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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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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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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It’s all a bit (fleecy lined) pants

January is one of those months when nothing really happens, it’s all just a bit blah. One minute you’re cramming a too big bird into a too small oven, the next, you’re realising that February is about to happen. Once again you ask yourself: What the hell happened there?

Was January shorter this year? Did I sleep through a week and not notice? Did we ever finish off all that turkey? Creme eggs already? Really?

For me, the weather plays a rather large part in this black hole of time. So cold has it been lately that I’ve only left the house when absolutely necessary. School runs and the occasional trip to support sporting offspring fall into this category. Clearly, I braved the post-Christmas sales as well, but that’s also a ‘necessary’.

Each day in 2017 I’ve sported exactly the same ‘dressed for warmth, not style’ combo: fleecy lined yoga pants (yoga mat not required), furry lined hoodie, furry lined slippers and thick fleecy socks. When needing to leave the house, so many additional layers of fabric are required that I struggle to bend over and pull my boots on. Aforementioned sporting trips involve jeans over yoga pants, multiple thermal vests under hoodies and two additional pairs of socks inside the fleecy ones.

Do I look like a blue whale packing some extra winter blubber? Most probably. Do I really care?  Nope. Far too cold to give a shit. Have I showcased any of my ‘must make more of an effort to look stylish’ new sales purchases? Erm, no.

So about all this January blah-ness. I think it probably comes down to motivation; I know that I definitely lost mine. I suspect it might have been thrown out with the Christmas wrapping paper by mistake. It’s probably languishing at the bottom of a recycling skip right now, waiting to be pulped. Or worse still, buried in some godawful landfill with a pile of stinking nappies.

Sorry, I digress. Back to the blah.

For once, I can’t even blame it on the dodgy health. So far this year I’ve had great days, mediocre days and ‘don’t you dare even try and wake me up’ days. For the most part though (touch wood) the tablets are still doing their thing. Of course autoimmune is no friend of winter. My joints feel more inflamed in the cold. My mood dips when the sky is grey. My fatigue is ramped up by the central heating. My fingers often look like a rotting corpse.

It’s safe to say I probably won’t have much of a spring in my step until… well, until Spring. When the first daffodil is brave enough to claw it’s way out of the earth and face the world, I’ll consider doing the same.

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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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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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