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?

When opinions come thick and fast

There are just so many helpful people out there in the world, all rushing to give their opinion on what chronic illnesses are or aren’t, and what they think will cure them. Opinions that are, more often than not, based on judgmental presumptions, half-baked facts and an irrelevant article they once read about an entirely unrelated medical condition.  A condition that was (according to Bella magazine) miraculously cured by dancing naked in the moonlight whilst chewing on the roots of a cactus plant.

Granted, sometimes these opinions do come from a place of caring and concern, but that doesn’t mean they sound any less patronising, insulting or annoying. Accusatory is how they often come across.  Like we’re somehow greatly exaggerating how we feel.  Or perhaps all these ailments are really just in our heads.  Or maybe there’s a glaringly obvious solution that we simply haven’t bothered to find out about for ourselves.

You haven’t got the first bloody clue.  Please remove your interfering beak from my business“.  Is what you want to yell.  But you don’t.

Who knows, perhaps it’s human nature that makes people always feel obliged to offer up an opinion or want to ‘fix’ things they don’t fully understand.  A bit like a man, I suppose, who when presented with a problem, will always try to solve it, instead of just dishing out the sympathy that’s required!

Having read countless posts on countless Facebook forums, it would appear that the majority of these uninvited and insensitive opinion givers are often those found closest to home: the spouses, parents, siblings and friends of the chronically ill. People, in other words, who you’d expect to be offering empathy, sympathy and a whole lot of understanding.

I think the trouble here lies with so many of these conditions (Lupus, Sjogren’s, fibromyalgia, CFS, chronic fatigue, chronic pain etc) being an invisible illness – and one that often involves two very different faces.  So unless the opinionated person in question has seen firsthand the fatigue or symptoms at their very worst, they can’t even begin to comprehend how life-changing and debilitating such a disease can be.

On the other hand, all these unsolicited opinions could just be down to that person being a thoughtless, self-involved, mentally draining, arrogant arsehole.  And if that’s the case, telling them to sod off out of your life is probably the simplest solution of all.

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Get outta of my head

Today was the first day in over a week that I woke up and didn’t wince.

For the last 8 days I’ve had a killer headache that just wouldn’t shift. A migraine-like nightmare that has made me sound sensitive, light-sensitive, heat sensitive, people sensitive and living sensitive.

headache-sick-and-alwaystired-comIt’s felt like a 100lb block is crushing down on my scalp, sharp spikes are stabbing into my eye sockets and a metal band is wrapped around my forehead – a metal band that some sadistic little bastard is screwing tighter and tighter into my temples every time I move.

This has made me feel nauseous, dizzy and as grumpy as hell.  It’s hurt to look, think and move, and as a result of this, I haven’t been able to really do anything or go anywhere. I’ve mainly moped from room to room, moaning a lot and clutching my head. Writing anything was pretty much out of the question, as sitting in front of my computer screen was like staring at an eclipse with my eyelids taped open.

Every morning last week, I opened my eyes, reassessed the pain levels and thought ‘shit, here we go again, there’s another day ruined.’  When there’s no end in sight and the tablets aren’t even making a dent,  8 straight days of headache can seem like an eternity.  That’s 192 hours, 11520 minutes or 691200 seconds of feeling like utter crap. For heaven’s sake, we’re told God created the entire universe in less time than that, including the 7th day when he sat back, relaxed and admired his work.

Sadly, I am all too familiar with the whole ‘headache’ scene.  I spent a large chunk of my childhood experiencing the varied delights that a migraine has to offer: flashing lights, dancing black spots, exploding head, spinning rooms and wall-to-wall puking. Thankfully I rarely get a fully blown migraine these days, although they have been known to creep up on me in seconds if I do something foolhardy.  Like, tilt my head back, for example.  Lesson certainly learned that particular day: never attempt to paint a ceiling.

A trip to the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel a few years ago also proved rather pointless, when I realised I was unable to look up and see the paintings on the ceiling – the paintings being the very reason for the visit in the first place.  Of course, by the time I’d walked a good 3 miles through museum’s long (and frankly boring) corridors to get to the chapel, my hips had long since given up on me and I had to limp into the room and have a sit-down.  Adding insult to injury, after lining up to touch St. Peter’s foot in the Basilica, and putting in a request for a cure, my health has only gone from bad to worse.  Seriously Pete, where’s the love?!

With Lupus, Sjogren’s, vertigo and a Chiari malformation all sticking the boot in, these days the headaches are pretty much part and parcel of my everyday life.  I would, in fact, be more surprised if an entire week went by ‘headache free’.  Keeping on top of this amount of pain requires the stashing of tablets in every pocket, bag, room and drawer in the house.  I batch buy every week just to keep up with the demand.  I’m pretty sure my local supermarket thinks I’m stocking up for one big Armageddon style hurrah.

Making life that little bit easier still, the listed side effects of both Azathioprine and hydroxychloroquine are… wait for it… headaches.  Seriously people?  Is there no break to be had here?

With Lupus being a disease that affects the nervous system, sufferers are statistically twice as likely to get these migraine-like headaches.  Lupus headaches, they call them.  Yes, someone obviously put a lot of time and effort into thinking up that name, didn’t they.  Tension-types headaches are also more prevalent.  I totally get that.  Having Lupus definitely makes me grumpy and tense.

The Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI) – a scoring system often used in Lupus research – describes a Lupus headache as a “severe, persistent headache; may be migrainous, but must be non-responsive to narcotic analgesia”.  Narcotic analgesics, by the way, are drugs that ‘relieve pain, can cause numbness and induce a state of unconsciousness’.  You’d think that unconsciousness would probably be enough to stop the pain, surely?

As ever, with such medical theories, opinions and statistics, there are ‘people’ who dispute the notion that people with Lupus could possibly suffer from a specific headache.  Dare I suggest these non-believers don’t have Lupus, don’t get the headaches and don’t have the first bloody clue.

Try living inside my head for the last 8 days and just maybe they’d have a fresh perspective and a totally different viewpoint.

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Want to know how ‘Chronic Fatigue’ feels?

How best to describe what chronic fatigue feels like?  Perhaps the most effective way would be to compare it to some more relatable ‘everyday’ scenarios.

So here goes:

Imagine you’re midway through an atrocious bout of flu.  No, not the sneeze and sniffle sort that men call flu, I’m talking the full works: body aches, pounding head, cold sweats, chills, and the raging fever sort.

Now, with your energy levels already running on 50%, you head to the airport and embark upon an epic 24-hour flight.  The seat isn’t big enough to swing a hamster in and the food is inedible at best.  An irritating child kicks you in the small of your back for hours on end; your body now feels even more bruised, battered and achy than before.

Sitting in the dark and surrounded by 100’s of snoring strangers, you feel isolated and totally alone.  You give up trying to sleep and watch film after film to pass the time, but this makes your eyeballs sore and sandpaper dry.  You’re desperately thirsty, but as you’re pinned in by the window you can’t risk a full bladder.  Five films and two rock-hard bread rolls in, you realise just how far you still have to travel and you begin to feel a bit beside yourself.

By the time you arrive at your destination you look, feel and smell like death.  As you exit the plane, you’re hit in the face by a 50-degree heat and a 90-degree humidity.  You’re feeling weak, disoriented and so dizzy from exhaustion you can hardly stand.  Your brain is completed shrouded in fog and you can barely remember your own name.

By now you’re running on 30%, tops.

Fast forward to that night and your body is moving in slow motion. Your use of speech is limited to grunts and your concentration levels  are shot to shit.  You’re convinced you’re battling the worst diagnosed case of jet lag ever.  But still, it’s holiday time, so you decide to hit the town.  Copious amounts of alcohol and some rather suspect street food later, you collapse into bed.

The next morning, before you even struggle to prise open your eyelids, you realise something has gone terribly wrong with your body.  Panic starts to set in and you feel scared and vulnerable.

Your battered limbs feel as if they’ve been encased in cement and bolted to the bed.  Raising your head from the pillow is a step too far.  It’s as much as you can do to twitch one finger.  You soon come to the conclusion you’re suffering from the worst diagnosed hangover ever.

Despite having slept all night, you’re now running on 20%.

Eventually, your body starts responding to basic requests and you heave yourself into a sitting position; it takes another good few minutes of concentration before you can stand.  You decide it’s probably safer to sit down on the floor while taking a shower.  Hot water helps with the aching bones, but washing your hair is out of the question, as your arms aren’t strong enough to lift above waist height.  Ditto for teeth, so you resort to resting your elbows on the sink while you brush.

By the time you’re clean, you’re running on 10%, max.

Heading out for a day of sightseeing, you attempt to climb (what appears to be) the steepest hill you’ve ever seen.  Everyone else seems to be overtaking you at speed, but putting one foot in front of the other is proving something of a challenge.  It feels as if you’re wading through treacle; every step takes concentration and requires way more energy than you have.  You hit the wall.chronic-fatigue-sick-and-always-tired

 

 

 

 

 

By the time you go to bed that night, every limb is on fire and you’re so knackered you can neither think nor speak.  Another shower is certainly out of the question.  Nausea is coming in waves and you think you might be sick.  You pray it’s not that dodgy street food from the night before.

Climbing into bed you expect to fall into a deep and wonderful sleep – but you don’t.  Despite being delirious with exhaustion you lay awake for hours on end.  You need the loo at least 6 times and each time it’s a mission to get out of bed.  It’s now something stupid o’clock in the morning and you’re wondering how it’s even possible to experience extreme fatigue and insomnia at exactly the same time.

energy-meter-sick-and-always-tiredAt most, you’re now scrapping the barrel on 5%.

The next morning you wake up, peel open your eyelids and realise you still feel exactly the same as you did the night before.  The thought of facing another day like yesterday is just too much.  You could cry.

A full night’s sleep and you’re only back up to a measly 10%.

That day, you lay on the bed and do absolutely nothing.  You can’t bring yourself to read, watch TV or even talk.  By night-time you’re back down to 5%. You don’t sleep well and the next day you wake up feeling exactly the same sodding way.  And so it goes on.

Occasionally, after prolonged periods of rest your body charges back up to 50% – you feel pretty bloody fantastic.  But then you go and ruin it all by trying to do too much.  A slap on the hand for being overly ambitious and back down to 5% you go.

Weeks pass.  Months pass.  Years pass.  You’re forced to accept that this is now the new ‘normal’.

You hate your illness. You hate your body.  You hate what you can no longer do. Your doctors tell you there is no cure for chronic fatigue, just ‘rest’.

You could cry.  You often do.

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P.S. The description above may sound highly unrealistic and incredibly melodramatic, but take away the unlikely chain of events, and the rest (in my experience) is the bloody depressing reality of living with chronic fatigue.

 

 

What is chronic pain?

I’ve already covered what chronic pain is, so now to talk about what chronic pain feels like.  Of course, everyone has very different pain issues to deal with, but chances are the overall experience is equally life-changing and depressingly miserable for all involved.

When it comes to that ‘Ouch to the Off The Chart’ pain spectrum I was talking about, for me, personally, it’s often at the upper end of the chart.

My pain is almost constantly ‘on the move’.  A bit like the London Underground, it runs up and down each of my limbs, careering from fingertips to toes and back again.  It rarely stays still for very long, just a brief pit stop in each area (giving it time to throb, burn, and ache) and then it’s changing direction and racing off to the next destination.  Migratory pain, the doctors call it; makes me think of a herd of wildebeest stampeding across the dusty African plains.

mallet-sick-and-always-tired-comAs well as being nippy on its feet, this pain of mine is also rather brutal.  It often feels as though someone has taken a mallet to me, and is smashing, shattering and crushing every bone along the way.

It’s not that dissimilar to when you whack your funny bone, and then have to stand completely still while the pain reverberates through your body.

As if feeling like a clubbed baby seal wasn’t stressful enough, there’s also a rather disturbing sensation of electricity and ice-cold water flowing through my veins.  Clearly, that’s slightly freaky and unnerving, to say the least.  We were all taught in science lessons that electricity and water really aren’t the best of friends.  I’m not 100% sure what causes this arctic electric shock of mine.  Something to do with the nerves, I think.

Some days the sheer intensity of all this combined pain is so severe it makes me feel nauseous.  Just like morning sickness, it comes in waves out of the blue and makes me gag.  The pain also makes me weep and wail.  I’ve sat in the shower and sobbed, laid in bed and howled, and screamed while driving my car.  Music was blaring and the windows were up at the time, so luckily no other road users were harmed or alarmed.

This chronic pain of mine has been going on for about eight years now – with the last six being the worst.  Initially, it resided in my hips and legs; my bones would burn and ache every single day.  Walking was difficult as my hips would seize up, even when shuffling along the road at snail’s pace.  A particular low point for me was being overtaken by an 80 something-year-old man, who was out taking a leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll.  With his cane.

There were days my joints hurt so much I couldn’t lift each leg to climb the stairs.  I would resort to crawling up, step by step on my hands and knees. Sleeping also proved tricky, as laying on either hip was proving agony.  I soon learnt to snooze on my back and keep a large stash of painkillers by the bed. Cortisone injections into each hip proved the only treatment that made a different, but these were given out sparingly by the doctor and they only lasted 3 months tops.

Then a year or so ago I had a slight lull in the pain. Oh, the joys, what a difference that made – for about a week.  Then, fresh from its mini break, the pain returned and spread to my arms and hands too.  Imagine my delight. Walking like an octogenarian is one thing, not being able to lift, pull or open a door is something entirely different.

It was at this stage, and after much moaning and groaning to my rheumatologist, that he agreed to try me on Aazathioprine.  After the first couple of weeks of pills, the joint pain almost vanished straight away.  Result! A few months when I was (wrongly) told to stop taking them, the pain came straight back.  And with a vengeance, I might add.  When I started back on Azathioprine for the second time it wasn’t quite so quick to take effect.  I panicked that it wasn’t going to work.  After a brief reminder of how good life without severe pain really was, I didn’t want to settle for anything less.

12 weeks on and, for the most part, the drugs seems to be doing their thing. As long as, that is, I don’t ‘overdo it’ or forget to get enough rest.

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Jet lag & Chronic Fatigue: a crippling combo

The downside of going on holiday is always the coming back and re-adjusting to the time zone you left behind.  Little Miss Jet lag is a bitch to deal with at the best of times; tag team her up with Little Miss Perpetually Exhausted and this body of mine has hit a wall with such force that it’s unlikely to bounce back anytime soon.

Feeling dog tired is hardly an unfamiliar sensation of course, but after such a lovely month away, doped up on ‘holiday adrenaline’ and achieving all kinds of impressive feats, I’d kind of forgotten how terrible ‘lupus tired’ is.  I had been hoping the azathioprine would have kicked in behind the scenes and be working it’s magic by now; sadly I don’t think that’s the case.

Since staggering through Heathrow early last Friday morning, my body clock has been all over the shop.  I’ve had trouble staying awake and trouble staying asleep. Each morning I’ve been waking up well before the birds put in an appearance.  Not waking up and feeling productive, mind you, just waking up and laying there feeling absolutely shattered.  Consequently by late afternoon, I’m forcibly peeling up my eyelids to try to keep them open.

Rather than starting to perk up as I settle back into England O’Clock, today – my fourth day home – was the weariest so far.  I was so far beyond knackered that by the time I’d eaten my breakfast, I was in need of a nap.  The day didn’t really progress much from there.  Aside from sewing on two name tabs and labelling some school socks with a pen, all I managed to do for the rest of it was lay on the sofa and binge watch a month’s worth of Sky Plus.

It wasn’t until I wandered into the kitchen just after 8pm that I looked down and realised I’d actually forgotten to get washed and dressed this morning.  Clearly, my family is so used to living with a sloth that no one saw fit to even question my lack of daytime attire.

Here’s hoping I manage to function in a more vertical position tomorrow.

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Current status (say no more)

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