If it doubt, talk about the weather

4am wind whips

round my flat rattling walls

permeating dreams

I’m not sure what the weather is like with you but here we have blustery gales ripping up trees, closing roads and causing trouble.  Wind is one of my least favourite weathers.  I tried to explain why to someone a few years ago and they didn’t get it.  Maybe it was me, maybe I didn’t explain it well enough, but I feel like I am being attacked by the wind.  I want to retreat, run away, hide from the enemy.  I want to pull a duvet over my head and block out the howls with a pillow.  I take the weather personally.

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Ehlers Danlos: Stuff which makes my days a bit better

I haven’t talked much about my chronic pain on here, mostly because all the mental illness stuff was more pressing and distressing, but my pain has got worse as my anorexia has got better.  I have a condition which is known as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome or Hypermobility Syndrome (so professionals say they’re the same, some don’t…).  It affects my collagen which is all through your body and means I have joint pain, dislocations, subluxions, exhaustion and other stuff.
 
It’s very frustrating (and painful!) but I was thinking last night (as I couldn’t sleep) about all the things I use to make my days a bit easier.  I thought about how long it had taken me to come across things and how it might be helpful to someone else who is just starting their chronic pain journey to have a list.
So, here is my list of stuff which makes my days a bit better.  Take from it what you want and feel free to suggest your own.
 
  • Meds! Enough said really.  Talk to your GP, make sure you’re on the right ones.  Pain is not a good thing, you shouldn’t push through it regardless of what annoying people say.  Pain is shit and it needs to be managed.
  • Kindle – I can’t hold books but I love reading.  It took me a long time to get to the point of giving in and buying one.  I love paper books and it isn’t the same on a kindle.  But having a kindle is better than not reading.  Main tip would be to think about what you want to use the kindle for.  I choose the absolute lightest and bought it second hand.  You can get classics for free and amazon does daily deals for kindle so you can pick up some bargains.  Also keep an eye out for seasonal sales.  I believe you can also work around the amazon thing and buy books from other companies if you don’t want to be tied to amazon.  Also, excellent for holidays!
  • Tablet – some people will buy a tablet instead of a kindle but for me, having them separate is important.  I can’t read my tablet in bed.  Again, like with the kindle, I went for the lightest which gives most screen.  It’s a Sony Xperia.  Again, think about what you want it for.  I wanted mine to write notes on, watch Netflix etc.  I think it’s probably apps that will make a tablet successful.  I’ve got evernote for note taking and it also has a speech to text function (this isn’t great in terms of getting all the words right but I’m hoping it will learn and improve as new versions come out).  You can also access the notes from a computer which means the notes I take at work can be checked when I’m at my PC.  There are probably other apps, just have a play with them and see what works. A lot of people will suggest you buy a case (same for the kindle) but I haven’t.  This feels a little reckless but if I buy a case it will add to the weight and that will add to my pain and then I won’t use the tablet.  I do have a peel off screen protector though.
  • Tablet stand – because you’ll hurt your neck if you keep looking at it flat on the table.  Also excellent for propping the tablet up to watch Netflix in bed!
  • Bears – as in teddy bears, not grizzly bears.  Sometimes you just need a hug.  Also, bears are excellent for propping kindles against in bed and I use them to help position me when I sleep.  If I’m allowed to sleep as I want, I pull my shoulders out of place but having my arms around a bear means I don’t.  I also have a donkey pillow thingy which as the description suggests, doubles as a pillow.
  • Triangle pillows – possibly called maternity pillows or something else less descriptive.  Helpful in propping you up and sleeping with one means when I fling my arms over my head, there is something there to stop them going too far and dislocating.
  • Blackboard – I have a little owl shaped blackboard which I use to keep a list of things I need help with.  I suck at asking for help.  I don’t like doing it and I generally remember just after someone has left.  The blackboard means I don’t have to ask directly, I don’t forget and it lets people make a choice.  They can choose what they do to help, if they want to do anything at all.  If it says I need help changing the bed and my friend hates doing that, they don’t have to offer.  Or they could choose something else to help me with.
  • Pens – the thicker the better.  There are lots of different kinds and you’ll probably need to experiment with what works for you.  I found PenAgain worked for me.
  • Food processor – mine has lots of useful functions including a slicer, grater, whisker, dough hook and general mixer.  It’s also dishwasher proof so I use it a lot more since getting a dishwasher!
  • Splints – with medical advice, these can help.  Mine make a huge difference.  For my wrists, the difference is between constant tear inducing agony and grit your teeth and bear it pain.  Again, it’s finding what works for you.  Generally they are given to you by an OT but if, like me, you’re struggling with the medical system, you can get your own online.  Again, medical advice is good as sometimes they’re advised, sometimes they aren’t.  I always wear my wrist splints when I’m out the house and the Velcro sticks to things and gets irritating, as do the questions, so I wear thin cotton wrist warmers over them.
  • Jar and bottle opener – I use dysom ones.  I also keep a small one in my bag for opening bottles of drink when I’m out and about.  If you’re struggling, ask a stranger.  Yes it’s hard but it’s better than dehydration or enduring the pain of pushing too hard.
  • Key turner thingy – you attach your keys and it gives you a piece of plastic about 1 inch by 5 inches to hold onto instead of the key.  This is a terrible description but it’s a helpful piece of kit!
  • Keeping spare keys in my shed – brain fog is fun.  You put keys in your oven and food in the dishwasher.  But being locked out of your house is not fun.  I’m lucky, I have a shed and I’ve attached a combination lock to it and keep spare keys in there.  It also comes in handy if friends are popping by and you can’t get to the door.  Just try to remember the combination!
  • Bus pass – for ages and ages I thought I couldn’t get a bus pass because I’m not on any benefits.  I was wrong!  You can get one with a drs note saying that you can’t walk very far.  And it has been amazing.  The freedom is fantastic!  In York I can use it after 9 on a weekday or anytime on a weekend.  It allows me to just pop somewhere if I want.  I can get the bus home from the train station (which is about 600metres away from my home) without feeling awful about the wasted money.  I can get the bus to the coast for free!  Which means I don’t have to worry about getting there and not being able to do anything more than sit on a bench.  I don’t have to do loads to justify the expense.  All in all, I love my bus pass.  You can get one through your local council.
  • Travel mug – I’ve had many travel mugs over the years, all of which have leaked or not kept the drink warm.  Then I discovered contigo autoseal travel mugs.  They keep hot drinks hot for hours (I often add a bit of cold water so I stand a chance of being able to drink them at some point!) and they only open if you keep your finger on a button.  It’s not too hard to press and I’ve dropped my mug on numerous occasions and it’s not spilt and is still working fine.  Even better than a travel mug is a travel mug of hot chocolate.  Particularly good if you tend to forget about drinks or doze off.  Some are dishwasher safe and some aren’t.
  • DMs – as in Doc Martens.  I have found a brand of footwear which fits, supports my ankles and doesn’t cover me in blisters and I plan to stick with them forever.  DMs might not do it for you, but make sure to get supportive and comfortable shoes.  If you find a brand that’s good, stick with it.
  • Mattress topper – a cheap way to get the memory foam experience!  I had a horrible mattress in a rented property which I couldn’t change.  It was wrecking my body and destroying any chance of sleep.  Then I got a memory foam mattress topper and everything was better!  I’m not saying it will cure you, but it has made a significant difference to me.  The only thing to note is that it will add an inch or so to your mattress height so you might want to invest in some deeper bed sheets as well.
  • Electric blankets – I have two.  One for my bed which I am in love with and one that is more portable.  The bed one has nine settings, extra foot warmth, duel control (in case you share a bed with someone who doesn’t freeze) and can be left on overnight.  The last being the best thing about it.  I also have a small electric blanket, about two foot square, which i can have on my lap on the sofa or at work.  Just be careful not to get tangled in the cables!
  • Microwave heat pack – in case you don’t have a plug socket nearby or want something more discrete.  Great for specific joints.  You can get them with or without lavender.
  • Stick on heat packs – curaheat heat packs stick on your clothes and are good for shoulders etc where you’d struggle to keep a microwavable heat pack.  They last 12 hours and the pound shop often has branded ones.  Also very good for holidays etc as they are small and don’t require electricity.
  • Twitter – good for finding other people with the same condition, share tips and understanding.  Also good for asking for advice and I have to say, I use it to sound off…  It helps.  It’s also good for connecting to real life friends who you can’t see as much as you’d like.  It helps me feel more connected to the world as I’m laying on my sofa.
  • Friends – I hate to say this but chronic pain may mean you lose some friends.  It is hard to deal with but for me, it’s shown who my real friends are.  They are the people who don’t care about pushing you round a shopping centre, who cook meals for your freezer, who invite themselves round for coffee, who check in when you’ve been absent from twitter.  They are the people who buy you a second hand dishwasher and fit it for you.  They are the people you can go months without seeing and still fit comfortably together when you do catch up.  They are the people who take time to know what you can and can’t do and who offer to do things before you ask.  They are the people who will open a bottle of drink without needing an explanation or even a conversation.  So yes, I’ve lost friends, but I think chronic pain has made me appreciate my real friends so much more.  At the end of the day, I have limited energy and I want to spend that with people who I care about.
 
I am sure there are lots of other things which I will remember as soon as I press send but this is the key stuff I have around me.

2014, the year of travel. 2015, the year of ?

Last year, on Christmas Eve, I wrote:

So it’s that time of year when people are reflected on the last twelve months, offering round up blog posts and colourful infographics.  Condensing 365 days into a few headlines.

I started 2013 denying to myself that I was depressed.  I fought against admitting it for months.  I discovered the Women’s Holiday Centre, Horton.  I gave in to the part of my mind that couldn’t cope with the idea that depression had found me again.  I had one of the worst pain months of my life.  I hurt myself.  I summoned everything I had to contact the employee counselling service who told me I needed too much help for them to see me.  I limited my food.  I returned to Horton and time in the sun gave me what I needed to see my GP.  I was referred to mental health support who refused to see me because of my pain condition.  I stopped eating.  I was no longer crying in toilets at work.  I no longer spent my evenings sobbing into my sofa.  I had been denied the help I needed so I treated myself with starvation.  I was numbed, it worked.  I reached a point of no return.  I had relinquished control to the tool I was using to stay in control.  I let people know where my head was.  I returned once more to Horton.  I am here.  I am trying to fight.

I know that 2013 hasn’t all been about my mental health.  It feels like it has.  It feels like it’s been a shadow overpowering everything else.  I know there were picnics in the park and pots of tea drunk with friends but they feel like they happened to another person.  I can see images but I don’t recall being there.

Instead of looking back on the year that has passed, maybe we’d be better looking forward, to the possibilities that are ahead.

It’s a year later, and where am I?  I accessed support through the eating disorder service in May and since then I have gained a stone.  My head is clearer and I am managing to eat a higher amount of calories each day.  I am no longer quite so stressed by eating although it’s still not coming naturally.  I have also joined a peer support group which has been helpful – I enjoy helping others and being able to share my experience can do that.  They can also make suggestions and sympathise about the whole NHS system which can feel like it’s against you.  I have started, in the last few weeks, to feel emotions again.  This is terrifying.  They are not good emotions.  They are painful and I still have no way of dealing with them.  But I can’t address feelings without feeling them.

The theme of 2014 was travel:
• February – Bali and Lombok via Manchester
• April – Edinburgh
• May – Women’s Holiday Centre in Horton-in-Ribblesdale with York Feminist Network and Brussels and possibly Winchester (a key feature of 2014 is losing track of time and what’s happened when)
• June – Manchester, London
• August – Tanera Mor, off the west coast of Scotland
• November – London, Manchester

I love travelling and finding new places and I want to make sure I keep doing this.  I have booked to go to Cambodia in March and I would like to go somewhere towards the end of 2015 as well as maybe a UK break.  This sometimes feels like an extravagance to me but when it comes down to it, I won’t be able to keep travelling the way that I enjoy (off the beaten track, not in a resort) for much longer.  Which brings me to the other, unplanned theme of 2014: pain.

My pain has got significantly worse this year.  In June I tumbled down a flight of stairs and never fully recovered and in particular, my legs took a turn for the worse.  This has got even worse in the last three or four months.  I struggle with the 600metres to work and if I can make it, I end up in a lot of pain.  My hands have reached a point where trying to do almost anything is out of the question – I can’t lift things, I can’t slice things, I can’t hold a pen, I can’t type for very long, I can’t turn the pages on my kindle for more than half an hour.  All in all, I’m feeling quite low about the pain (but hey, at least it’s a feeling, right?!).  I’m frustrated.  I can’t do anything creative.  I can’t read as much as I would like.  I have hardly left the house other than to go to work.  I have missed out on seeing friends and I’ve had to ask for help cutting up food when I’m eating out.  It’s humiliating and frustrating and I know I need to figure out a better way of living for 2015.

I have spoken to my manager about reducing my hours by one day a week so that I can recover midweek and hopefully then be up to doing something at the weekend, other than laying on the sofa watching Netflix (not as fun as it might sound).  I have also made small steps towards applying for PIP.  I got a bus pass this year which has made a huge difference and in August I started the process of applying to Access to Work (which has taken until today to get an assessment so I have also written to my MP.  It’s a great idea but so badly implemented).  So I am asking for help and that’s not something which comes naturally.  I am fiercely independent and yet I can’t be anymore.  I also need to find a way to be creative which doesn’t involve my hands.  And ways of feeding myself which doesn’t involve cooking.  So I guess maybe 2015 is about reframing things, finding solutions and adapting.  Not quite as fun as travel but probably more important for my wellbeing.