into my medical details here because much of it is very personal, but I cannot emphasise the following things enough;

The stress & anxiety have been absolutely horrendous. Imagine some unknown & unsympathetic stranger has complete control over your finances & your car, then imagine they won’t tell you for month after month what they’re doing next. I had my initial dwp letter in June last year. My assessment wasn’t until 1st December. I didn’t get a decision until February (and I had to chase them).

So I completed with Citizens Advice the initial Mandatory Appeal (which is known to be a pointless exercise but still took us two hours), unsurprisingly I’ve had a letter today denying the HR disability again & repeating what was said in the last letter almost verbatim. So next stage is to go to court for a legal Appeal Tribunal, which I understand from others can take up to a year.

My depression has absolutely been impacted by this process too, I’ve had more down days, the black dog nips a little closer when even thinking about not having reliable transport, & also of being accused of being a liar which is essentially what the dwp have done to me & thousands of other disabled people. I’ve been agitated & restless & I know exactly what the cause is.

My rage has settled down to a simmer now, but I was so bloody angry when I finally got my report copy. (Confession – I may have written certain rude words in pencil all over the margins). It’s outrageously poor.

Bear in mind here for a minute that in a previous life I ran huge contracts across the South West for (plot twist) the dwp, supporting the unemployed into work. The irony isn’t lost on me! But had any single member of staff in one of my centres turned in a report of this poor a calibre about a client some very serious conversations would have been had.

I’ve not picked it up for a few weeks because it’s still a bit raw, but off the top of of my head…. It’s a badly written cut & paste job, some of which obviously came from doing someone else’s assessment. It’s practically illiterate. The same phrases are repeated over & over like magic, as if when you say something stupid/untrue often enough it becomes reasonable or true. It contains as I said earlier outright lies, glaring inaccuracies and erroneous assumptions. There is no logic or consistency.

It took me a few days to work out that at least part of my anger was precisely because of the poor composition and lack of attention to the construct and meaning, as well as the errors. I know I’m a detail orientated person and these things matter to me, but surely in doing work that will actually impact people’s lives, wellbeing & financial circumstances everyone should pay attention to detail?

Almost a third of DLA to PIP claimants have lost benefits, cutting their independence & their income. Disability charity Scope said the figures are “deeply concerning” and called for an “urgent overhaul” of the assessment process.

“It’s deeply concerning that so many disabled people are facing a sudden drop in vital financial support,” said James Taylor from Scope.

“Life costs more if you are disabled. These extra costs haven’t disappeared just because there is a different assessment process.

“Without an urgent overhaul of the PIP assessment process, the system will continue to work against disabled people, instead of for them.”

Call me naive, but I guess I expected better from a government employed organisation when producing an official report on someone’s mental & physical health & ability. So yes, on top of everything else I was actually incredibly disappointed.

In my previous life with a fully functioning brain I would have torn this report to shreds in a couple of hours, referring to the DWP’s own guidance point by point to emphasise each and every error. Unfortunately with frequent brain fog, cognitive difficulties & fatigue unpicking this to refute it for a tribunal will take me weeks. But if needs be I will do so, with the support of friends, and the fabulous Citizens Advice, because even feeling as ill as I do daily I’m too bloody angry & stubborn to let this go.

I hope the above has made sense, I’ve probably rambled but this is the first time I’ve felt calm enough to write this out without ranting &/or swearing (a lot)!

Thanks to everyone who’s supported me, especially the lovely Essia who attended with me in December to literally & metaphorically hold my hand.

Quotes pictured above are from the incredibly useful Disabity Rights website which can be found here if you’re looking for further information

Odds & Ends

CW: suicide

It’s almost midnight on Monday 18th March 2019, and I’ve just watched this week’s episode of Criminal Minds. Nothing odd or unusual about either of those things, at least on the surface.

Tonight’s episode had a special guest star who I’ve not seen on TV in many years, the talented singer Johnny Mathis. Very famous in the 70s for any younger readers who are thinking who?! He had/has a beautiful and very distinctive voice which even as children my sister and I loved, probably mostly because my Dad had his cassette in the car πŸ™‚

About fourteen years ago my sister’s partner, Andy, emailed to me (if my memory serves) a link to an mp3 of a song he’d been begged to find by Mary. She’d had no idea of artist or title, just remembered a snatch of lyrics about an “empty tube of toothpaste”. Well, bless him, he finally found it on a Russian music site (this was before YouTube got useful) and voila, here it was – Odds and Ends by Johhny Mathis for the first time since we were children.

Talking about it after we could both clearly remember listening to the song over & over in the car outside a local pub while Mum & Dad popped in for a drink*.

*Important historical note – in the late seventies children were as welcome in most pubs as the bubonic plague, and about as likely to happen. Crisps & lemonade in the car park in the summer were a treat πŸ˜‰

I digress – so OK, it’s nice that I saw this singer on TV tonight after all this time, and it sent me on a little trip down memory lane, but that’s still not odd or unusual.

Until you factor in the date.

As I’m writing these very words it’s almost midnight, by the time this has posted it’ll be the 19th March.

Which is exactly 12 years to the day since Mel died. I had no plan to post or blog, in fact the date wasn’t something I was conscious of, until Mr Mathis appeared in my living room this evening, looking older but still with his beautiful twinkly eyes.

So I’ve played the song through a few times, it’s made me remember happy days and laughter, and it’s made me smile, as well as cry.

Although written about the end of a love affair, in light of my sister’s suicide one part of the second verse feels particularly poignant;

“At least you could have said goodbye
You shouldn’t have run away
Were you afraid that I would cry?
My tears might have made you stay”

But – feeling sad is OK, grief is the price we pay for love, and I pay it gladly, because my heart would be so much less without her in it.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before I’m not religious, but I am spiritual, and I know in my soul that in some form or other we continue, energy does not die. To quote the writer Aaron Freeman;

“You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every bit of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world.”

And whether you believe in gods, goddesses, divine beings, angels, a guiding light in the universe or the principles of science alone, whether you believe it was serendipity, fate, the angels or the stars that brought Johnny Mathis back into my life in this particular moment, on this day, I call that magic.

I feel blessed. πŸ™πŸ’™

Support:
For anyone in need of emotional and/or mental health support for low mood or suicidal feelings please, please, reach out. Call a friend, a stranger, me, a doctor, therapist, whoever but ask, help is out there for you. The Samaritans are available 24/7 in the UK & ROI for free, confidential support

Defined by?

A recent thread by @HannahPearl_1 on twitter questioned the suggestion from someone that “it’s important not to be defined by” our illness. Hannah went on to say she understood what the person meant but didn’t feel able to agree.

This got me thinking. ‘Defined by” is a term that crops up a lot in #ChronicLife circles & forums online. People tend to be either against it as somehow limiting, or in favour of it because our illness affects every aspect of our lives.

But what does ‘defined by’ actually mean? I’ve had a trawl through Merriam Webster online looking at meanings & synonyms to try & pin down a definition, and it’s a little slippery. But I love language so let’s give this a go!

Defined has a number of uses which vary the meaning:

  • to draw or make apparent the outline of
  • to mark the limits of
  • to point out the chief quality or qualities of an individual or group

It’s the second & third definitions I’m interested in here, because I think this may be where the divergent opinions around the phrase derive from. Let’s have a look at both…

To mark the limits of

If one applies this to living with a chronic condition I would take ‘defined by’ to mean that we acknowledge our illness affects us in ways that inhibit the way we live our lives. For me this meaning absolutely applies to my life. Inspiration porn often tells us nonsense like “the only disability is a bad attitude”, and this simply isn’t true.

Current popular ideology leans towards telling everyone they can be anything, do anything and there are no limits, which is a lovely sentiment in fairy tales but totally untrue in real life. We all operate within limits, whether they’re the law of gravity or simple genetics – someone like me with red hair, pale skin & freckles is never going to achieve a suntan!

That doesn’t mean giving up on ambition & dreams, or never setting goals, of course not. We all need things to strive for, to challenge ourselves, to work towards. What it does mean is that we can live our best lives by focusing on the possible, the achievable, and taking steps at our own pace to get there.

To point out the chief quality or qualities of an individual or group

Applying this to living with a chronic illness implies that we are characterised by our condition, that it becomes an intrinsic part of our being. Again, this undoubtedly applies to my life. I am no longer able to separate out my illness & disability from who I essentially am, and I don’t see that as a bad thing.

This doesn’t mean it is all that I am or can be, just that #chroniclife is entwined with my sense of self, my lifestyle & my place in the world and I’m very ok with that. I think this is completely natural human behaviour – if I flip back in time to when I was working my whole identity was entwined with my career in the training sector, which is why it was initially so very hard to accept having to effectively retire. I wasn’t sure who I was without being defined by what I did.

It doesn’t help that as a society we value people by what they do, not who they are, and we love putting people in boxes & applying labels. Would I let anyone else characterise me or define my limits? Not a chance. But as a chronically ill person with disabilities I’ve definitely earned the right to set my own.

And I choose to identify with my illness, my disability, and do so proudly. It’s taken me a lot of work & some fab therapy to get to this point in my life, and I’m happy to own it.

But you know what? If you don’t feel this way that’s fine too, surely one of the most important things we do is choose how to define ourselves πŸ’™

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 β€˜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 Β£3.8bn, or 2.1% of its total bill. Of this, 1.2% (Β£2.1bn) of its Β£177.5bn budget was claimant fraud. Full article here.

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 πŸ™ƒ

(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 πŸ™πŸ’™

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.

Somewhere to Retreat…

Hi there, apologies it’s been so long, between one thing & another I’ve struggled to find find the motivation to blog recently, mostly energy & concentration levels low due to ME, plus RA hitting my hips – you know the drill. But…. I wanted to post something about my most favourite place to be (apart from my sofa), & a tweet certainly wasn’t going to cover it. I suddenly realised I had something I wanted to say, so back to my blog at last!

Where to start? The short version is that my lovely friend Ian (pictured below), the owner of my local bar – The Retreat– celebrated 30 years in business this weekend, which is frankly amazing in today’s economy, & mostly down to the fact that they’ve consistently provided us with excellent food & drink, amazing staff & service & so much fun. Exactly what you want from your local, which coincidentally is 250 years old this year! 😊

I turned eighteen in 1988 which was the year The Retreat opened, and yes, I’ve been using it fairly regularly ever since! I’m still slightly stunned thirty years have actually gone by & I’m not completely sure where they went! I’m still only 27, right? 😁

Anyways… Why I am writing this here? Because particularly since I became chronically ill this place has been a literal as well as metaphorical lifeline for me, and it’s a massively important part of my support network, I’d go stir crazy without it.

It’s somewhere I try & visit two or three times a week depending on how I’m feeling. It’s somewhere that as a lone female & a disabled person I feel completely safe. Better than that, I feel loved. I get table service & have my own personal cappuccino mug 😍

Most of my friend network is based from here, The Retreat has always attracted a wonderfully eclectic crowd of people as regulars & long may this continue. Ian also employs some truly fabulous staff & I love them all dearly, they’re family.

Whether I drop in early lunchtime or later afternoon there is never not someone I can chat to. Sometimes after two or three days in bed you just need human contact, and this place is it for me, it always lifts me.

Because of meds it’s very rare I have alcohol these days, I haven’t drunk “properly” for over three years, but I’m still made totally welcome for my coffees or soft drinks. My wonderful GP is well aware I use the place & often checks in with me on appointments that I’m still getting out at least a couple of times a week – we both know how important that is for my mental health, it’s way too easy to become isolated when disabled.

Any good pub or bar is always a community hub, & The Retreat certainly fills that role beautifully, whether you need help with the crossword or to find a plumber this is definitely the place to be.

So, I absolutely wanted to be present as much as possible this weekend, and I managed both Saturday & Sunday afternoons. Evenings are unfortunately a bit beyond me. But I’ve spent time with some of my favourite people in my favourite place, & that’s what was important to me.

Have I come home and crashed? Horribly. Everything hurts, I’ve barely moved since I got home this afternoon & I’ll probably trade at least a few days for these two afternoons in a row. And you know what? It’s worth every bloody spoon I’ve used, pain included.

Because sometimes life has to be about more than illness & pacing & doctors & tests & meds. Friendships & love are so important, I treasure them & the joy they bring me.

I’ve said before this is my equivalent of the TV bar Cheers, “where everybody knows your name”. So I guess what I really want to say is not only Congratulations Ian, or “I bloody love this bar”, but mostly Thank you, for being my respite, my social life, my Retreat.

The Mercurial Whirlwind..

*Content warning – suicide

On Monday 19th February it was eleven years since my Dad phoned me early one evening to tell me that my younger sister Mary had died. She was 35.

You hear people say things like “I knew it was bad news when the phone rang” but I genuinely went cold on the first ring – I’ve no idea how to explain it, but I swear I somehow knew it was really bad news about Mel.
Unfortunately she had ended her own life. I could speculate for hours (and did initially) on exactly why, but it serves no purpose. The simple truth is that at that moment in time she needed to stop. Undiagnosed depression certainly impacted her actions.
But that was how she ended, it wasn’t who she was. I’m not sure I have the words to capture the mercurial whirlwind that was my little sister. No one else has ever made me laugh (or cry) so hard. She was beautiful, funny, kind, generous, quixotic. She was also stubborn, defensive, argumentative and had a flash temper that raged white hot then just as quickly was gone.

She’d unexpectedly turn that megawatt smile on you and you had no choice but to grin back.

As kids we fought so much, but had each others back, always. I have loads of fabulous memories, good and bad, and that’s how it should be, saintly she wasn’t!

I remember at the time she died being unexpectedly angry with her, simply because we were supposed to grow old together. Losing her was hard, but it was almost as tough dealing with the loss of both past and future memories.

There is no-one else who remembers how to play “mummies, daddies & little darlings”, who knows how you had to step over the second floorboard from the bathroom door because it creaked so loudly, who swears she saw a ghost in our kitchen, who could play connect four for hours, who can remind me how I taught her all the basic swear words after she begged me to! Who was my partner in crime on teenage hair and makeup, and my best friend even when we ‘hated’ each other.

It’s like I lost some of the vibrancy from my past memories when she died, they’re still there, but without her to help me take them out and polish them or argue over them they’ve faded.

Of course we should also already have another eleven years of adult sisterhood to mull over. But she’ll never make a new memory in this life, as much as I carry her with me always.

There’s simply a Mel shaped hole missing from the second half of my life.

So I want to use this post to let anyone who is feeling like they want to stop know they are not alone. You are worthwhile, you are seen, you are loved. This really will pass, so please reach out for support in whatever form feels comfortable. I promise help is out there.

UK & ROI Samaritans – 116 123

USA – Lifeline Chat – 1-800-273-8255.

Australia – Lifeline – 13-11-14

Canada – The Canada Suicide Prevention Service – 1-833-456-4566

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 πŸ™πŸ•‰οΈπŸ’™

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 πŸ•‰οΈ

Things I wish I’d known..Β 

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 πŸ’™