The Things I do Because of my Chronic Illnesses That are Often Misread

Sorry it’s been a bit radio silence here lately! I’m struggling with my ME and relying on adrenaline, caffeine, sugar and sheer necessity to get through everything I do. With feeling so god damn awful and trying to just carry on I thought I’d share some things I do because of my chronic illness.

1. Resting my head on the table or my knee whilst I handwrite notes or an exam – I started doing this at school when I was 10 and I always got told off for it. But it was just more comfortable like that. I didn’t know why at the time but as my symptoms have got worse I have realised it’s a thing I do to try and alleviate dizziness and head pressure and just keep going. Fun fact head on desk is how I got through my Land Law and Trusts Law exams.

2. Never having my feet on the floor and finding all manner of awkward positions to sit in so my feet are at hip height – helps with fatigue and dizziness and is just more comfortable.

3. Leaning against whatever there is to lean on

4. Constantly moving around if asked to sit/stand in one place – shifting weight and finding different positions helps with pain.

5. Working from bed or the sofa – I’m often dizzy and suffering from pressure in my head or I’m nauseous and in a lot of pain. My bed and the sofa both mean I can alternate sitting and laying.

6. Picking up my phone far too often when I’m meant to be working but my ME is causing severe head pressure and I just can’t concentrate – Really trying to cut the phone addiction. This doesn’t help I just am not good at sitting, or laying and blankly staring at what I’m meant to be doing.

7. Walking slowly – I’m sorry, I simply can’t keep up due to my pain and fatigue. Please be understanding if we are out together and walk at a pace I am able to manage on that day.

8. Grabbing hold of walls or using them to guide me I often get dizzy and go into pre-syncope. When my vision blurs due to this or I just feel unsteady on my feet I often use the walls to help me navigate my way to the bathroom or wherever in the house it is I’m going.

9. Taking my time when changing position (i.e laying to sitting and sitting to standing) – head pressure and dizziness is a bitch and it definitely gets worse when I change position.

These are just some of the things I do due to my symptoms that people may misread.

What do you do because of your chronic illness?

The month of both excitement and tears

June feels like it’s flown by. I think that’s because I just haven’t stopped and if I have stopped it’s been because I’ve been so unwell that I’ve been unable to even watch TV.

June started with me with my family and ended with me back up north due to flat stuff. Moving out is not fun. But we move (Literally in 4 weeks from the day this will be posted). I definitely miss being home. Although my chronic illnesses are a lot worse and my family just don’t get it I’m finding it’s too quiet working from home on my own. I’m bored, not because I don’t have enough to do but because I need that stimulation of people (and dogs around). But the health benefits are certainly worth it. Lots of exciting law things happened this month. I got a video interview for my dream law firm (and then got rejected but we move).

I also got an interview for a scholarship I need which is at the end of July. The pressure is on because I need it but I’m excited. I also took part in Legal Cheeks virtual vacation scheme which helped me massively in determining what I want for career and in providing me with a network.

I really hope my luck in terms of interviews continues and I get some more interviews for my outstanding applications. If I don’t that’s also fine as I’m aware many firms have paused recruitment and it’s a difficult year. There is always next year.

My stomach eased up after I moved back to my apartment as it’s meant I can eat more flexibly and in a way that works for my body. My bladder on the other hand. I’ve spent the last week on antibiotics for a UTI that may or may not be there. It’s helped reduce the spasms but it’s still causing significant problems, especially if I dare drink more than one cup of coffee a day. I am at the moment whilst I’m trying to pursue law, trying to work my full time job and trying to sort out a job for August (I’m resigning it will be official by the time this is published).

My mum and nan are putting an awful lot of pressure on me about my decision. I’m leaving because I’m simply not well enough. I need to get my health back so although I’m looking for an ideally part time role my interest in something full time is limited to something of the dream job category. It will only be 5 months come resigning until I start my LPC so I reason if nothing I’m well enough for is available I will manage living with my parents and worst comes to worst just doing general CV bolstering activities.

There’s only so long you can push yourself for and although I am getting out of this ME flare, I think, Maybe that’s the adrenaline speaking, I need to place myself in the best position to excel in my LPC and go on to have a long career in law. I also need to recondition and doing that whilst working isn’t going well right now.

Passing out when trying to sit up after a laying down workout isn’t fun!

So that was June! How was the month for you?

When lockdown ends please don’t forget us (ME awareness day 2020)

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ME or Myalgic encephalomyelitis is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It is an illness categorized by Post Exertional Neurological Exhaustion.  This is a worsening of symptoms we already experience, such as dizziness, fatigue, pressure in the head and neck, migraines, difficulty speaking, brain fog, muscle weakness, widespread pain, numbness, temporary paralysis, nausea. noise and light sensitivity, full body shakes, sore throat and swollen glands. The list is never ending and it can be truly debilitating and overwhelming. This leaves many sufferers housebound of bed bound and only a small proportion  can work full time.

That scares me especially. I’ve always known by working full time I’m doing too much and my ability to continue without deteriorating has depended upon sacrifices and careful pacing. Especially in this season where I have deteriorated significantly. I am stuck on the sofa, often reclined or in bed. If I leave the house just to pop to the shops which are in a close proximity to my flat I get PENE. Working a full day, even reclined feels so unbearable that words don’t even exist to describe it.

This means many of us with ME are already isolated. Even if we can work for many of us it’s from home and work often floors us so much that we may not have the energy to reply to your messages in a timely manner let alone have an outside social life.

We’re always in lockdown. We’re always socially distancing and in some ways this period of lockdown has opened the world up for us. People are checking in on us and zoom is a thing. The worry is that once people start being able to go out into their social bubbles and back into the workplace is that we will be forgotten once more.

Missing inside our homes.

Please remember to check in on us. I know it can be frustrating because we don’t always have the strength to reply or for a full on coherent conversation but we greatly appreciate your checking in on us.

And please consider spreading awareness on behalf of us. There is still a lot of misinformation out there.

Even doctors believe we are lazy, just anxious and depressed, that exercise is good for us.

None of these things are true.

ME is real and can oftentimes be more debilitating than Cancer, MS and heart disease.

Well that was a quick month

April seemed to have gone by in a flash. It also seems to have been very sunny, not good for the migraines but good for the mental health when I’ve been able to get out.

Trust the UK to get it’s act together the year we’re in lockdown.

I’ve got to confess I’ve spent the majority of the month sleeping. My ME has taken a huge hit from months of overexerting and a possible COVID-19 infection which I still can’t fight off. I still have a cough. It seems to come in a cycle now though rather than being completely unrelenting. I’ll stop coughing for a couple of days then the cough will return. Under the UK guidance this means I don’t need to self isolate as I’d never actually stopped coughing so it’s not a new continuous cough and I did the initial self isolation when it started. However I am regularly checking my temperature and if I get a fever again I will, as that could be sign of reinfection. I’m also taking essential shopping to mean essential shopping. Not “oh I just want a bar of chocolate”. I have witnessed such interpretations of essential and trying to combine trips where reasonable in terms of my ME to try and limit contact to the outside world just in case.

It’s so much fun not knowing whether immunity is a thing to the novel virus right?

I have spent the month largely sofa bound but doing my best not to decondition anymore. There has been lots of bad migraines, lots of bad pain days, lots of fatigue and brain fog.

My activities have been somewhat limited but I think a lack of energy has stopped me from going crazy during this lockdown. I normally get very cabin feverish very quickly which is why I had never mastered the art of pacing. In the past I’d feel a little better and then I’d leave the house and end up bedbound again.

Now I’m feeling a little better and yes leaving the house when I need to but also thinking of things I can do in the house which are less likely to cause payback. I’m finally learning how to pace. I’m noticing early warning signs of a crash and trying to slow down straight away. Instead of pushing myself when every inch of my body is saying no. I’m still not perfect at it, there are still peaks and troughs in my ME. I’ve not perfected the art of pacing. But by remembering that I will actually have to work full time again soon, despite not being well enough I’ve allowed myself to slow down enough to slowly get out of this flare.

I’ve become addicted to tiktok, follow me @spoonielivingfree if you want some quality content. I’ve refound my love of writing. And not just my blog but I’m kind of working on a secret project and wanted to write fanfiction again. (The actual fanfiction writing has been non-existent tbh)

I’ve been able to dedicate time and energy to reading. Mainly YA fiction because it’s accessible to my foggy brain. I’ve been really enjoying getting lost in fiction again. It’s not really something I can do without PEM after work as my job is so cognitive.

Lots of chocolate has been eaten which isn’t great for my waistline but weight gain is okay!

It’s been a hard month and a socially distanced month and I really really miss my family and I am so ready to go home, although I don’t know when as when the office opens albeit in a socially distanced way I’ll have to be in some of the time. Hopefully not all as some would give me leeway to go home without the guilt of annual leave. I’m kind of contemplating illicitly going home myself once I get a work laptop, if I get a work laptop.  Providing I have enough medication and the office isn’t opening imminently to my knowledge. Technically your allowed to move between households and if I went ideally it’d be for two weeks to limit what I may or may not be spreading.

But it’s not by any means be a bad month. Not every month that you get paid for not working a day. And in this age of adult responsibility and bills it’s not every month you get to make decisions to look after your health instead of running yourself into the ground.

Hilariously despite this entire month of time I’ve still not applied for PIP cause anxiety. Even tho I actually need to… I’m just not good at advocating for myself and I know I would be denied it because I don’t look sick…  and a lot of people with ME are.

I am the queen of procrastination over anything that causes anxiety.

How has April been for you?

 

 

 

 

Brain Fog

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Brain Fog is a symptom of ME, fibromyalgia and many other chronic illnesses. It involves your brain not working and can be one of the most debilitating symptoms of illness for some people. Today I thought I’d share some things that happen to me as a result of brain fog, when reading remember some of these things that they probably happen for healthy people occasionally but for those of us with chronic illness it’s not occasional. It’s often multiple times a day every day.

  • Going into a room, forgetting what I came into the room for, leaving the room then remembering and having to go back into the room.
  • Forgetting to pick up my card on the way out to the shops, only to get downstairs or half way down the road to realise.
  • Forgetting my train of thought
  • Forgetting what someone has just said to me
  • Wait, what day of the week is it?
  • What month is it again?
  • A lot of dyslexia like symptoms despite, as far as I know, not being dyslexic.
  • Not being able to process what I’m reading
  • Blowing on cold food….
  • Not being able to find the words to say to respond to someone and converse
  •  Just not being able to speak
  • How do I math?
  • Making really stupid mistakes when trying to learn spanish
  • Have I taken my meds yet?
  • Almost taking night meds instead of morning meds
  • Forgetting to take meds then wondering why I feel unwell

I’m sure there are many other ways brain fog affects me. What does brain fog do to you?

The contradictions in ME/CFS recovery

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Full recovery from ME is possible but rare, but I believe most people over time can improve their level of functioning. It’s just often so hard because of these contradictions and because of access to the things that may help. (I.e supplements, being able to afford not to work or afford to work less, a safe family environment that doesn’t cause flares if unable to work and thus afford to live alone.)

When you have ME exercise is the worst thing you can do. Right? But even that’s not as clear cut. Some level of gentle movement is essential i.e  laying down yoga or even rolling over in bed and slowly doing more household tasks by yourself. And there comes a stage in ME recovery where exercise is actually a necessary part of building that function back up. No more cardio than a walk but when carefully managed it plays a role.

You need to simultaneously not do too much but not do too little. Yet not doing too much kind of means doing too little. Generally pacing for recovery means doing 50% less than you think your able.

You need to try and have a sleep schedule, a routine, despite this sometimes being impossible.

Do you eat super healthy knowing this can often involve significant preparation, money and chewing energy or not? Honestly I’ve eaten super healthy and super not healthy and been at similar levels of functioning. I definitely need to stop with the chocolate for aesthetic reasons right now (Okay no one needs to stop with anything, eat what you want but I’d feel better about myself if I consumed less.) but there are times that all I can stomach is junk food. Don’t ask why but my body will go through times where it digests ultra processed food better than whole foods.

Coffee or no coffee?

Prescribed medication that may increase fatigue or not?

Navigating ME is like a minefield and the stress itself can cause symptoms to get worse because stress takes energy that we simply don’t have. It’s hard to know what to do and get consumed in the process.

It can all get very complex. So before you think someone isn’t trying enough to be well, understand these complexities and that it is mostly trial and error. With very small margins for error as it could cause a permanent set back.

 

On Sleep and Chronic Illness

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Sleep. What an interesting and topical topic. Seeing as sleep is essential for the functioning of the immune system and many people are struggling to sleep right now because of anxiety associated with the pandemic, I figured I should write about sleep and how to help with sleep as someone with chronic illness.

I feel like us spoonies struggle with sleep in two different ways. We either sleep too much (hypersomnia) or just cannot sleep (insomnia). Personally I struggle to stick to a normal 9-5 working sleeping pattern due to pain and nausea and because my ME seems to like the hours from 9pm onwards more and hates early morning rising. Many times I’ve gone into work on 4 hours sleep or less. I can easily sleep 10+ hours a night and have naps throughout the day when I’m in a flare. So I guess I go both ways…

Sleep is essential and not having enough of it can make it that much harder to get through the day or make us hyper tired and delerious and then crash later. So if your in the camp that is struggling to get to sleep at night or struggling to get to sleep early enough because your body clock is just against that 9-5 life then here’s a few tips.

  1. Have a wind down routine Although some people can just switch off and yeah I can sometimes, most people can’t. Be it having a hot bath, doing some yoga, reading a book, watching some TV or a combination of the above a wind down routine is essential for a good nights sleep.
  2.  Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. If you work I’m sure you’ll relate to not sleeping great on a Sunday night because you slept in over the weekend. Going to bed and getting up at the same time can have a demonstrable impact on your sleep.
  3. Sleep tea/night tea can help. I drink the Pukka brand of night tea.
  4. Don’t stress about not being able to get to sleep. For some it helps to get up and do something and for others it doesn’t.
  5. If you can,  spend your day somewhere other than your bed, and ideally your bedroom.
  6.  If you have night meds to take that may help you sleep take them in good time. This does two things, helps you fall asleep on time and means you feel less drowsy in the morning.
  7. I listen to podcasts/audio books to go to sleep, I find this helps occupy my brain whilst I’m trying to sleep.
  8. Putting lavender oil on your pillowcase is known to help with sleep
  9.  Try to limit your caffeine intake, especially past early afternoon!
  10. Finally, if you struggle with sleep because of pain try putting pillows under in-between different body parts (For example in-between your legs)

I hope this has proven helpful, there are many other tips and tricks floating around but I wanted to keep it to 10. What helps you sleep?

 

On ME flare ups, Pain flare ups and finding peace through them.

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I’m currently more ill than I’ve been in over a year. Both with pain relating to many a condition and fatigue. I’m feeling weak, my legs just don’t feel right on the ground and all of my will is going into stopping them from giving away.

I’m too dizzy to sit up and use my brain. Asleep more than I’m awake. My eyes stinging and burning. Either feeling really dry or constantly watering. I’m getting  daily migraines and the pressure in my head is oftentimes unbearable. Easily out of breath, from just going to the kitchen and getting some cereal. My extremities going numb as well as my legs.

My body alternates between high pain days and high fatigue days.

I know I need to take it easy to get out of it. But I can’t seem to get out of it. It’s been over three weeks since I started getting symptoms of COVID-19. The virus has pretty much gone but it was the final trigger for the flare that had been going on since the end of January. The flare that despite many a sick day I was only just coming out of.

Although I could rarely walk around my flat unaided when I had the virus. Whatever virus it was, and now I can which is a definite  improvement, I’m still sicker than I have been in over a year.

I’m used to pushing myself as a way of denying it to myself. Of climbing hard to ignore the illness, of showing up at work despite collapsing upon getting out of bed.

And I’ve now been blessed with a time where it’s easy to not. To try and listen to my body and rest. And that can take a lot! Emotionally and physically. It involves feeling all the fear, and sitting with it. Feeling that ounce of health returning and sitting with it. Not suddenly going for a run because you can sit up okay.

The ability to do little enough to get better from an ME flare requires strength. More strength than just pushing through the illness does. It involves coming to terms with the fact doing your best doesn’t mean running yourself to the ground. To the point that you have severe ME for life.

It involves dealing with whatever emotions come up with all the free time you have in which you can’t really do much. Even watch TV or read. I struggle to watch new TV shows and not easy to watch movies due to difficulty following them and can’t follow a book for much more than 10 minutes at a time. It can be quite scary.

Hence why I’ve traditionally boomed and busted unless I’ve had something more important like my degree to prioritise. (Which I did mostly from bed anyway…)

It takes a lot of strength to commit, to go all in. And you really need to find peace with the current you, regardless of your productivity or aesthetics. Or your ability to stay in touch with people.

As the years with this illness go on I’m getting better at that. And this pandemic and this flare has shown me how much better at it I am. At least whilst the world is at a standstill and people aren’t rushing as far ahead of me…

It’s not easy and it involves putting yourself first. Not just yourself now. But yourself in the future.

 

 

 

Trial and Error in Chronic Illness

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Living with chronic illness is hard for many a reason, one of these is the constant trial and error. Especially if you have one of those chronic illnesses that is poorly understood by the medical profession.

It’s trial and error with medications and with daily routines. What makes this trial and error so hard is that things change on a daily, if not hourly basis. Symptoms get better over time or get worse over time, and often fluctuate throughout the day. Symptoms can feel the same but your body may react completely differently to your actions on two separate occasions. Not only this but the trial and error of medications is mentally draining. Your body may finally settle down enough for you to start living your life again. You may think you’ve found your perfect cocktail of drugs and then you notice your symptoms increasing. You hope it’s just a flare but it gets worse. Suddenly your back and forth to the GP again, trying to find that perfect cocktail yet again. The potential side effects looming.

It takes time, it takes patience. There’s frustration. It’s exhausting.

Finding the perfect cocktail in the first place is exhausting, it’s frustrating and it is hard to go through without acquiring a mental breakdown.

Life with chronic illness is like going through the whole process again and again and again.

It’s like doing a science experiment on your own body.

However it also reminds you to never take anything for granted.

With a chronic illness you know your in it for the long haul. You know it could always get worse. You know symptoms you thought you’d said goodbye to could always come back.

The trial and error is exhausting, and it may make us snappy at times. But because of this we’re also very grateful people.

 

The one where my body forced me to slow down

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March has been such a month that I feel like there should be an entire blog post dedicated to it. I think I’ve hinted that I was previously running myself into the ground and March was the month my body said no.

It actually didn’t start horrifically and by that I mean the first couple of days of the month weren’t too bad. I onsighted all the things within my grade range on the autos up at the time. Even a 6b on the continuous overhang. And if you know me you know that the continuous overhang is hell! The pump is real but I stayed calm, focused on body positioning and somehow it happened.

The month then very quickly deteriorated. Both in terms of my health and my ability to climb. Although I did find ways around my bodies extra limitations and was climbing the same grades where it suited and could find a unique beta to compensate! Some things were also going on at work at the end of February which were negatively impacting on my mental health. I hated being in the office and believed by team hated me. I was over it by the second week of March but I do suspect the extra stress didn’t do me any good.

The month involved a lot of pretending I was okay through extreme dizziness and pressure in the back of my head. Through muscle weakness and balance issues. Through a non-existent level of concentration and decreased cognitive function. It took a toll on my work performance (although I will still largely hitting stats…) and meant I couldn’t project and step the climbing up a notch.

It also involved a lot of openly admitting that I wasn’t okay. Sitting on the mats, feeling incredibly dizzy and clearly not looking well. Openly admitting to my line manager and her manager that my ME is flaring and I wasn’t doing particularly great. I found I didn’t have the energy to get up early enough to put make up on anymore and if I did I felt so dizzy that I had to take mornings super slowly.

My mask well and truly gone.

I came 16th in a climbing competition, both in that round and on the overall. Topping 9 problems – which is more than I managed the previous month. I think the setting just suited me a lil better but maybe that’s a sign of actual progress. Had a great time with friends, adrenalined up because my façade is important. Not for other people but for myself.

For one night I was a normal 22 year old.

I got a grade 2 hamstring strain and did some damage to the ligaments in the back of my knee. Climbed with one leg 2 days later because both got too painful. Not for my pain tolarence but because I knew I was injured although at that point had not gone to get it checked out.

March might actually be the month I saw some sense. Yes my body forced me to stop. I was well and truly done. That first sick day and a half. I couldn’t sit through that endometriosis pain for another minute. I couldn’t sit through those ME symptoms for another minute.

But I also saw some sense. At some point something clicked and I was like no.

Health first. (I say this all the time then we swiftly give up)

I got my leg checked out after it hadn’t improved in four days. Something I wouldn’t normally do which is why I still have so many lasting injuries. I’ve had a back injury since the end of November.

I peaced out of the office at 9:30 one morning because my ME was not playing and used some sense by taking the next day off.

I expressed by concerns over the you know what situation and peaced out for a further 10 days.

Ironically I then got a suspected case of you know what that night. If that doesn’t describe ME in a nutshell I don’t know what does. My body finally saw a chance to rest and it got sick.

The last nearly two weeks have been spent trying to be productive and get what I need done, mainly from laying on the couch. They have also been spent unable to walk unaided, collapsing, passing out. Unable to cook, which fortunately for me I had sufficiently meal prepped minus a chilli I had to make. (By make I mean put beans in a pan, put sweetcorn in the pan, put the jar of sauce in a pan and bobs your uncle).

I have ordered pizzas because I’ve not been able to stomach the food I have nor go to a shop to get the food. There’s been lots of naps. Lots of being unable to nap but feeling too unwell to do anything. And I mean anything.

I’ve had many symptoms I’ve not had in a while and it’s been scary.

The world has changed and horrible as it sounds it’s nice to not feel inadequate because of my ME. It’s nice to not have to deal with the “I can’t say no” when I’m invited somewhere that would likely give me payback.

It’s nice to not have to try to be a normal functioning 22 year old yet still falling short.

God has definitely carried be through the times. I’ve got through being sick before. I can do it again, as long as I put the work in. Take the supplements I have, gentle movement, slowly getting more intense as I recover from this virus (I mean slowly). The church. In terms of the physical space doesn’t exist right now for many of us, if not all of us reading this. But we can still find ways to worship and feel gods presence. I’m going to join an online service at 6pm tonight. Can these online services last pls! Faith is how I stay grounded.

This month has been a weird one. For everyone. But we’re nearly through it. The weather is currently glorious, although I’m currently in a dressing gown with my electric blanket on and my heating on… It’s sunny. And hopefully as spring and summer come in there will be more sun to come!

That’s it from me. How’s March been for you?