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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‘Top 10’ things that chronic fatigue ISN’T

Following on from the last blog about unwanted opinions, here’s my ‘Top 10’ list of all the things that chronic fatigue isn’t.

Feel free to print it off and wave it around in the faces of all those doubting non-believers!  Better still, why not download the PDF, print onto A3 paper and stick multiple copies around your home or place of work!

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Spinning right out of control

As weekends go, the last one wasn’t really the best.  Actually, it was probably one of the worst, in the grand scale of things.  Recent bugs, a helping of stress, cold weather and general exhaustion proved too much for my useless body, so it decided to teach me a lesson I wouldn’t forget in a hurry.

When emptying the (what felt like 100th) load of washing on Friday, the room suddenly tilted so violently, I nearly fell head first into the basket of wet towels. Strange, I thought, best I sit down for a bit.  By the time I made it to the sofa, everything was spinning around me at quite an alarming speed.  I could quite easily have been sick there and then, but knowing the cream chair covers would require immediate cleaning proved enough of a motivation to kept my partially digested lunch where it belonged.

Feeling as if I was walking at a right angle, I slithered up the stairs (past a rather alarmed looking son) and made it to the safety of the bed.  Lying down didn’t help much, in fact, it made things worse.  The insides of my head were now spinning too, and in the opposite direction to my body.  I felt dizzy-sick-and-always-tiredlike I was trapped on one of those horrible tea-cup waltzers.

When I woke up an hour later, it was dark, I was sweating like a beast and I needed the loo.  The trouble was, however, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to get up.  All I could manage was to shuffle a bit and that just made the world tip.  Panic set in – big time.  I came to the conclusion (as you do) that I might have had a stroke.  Either that or the vertigo was back with a vengeance.

For those who think vertigo is merely a fear of heights, it is not.  Vertigo is a horrible, nightmarish infliction that can disrupt and ruin your life for months on end.  The thought of it returning fills me with a constant dread.

Trapped under the duvet, my only option was to ring downstairs for help. Thank god for the ever-present mobile that was finger distance away.  It took four unanswered calls and a feeble “help me”  before the cavalry came charging up the stairs.  By this stage, I was beside myself.  I couldn’t sit up, stand up or walk;  my body simply refused to comply.  Then the weeping and wailing kicked in, and, as we all know, once you go down that road it’s impossible to stop until you run out of clear airwaves to breath through.

It’s hard to explain the range of emotions when pain, panic, wretchedness and fear collide.  Feeling so utterly helpless is a scary, scary thing.  Not understanding what the hell was happening, or why it had come on so fast, made it scarier still.  At that point in time, I was utterly convinced it was never going to stop, or, worse still, if I went to sleep again I might never wake up.

It took a day in bed before the room eventually stopped spinning.  It took another 48 hours before my body was functioning at a relatively ‘normal’ level again.  Ridiculous as it may sound to some (though I know many others will certainly relate) for days afterwards I felt as if I’d undergone a major trauma.  If I’m honest, I’m still slightly shell-shocked by the whole thing now, and more than a little unnerved.

I have to say, it’s at times like this that I really hate how life can be.  And I worry about what exactly the future might bring.

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Day 274: hibernation here we come

Blimey, I’ve just counted and it’s 139 days since the last ‘Azathioprine update’. That’s 4 blood tests, 4 lots of results, some random appointments and a whole lot of readjusting since I went back to ‘Square One’ in July.

On the whole, it hasn’t been too terrible and there’s still no green, scaling skin, newly grown limbs or unusual superpowers to report.  The worst of the joint pain is still being held at bay (hurrah) and I’m definitely a hell of a lot more mobile than I was this time last year, or the one before that, or the one before that…

Fatigue-wise, it’s all much of a muchness, but that was always going to be the case. There is NO drug, quick fix or cure for chronic slothitus fatigue, more’senergy-meter-sick-and-always-tired the pity. What I have learnt, or rather, what I keep learning, but never seem remember, is this: I can manage day-to-day as long as I do absolutely nothing.

Ok, that sounds a bit bleak, I admit.  What I mean is, as long as I don’t try to push myself, be overly ambitious, think I’m more capable than I am or do anything resembling reckless, I can, for the most part, get stuff done.  That said, I still have very regular relapses when energy levels are at zero, zip, zilch and nada.

The approaching winter is, however, definitely throwing up a few curve balls.  During the last 6 weeks or so I’ve bounced from one thing to another, never quite having the chance to come up for air or recover in between.  Is this down to the Azathioprine?  I’m not entirely sure.

Having put the infection and headache behind me, I promptly came down with the flu.  Not that I actually realised it was the flu, until I was already halfway through the whole aches, pains, coughing and wretched snivelling. That, in itself, just goes to show how many horrible symptoms someone with Lupus will pass off as ‘normal’ before they even entertain the idea that something else might actually be wrong.

Just for the record, I did line up with all the OAPs in the village for my flu jab this year, but clearly, that wasn’t worth the nasty pain in the arm it gave me.  Either the head honcho at the Influenza Immunisation Programme picked the wrong strain to target this year or my body plans on surrendering to every single virus comes along.

With a cough still lingering a couple of weeks later, I’m now wondering just how well my now suppressed immune system is going to fare this winter.  I’m practically housebound as it is, and when I do go out, the cold weather shocks my body into one sort of head-to-toe meltdown after another.

So I choose to stay inside, dress in fleece onesies and whack up the thermostat.  A perfect solution, you might think, except for the fact the central heating seems to bring on a whole host of other problems: even drier eyes, terrible headaches, sniffs and sneezes, additional tiredness, wooziness and increased brain fog.  But turn off the heating and the Raynaud’s and general miserableness kicks in.

I think that’s what you call a lose-lose situation.

So, what pray is the answer?  Rethink my choice of drugs?  Completely avoid civilisation?  Wear a full germ resistant biohazard suit?  Or perhaps I should just do like a hedgehog, disappear under a pile of leaves and hibernate till Spring?

Either way, I am slightly concerned that by the time the trees have regrown their leaves in 2017 I’m going to be translucent in shade, socially inept and adding muscular dystrophy to the list of woes.

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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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Note to self:

You stupid girl.  The next time you feel like this crap, please drag your head out from under the cushions and pay attention to the following symptoms:

When your lungs feel starved of o2 and every breath hurts – it should not be ignored.  When it feels as if a boa constrictor is wrapped around your chest, crushing your ribs  – it should not be ignored.snake-sick-and-always-tired

When you wheeze like a smoker for no good reason – it should not be ignored. When your body feels extra depleted, done in and defeated  – it should not be ignored.  When your skin turns an even sicklier shade of grey – it should not be ignored.  When you’re hacking up mucus the colour and consistency of gloopy Ambrosia custard – it should not be ignored.

You silly, silly girl.  All these symptoms are not ‘normal’, even in your messed up world.  Quelle surprise, you have a lung infection.  And that, my dear, will not quietly disappear without a helping hand, no matter how deep into denial you dive.

So now you can add another eight little steroid tablets to your breakfast menu and wait to see if they do the job.  What’s that, you moan?  14 tablets with your granola is just too much to bear?  Perhaps you’ll remember that next time…

Look on the bright side at least.  Best case scenario: you’ll perk up and soon be back to your usual Lupusy self.  Worst case scenario: come the weekend you’ll have  bulging muscles and be ready join the ladies Russian shot put team.*  A result either way, it has to be said.

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* I jest, of course, these steroids don’t turn you into a super athlete overnight.

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.