Why Chronic Illness leads to Loneliness

I think it’s true to say that all chronic illnesses have one symptom in common: Loneliness.

For me, it can be one of the worst symptoms of the lot, often battling it out with Pain and Fatigue to ‘win’ the day and get one over on me.  For healthy, socially active and ‘other side of the bars’ people, it must seem odd that a state of mind could ever pull top trumps on a physical pain, but in many ways it does.

To understand how it’s probably best to dissect each symptom: surgical gloves at the ready!

Let’s start with Chronic Pain.  In whatever wonderful form it takes, there’s no disputing that this one is unquestionably an evil bastard – unrelenting and utterly vindictive.  It takes no prisoners and gives no time off for good behaviour.  I won’t woffle on about just how bad Pain can be, as I’ve already covered that here.  And here.

But Pain (in its simplest, non-chronic form) is a widely known entity.  There isn’t a person alive today who hasn’t felt its wrath, from a grazed knee and pesky splinter to a twisted limb and broken bone.  And let’s not forget childbirth – the mother of them all!

This shared understanding of Pain makes it socially acceptable: it can be openly discussed and easily emphasised with.  No GP will ever panic if you tell them about Pain, they’ll just reach for the prescription pad (or keyboard, these days) and bombard you with drugs.  In the case of Chronic Pain (or mine at least), most of these pain ‘killers’ barely scratch the surface; they’re as effective as a hit man with a cast iron moral compass.  But at least for Pain there’s plenty of meds and it always makes me feel slightly proactive to pop a pill.

Then there’s Chronic Fatigue, an equal to Pain in every way.  Real, wall-hitting, concrete-encasing, treacle-plodding Fatigue is the undisputed Queen of All Bitches.  It drains the life out of life and the fun out of everything.  But I’ve already covered my hatred of Fatigue here.  And here.  And here’s my Top 10 Things That Fatigue Isn’t list.

Unlike Pain, however, Chronic Fatigue has to be experienced to be truly understood.  It is not the same as tiredness (that everyday, run-of-the-mill stuff that everyone feels) and nothing else compares.  In my opinion, Fatigue is a powerful force for evil: The Dark Side, Dementors, Death Eaters and The Eye of Sauron all rolled into one.  It’s impossibly hard to fathom for those with bounce and vigour and this makes empathy rather thin on the ground.  There is some, however, as  Fatigue can make you look like the walking dead and it’s obvious to all that you’re really not feeling great.

Sadly there are no pills for Chronic Fatigue, but it can (according to the ‘medically’ trained) be aided by rest.  And taking it easy.  And learning to pace yourself.  Please just excuse me here while I roll my eyes.  What all this Fatigue and resting and spending time on your own does lead to is… the actual point of this blog.

Loneliness: an entirely different type of beast and the Satan of Symptoms.

For me, Loneliness is something that sweeps in and out of my life, like an all-consuming surge of water in a particularly menacing storm.  Whether it comes from nowhere or accompanies a flare, it always takes me completely unaware.

It creeps up on me whilst I’m focussing on Pain.  It slinks into the room while I battle Fatigue, filling up every last bit of space until I feel I can’t breathe.  It sits beside me when I’m resting, invading my thoughts and slowly drip feeding negativity into my brain.  It’s as if the worst of my insecurities and crippling fears are joining forces, playing games with an already fragile mind.

It’s hardly a surprise that Loneliness stands shoulder to shoulder with Anxiety and Depression.  They’re like a small coven of witches all hell-bent on dragging me down.

Yes, Loneliness is a bleak and terrible place to find yourself: dark and isolated and a million miles from everything that feels familiar.  It has the ability to transform any environment, no matter how safe and secure and make it feel empty and odd.  It’s the unsettling feeling that something is ever so slightly out of place, but you just can’t put your finger on what or why.

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Loneliness for me is like looking out at the world from behind a set of bars.  It’s seeing life carrying on around me, life carrying on without me.  And however much love may surround me it doesn’t change the feeling that I am completely alone.

In part that’s because it’s true.  Loneliness is something that I often feel and think about but very rarely discuss with anyone.  Partly because I don’t want to cause offence to those who are always by my side and partly because I don’t think anyone else would really care.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.

The worse part of Loneliness is feeling that it’s so damned obvious that everyone around me should be able to spot it.  I really, really want someone to notice how I feel, but of course, it’s as invisible as all the other symptoms so no one ever will.

Even my rheumatologist doesn’t.  He’s certainly never asked me whether I feel utterly alone with the collection of diseases it’s his job to treat; he couldn’t be less interested in my state of mind.  All he wants it for me to take my meds, never query his opinion and turn up once or twice a year to be ticked off his ‘to see’ list.  My new GP also steers clear of Loneliness.  Maybe that’s because she can’t afford to open the floodgates and release the tidal wave of tears that’ll inevitably come.  She knows it’ll be nigh on impossible to replug that dam in a 10-minute allocated NHS time slot.

So maybe my worst symptoms come down to how much understanding and empathy they evoke.  This puts Loneliness on the winning podium as how can there be empathy for something when no one even knows it exists?

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Lupus: surviving summer and box set surfing

This week I have been wiped out beyond all belief.  Flared up, energy-less and completely lacking the will to blink.

If I were a car, the fuel lights would’ve been violently flashing for at least the last hundred miles.  I’d be running on the remaining fumes of whatever it is that keeps me going.  At the present that would be copious amounts of anti-inflammatories, green tea, bananas and blueberries.

It’s all the weather’s fault.  This summer completely did me in, with its endless weeks of heat and sun – neither of which is my friend – followed by a burst of sub-Saharan temperatures that could have brought an African elephant to its knees.  OK, admittedly I’m talking English summer here, so perhaps with a little perspective I should scratch the elephant and replace it with a cow.  A very elderly cow.  A very elderly cow with arthritic knees, severe heat stroke and terrible dehydration.

It’s a well-known fact that a summer in the UK usually involves three things: high expectations, endless rain and crushing disappointment.  Anything over 15 degrees is met with shock and rapturous applause.  Climb into the 20s and the glamping brigade comes out in force.  Head towards the 30s and severe weather warnings begin.  Creep up any higher and the roads start to melt.  Literally, melt.  Nudge north of 35 degrees and the country battens down and prepares for Armageddon.

Shock.  Horror.  This August the mercury actually hit 36 degrees.  Across our green yellow and pleasant parched lands, the unmistakable raspy voice of Steven Tyler could be heard drifting through the still and stuffy air.  “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” he warbled, on constant repeat.  I humbly beg to differ, I could have happily missed the lot.

This sort of heat could cause even the spriteliest of people to wilt and fade –  and then there’s me.  I’m quite literally as far from spritely as it’s possible to be.  Back in June sometime, my body clocked one look at the ongoing weather reports and threw its hands up in a panicked surrender.  The next few months were brutal.

Roll forward to September and whilst the summer may have finished, the after-effects of that heat are like an unwelcome house guest.  Lingering and annoying.

Once upon a time, a younger, healthier version of me used to laugh in the face of the hottest of suns and crack open another bottle of tanning oil to celebrate summer.  (Clearly reckless and stupid by today’s standards, but normal back then.)  Today it’s a different story that I keep having to learn the hard way: even the mildest of months + lupus/sjögren’s/fibromyalgia do not mix.

And so, there’ve been endless weeks of dizziness and headaches, plenty of staggering around the house, closed curtains and a hell of a lot of horizontal living.  When your body renders you ‘not fit for purpose’ sometimes all you can do is sit, weep and wait the flare up out.  From my makeshift bed on the sofa one week, I worked my way through the latest series of Poldark, two series of The Crown and half a season of Greys Anatomy. Plus Love Island, obviously.  Even for a self-confessed TV addict such as myself, I have to admit this was pretty extreme viewing.

Sadly anyone with a chronic anything will tell you that watching TV as an invalid isn’t half as much fun as you’d think.  By the end of that week when the sofa and I had (temporarily) parted ways, I was miserable, bored, lonely, restless, festering and what felt like mere hours away from the start of a bed sore.

Not being able to partake in the world around you is beyond completely pants.  I hate it and resent it in equal measures.  So yes, for me, I’m relieved the summer is now behind us.  That being said, I have some sketchy recollections swimming around in my grey matter about how the winter is even worse.  Arghhh.

The thought of clambering in and out of all those tight thermal layers, boots and heavy coats is already making my little Raynaud fingers curl up in dread.

 

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Pain: a very curious companion

Chronic Pain is something of a curious companion.  A very constant, curious companion.

When waking in the morning it’s already there.  Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and smirking in delight.  Always perched at the end of your bed, double espresso in hand and impatiently tapping a foot.  Just waiting to crack on and eager to ruin your day.

From eyes open to eyes shut, Pain makes everything you do a mission and the simplest of things a chore.  Stairs turn into mountains and every walk feels like a trek.  It’s there when you shower, cook, eat, drive, shop and rest.  It pesters you when you’re working and turns your brain to fog.  It mocks all attempts at exercise.  It punishes you for weeks.

Like a lazy toddler who refuses to be put down, Pain hangs off necks causing knots to form and tendons to shriek.  It clings to backs until muscles pull and ache.  It grips hands in a vice, crushing fingers until colour drains and cramp sets in.  It bounces off hips and sits astride shoulders, gripping temples and reigning blows down upon throbbing heads.  It’s positively relentless.  And an utter pain in the arse.

At the end of the day when you eventually collapse into bed, Pain is still there.  Snuggled in like an unwanted spoon, weighing you down and wrapping around every painful limb.  And then for its grand finale – the biggest insult of all.

By the time your eyelids are hanging down past your cheeks, blissful sleep doesn’t even come to save you.  No sirree.  Pain snores like a freight train, kicks the small of your back and hogs the entire duvet.  So now, you’re utterly exhausted and completely wide awake, all at the same time.  Painsomnia they call it.  Possibly the worst hours of the entire 24-hour day.  And that really is saying something.

Week after week, year after year Pain hangs around like a bad smell, just sat there waiting every morning.  You can try drowning it in lavender scented bath water or drugging it with pills.  You can count your breaths and be mindful or ‘downward dog’ it to death, but nothing really seems to work.  No matter what you tell it or how loud you scream, rant and swear, it just smirks a little more and ramps it up another gear.  To give Pain its dues, it certainly has commendable staying power and a very thick skin.

So yes, Chronic Pain is quite possibly the most curious, constant and loyal companion of them all.  Just like cellulite or a very needy dog, come rain or shine, no matter what you do, it’s always there and it refuses to ever back off, take a break or budge.

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Alive. Kicking. Almost.

Oh dear god, it’s been more than a year since the last post.  There’s so much tumbleweed drifting around this barren landscape I call a blog that I can barely beat a pathway through to the ‘New Post’ button.

I do seem to be making a terrible habit of avoiding my screen and I’m not even sure why.  Every day I wake up with the very best of intentions.  Every night I promise that the next day I’ll definitely do better.  Procrastination in its finest form, I’m sure you’ll agree.  Sadly this terrible lack of motivation seems to have infiltrated almost every aspect of my day-to-day life.

Much like a petulant, sulking teenager, one day, Motivation simply gave me a withering look, rolled its eyes and then disappeared under a festering duvet.  Accompanied by (oh so easily led) Mojo, they both holed up in the dark, barely visible amongst piles of cushions, hoodies and assorted technology beginning with ‘i’. They blocked out the world (except for the WiFi, obvs) and slept like the dead, surviving on nothing more than carbs, Spotify and Netflix.  Sunlight was met with shrieks, hygiene was minimal and conversations consisted of no more than one syllable.  Earphones kept all pleads, threats or bribes at bay.

It was neither a battle or a war I could win.  I’m a mother of a teenager, I knew that.

To make matters worse, at the exact time Motivation descended into pubescent hell,  my ‘Oomph’ simultaneously went into hibernation overdrive and Creativity went AWOL – last official sighting, 28th May 2017.  I put that last deserter down to writer’s block on a gargantuan scale.  The Trump wall of writer’s block, if you will.

Like I said, this last year really has been procrastination in its finest form.  To highlight just how bad it became, both my 2017 and 2018 New Year’s resolutions were to try to write more on my blog.  That panned out, clearly.

Come to think of it, my other three resolutions for 2017 and 2018 also proved something of a non-starter.  They were: to start exercising more (and when I say more I mean to actually start); to make the time to meditate (instead of watching trashy but extremely enjoyable TV); to sell everything I don’t need on Ebay.  Needless to say, my yoga mat was last seen loitering on top of the wardrobe, my Headspace membership expired with an embarrassing lack of use and my Ebay account has been as badly neglected as this blog.  Fail, fail and epic fail.

There is, naturally, a valid reason for all the tumbleweed and radio silence.  It’s called life, and it’s mainly been shit.  I’d go so far as to say that life has completely drained the last jot of energy out of me.  If the last year was put on a spectrum ranging from ‘Rainbows and Unicorns’ through to ‘Complete and Utter Misery’, I’ve probably been hovering right around the ‘Big Dark Hole’ mark.  That’s somewhere between ‘Up A Creek’ and ‘Where Exactly Is The Light At The End Of The Tunnel?’  Nope, not a flicker of a rainbow or a bleeding bloody unicorn insight.

Daily existence has mainly centred around pain, with some exhaustion, frustration, upheaval and therapy thrown in for good measure.  Then there’s been the depression, with a side helping of despondency, debt and despair.  Oh yes, and a little bit of death, like a sprinkle on top.

A right barrel of laughs it’s been.  A ‘fed up/screw everything/ I give up’ type of year in which I just haven’t felt engaged enough with my brain to type anything worth reading.  Certainly, nothing that you, most lovely reader, would want to digest.  That said, other people’s misery does have a wonderfully warped way of giving perspective and cheering the soul, so perhaps I’ve done you all a massive disservice.

Anyhow, I’ve decided that things need to improve, at least on the blog front.  So I’ve dragged a stinking Motivation and Mojo out from under the duvet and slung them in the shower.  Oomph has been given a triple espresso and Creativity has been frogmarched back from the wilderness and shackled to the keyboard.  Now we’ll just have to see how that all goes.

So thank you – to everyone who hasn’t unfollowed me, to all those who’ve recently shown their support and for the truly lovely comments that have helped to remind me why I started the blog in the first place.  It’s a mixture of all of the above and my therapist’s steel-capped boot up my backside that’s (hopefully) got me back on track.

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Vampires, superpowers and surviving the summer

The UK is currently celebrating something of a rare phenomenon: the skies are blue, the temperatures are up and, for the first time in an eternity, the bank holiday weekend isn’t a total washout.

I love this weather, I really do.  Everything always seems so much easier to achieve when the sun’s out.  Sadly, however, this weather doesn’t really love me.  Aside from the heat making me feel triply sluggish, going out in the sun can be an incredibly risky business indeed.

One of the many annoyances of having Lupus is being extremely sensitive to sunlight; this is called photosensitivity.  For many, exposure to sunlight can make symptoms – such as rashes – much worse.  In my case, the pigmentation on my face darkens with lightening quick speed.  A quick, unprotected trip outside and I look like I’ve been stamped on the forehead with a triangular branding iron.

The strange shape of this pigmentation is something of a mystery, both to me and the dermatologist who checked it out.  I’m guessing that either I fell to earth from Krypton and have undiscovered superpowers, or it’s some sort of magic inner eye. Either option would be acceptable and more than welcome.

Unusual markings aside, if my ridiculously sensitive skin is exposed to the sun it soon starts to tingle and feel like it’s on fire. Well, I say fire, but actually, it’s more like a freezing cold case of prickly pins and needles.  I imagine this is how vampires feel – or at least it’s how they are portrayed in the Twilight films, when their skin glows and sparkles in the sunlight.

Spending too much time in the sun can also bring on a Lupus  ‘flare up’ and make me feel downright grotty. This can be accompanied by full-on flu-like symptoms that can knock me out for days.

Taking Azathioprine makes me that much more sensitive still.  I reckon my skin now starts to burn before I’ve even put my shoes on and headed outside.  Take this morning for example.  I walked around the garden once and sat down for 5 minutes with a cup of tea.  Now that I’m back inside, my arms are already cold, tingling and deciSickandalwaystired.com Sundedly sore.  This is both frustrating, annoying and painful, in equal measures.

Yes, it’s safe to say the days of dousing myself in tanning oil and sizzling like a sausage on the beach are long gone.  I shudder at the thought of all the damage I must have caused my young skin in those heady, uneducated days of the 80’s and 90’s, when everyone smelt like Hawaiian Tropic and looked like overcooked bacon.

These days it’s all about finding a fake tanning product that gives me the right colour.  I’m aiming for a ‘realistically sunkissed’ shade rather than a ‘baked in a tandoor’ Trump toxic glow.

The pluses of being so sun sensitive are that I have no choice but to stay out of the sun as much as possible; this helps to keep the crows feet at bay.  On the negative side, however, the additional sensitivity brought on by taking Azathioprine increases the risk of skin cancer.  A pretty major ‘negative’ I know, but one I really have no choice but to take. These toxic drugs I pop every day are helping to make life much more bearable and relatively pain-free.  It’s all swings and roundabouts, as they say.

When living the life of a vampire, all you can really do is be sensible, resist the urge to top up your tan and make sure you protect yourself any which way…

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What is the point?

Sometimes it feels that people are constantly telling me how best to ‘beat’ this thing.  Doctors, nurses, specialists, family, friends – all telling me how to get the illness in check and under control.  All offering up an opinion.  All offering up advice.  All telling me what I should be doing.  All reprimanding me for not doing what they say.

But I try to do what I’m told, I really do.

I rest.  I sleep.  I take it easy.  I take a break.  I rest.  I do things in moderation.  I don’t push myself.  I rest some more.  I pace myself.  And then repeat.

That last one’s the worst.  Pace yourself they all say.  How is one meant to ‘pace’ oneself in a normal, everyday life?  What about the kids and family and home and work and pets and school runs and sports fixtures and all the other crap that comes in between? How do you pace this little illness into that gigantic mix?  Please, someone, do tell.  What exactly is meant to give?

Even if I do make myself do all the above – the resting, the breaks, the endless sleep, it still gets me absolutely bloody nowhere.  All the pacing in the world and it achieves what?  A couple of ‘good’ days to get stuff done and then a week of feeling like absolute shit while my body struggles to get over the unexpected exertion.

Moderation.  There’s another word I hate.  I am sick to death of trying to live a life in moderation.  It’s like setting out to only ever achieve half of everything you want to do. For a task-loving, goal-oriented person like myself, this is the very definition of frustration.

Oh yes, while I’m at it, I’m also completely over being told I should of ‘learnt to know better by now’.  Two words to that one.  Bugger Off.

I did already learn long ago that this moderating, pacing and enforced rest doesn’t really work.  I get why those living in a logical think it would, but it really doesn’t.  I’ve learnt that truth the hard way – and on a regular basis, in fact.  Living like a sloth can usually buy a day or two, or a week tops, but that’s really about it.

But anyway, here’s the thing.  It’s not really the ‘learning’ to pace myself that I have an issue getting to grips with, it’s the acceptance that I have to do it at all.  The acceptance that there will always be limitations of one sort or another.  And with that comes the realisation: I’m never going to be able to climb a mountain, or walk for miles and miles along the beach, or hold down a full-time job, or even hit the town and dance till the sun comes up.  OK, granted, the mountain climbing was probably never going to happen, but it’d sure be nice to do all the rest.

What a dismissal, depressing and utterly uninspiring prospect this acceptance malarkey can seem.  Who in their right mind would ever want to do it?

So like I said before – seriously, what is the point?

Highs and Lows of Lupus

Yes, I am alive.

The daffodils have long since sprouted, bloomed and faded and I’m still sat here in my fleecy lined pants, waiting for the year to crack into gear and get going. Alarmingly this seems to be a bit of an annual thing now. I’m not sure if it’s down to age or the illness (or a bit of both) but one second I’m packing up the Christmas tree, next, I’m looking up from life and thinking ‘bloody hell, it’s half way to June already’.

During February, March and much of April I plodded along quite well – not quite bouncing off the ceilings, but pretty upbeat most days.  The pain was reduced and for the most part, the exhaustion was fairly manageable. Little Miss Hope even raised her head there for a while.  Bless her for trying.  Clearly, she’s one of the more optimistic of the Little Misses bunch.

Then, 3 weeks ago, a variety of shit happened – the sort of stressful, unwanted shit that life likes to vomit up at us from time to time.  My body, in response to this shit, decided that it really couldn’t be bothered to deal with that extra hassle.  So, just like that, it shut up shop and switched to Low Energy Mode.  My batteries basically went from ‘Bunny’ to ‘Dodo’ in the blink of an eye and I found myself back in my ‘can’t think, can’t speak, can’t function’ dormant state of complete and utter uselessness.

Just like that, Little Miss Hope went scuttling off into the sunset and Little Miss Dozy moved her duvet and pillow back in.  So much for that optimism, they’re a fickle, cold-hearted bunch, I have to say.

3 weeks on and there’s bugger all I can do to get myself out of this slump.  I’m living in a fog where the exhaustion brings back the pain, the pain brings back the black clouds and the blue moods make everything seem that much harder.  Right now I’m so bloody tired I could curl up, cry and sleep through to Christmas. The Christmas at the tail end of 2018.

The annoying thing is that during my brief good spell, I kept meaning to write a positive post about how the meds were working wonders.  But, as is always the case, when I’m feeling a bit better I always use that precious energy to get a load of other stuff done.  Plus, if truth be told, when I’m feeling ‘up’ the very last thing I want to think or write about is feeling down.

But hey, now I’m back to this largely horizontal state again, life’s all about the Lupus, Sjogren’s and bleeding Fibromyalgia.  So while I probably don’t have the clarity of brain to put one correctly spelt, relevant word in front another, I might as well get this blog back on track.  If nothing else, it might stop the onslaught of WordPress emails that remind me I’ve gone to ground; they repeatedly tell me to keep my followers informed.

Why you lovely people (who’ve taken the time to follow my blog) would actually want to be informed about my health related crap, I have no idea!  But thank you, sincerely, for showing support.  I was starting to wonder if there’s even a point to spilling my guts and whining all over the web in this way, but I guess if even one person can relate and nod their head in agreeance, it makes it all worthwhile.

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