104 days postpartum

It’s funny how days are marked by our worst memories and our great ones, are often lost in mind with no clearly accessible date and time attached to them.

At 5am on the 11th October I woke up, eyes barely even open before I was thrust deep into a panic attack. My body wracked by the sensations, my mind reeling from the racing thoughts. To say I was devastated is an understatement, this is the first acute anxiety attack I’ve had in just under three weeks. Three weeks isn’t very long to most people, but it felt joyous to be able to think clearly for a while without the feeling of dread hanging over me. Without ruminating and catastrophizing. Without the pain in my teeth from my clenched jaw. Without the fatigue that hits you after yet another night of insomnia. Sleep when the baby sleeps… haha, if only.

What I’ve noticed though, in the fifty something days since I last updated my postpartum progress, is how hard I’ve tried to implement grounding techniques. How dedicated I have been to my recovery. I started a new contraception eight weeks ago to try and eliminate my periods, ergo reducing symptoms of PMDD. I’ve been on similar contraceptives in the past for the same reason. In this instance I have bled non stop for eight weeks. I am so run down I have ulcers in my mouth and reoccurring shingles pain, requiring more medication to combat. Around the same time I started the new contraception, I also switched my migraine medication for a slow release version and this has helped immensely with preventing attacks.

My son is now fifteen weeks old, he can hold a toy in his hand, chatter and laugh. but he rarely sleeps. His charming little face is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, that is when it’s not screwed up like a tomato that’s past it’s safe to eat stage, wrinkly in places and as red as hell.

In the last one hundred and four days I have felt every emotion to ever exist. My days are now spent trying to wrestle a screaming baby into a car seat I’m unable to lift, and reading books about Biff and Chip with the big kid. I don’t get any opportunity to rest, which is hard when you have an illness that requires it. I’m mortified to admit some weeks it takes me three attempts before I manage a shower, and even then it’s hurried.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I find it much easier to remember all of the hard bits, the downs, the panic and the tears and I’m very good at choosing to ignore the successes. Deeming them unworthy in their minutiae. Such as; getting the baby down for a nap on the first attempt. Watching his sister cuddle up to him or gently bounce him in his bouncer with her foot, whilst idly watching yet another episode of Bluey. The beauty in the pumpkin patch photoshoot we’d had recently, a windy autumn day surrounded by orange and forest green, the memory of the rain pelting down on our clothes afterwards, and rushing home to drink hot chocolate.

Watching my son grow, though hard, has not been wholly clouded by my poor health. It’s been beautiful in so many ways, and I’ve enjoyed very much time spent with him. I can feel my confidence as a mother returning somewhat. I have my first night out coming up and I’m anxious. When my daughter was a baby I couldn’t wait to get out, feeling more than ever that I needed to let off steam. Now the only steam I’m interested in, is the steam coming from a freshly boiled kettle and the piping hot tea that comes after the boil.

My pelvis hasn’t healed, I am still struggling with walking as with any physical activity. Unfortunately, it does seem this is likely to be yet another long term problem, but we knew that was a possibility.

I use the word progress to explain how far I’ve come and it’s the reason I’m utterly disappointed when I come up against relapses like that earlier panic attack. Im devastated when Im unable to rationalise my intrusive thoughts. Yet in spite of relapses, hard days, long nights and tragically cold cups of PG tips, I’m grateful. Grateful for the support I’ve received from an amazing perinatal mental health team, from my family, and from those few close friends who selflessly and with conviction, care enough to remind me I’m doing ok.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and there are many people whom have contributed to my progress. Thank you. And here’s hoping for another 100 days of progress to follow.

Call for NICE to play nice with chronic pain sufferers!

For full transparency here is the article NICE published in relation to using alternative methods to treat chronic primary pain that has no known cause. NICE recommends

For the most part this starts well, offering people a range of alternative treatments in place of a prescription doesn’t sound so bad does it?

The issues here though, are plenty if you do in fact live with chronic pain. Many sufferers will have a) already tried alternative treatment options. Or b) Are still awaiting a diagnosis in the first place.

We know the opioid crisis is real, we know there’s a risk of addiction and dependency, most of us would give anything for adequate relief found elsewhere, but opiates aren’t the only treatment option available that’s in dispute here. Standard analgesics such as paracetamol and Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs are also being branded ineffectual. What is particularly damaging is the statement from Dr Crisp that suggests pain relief doesn’t work to treat chronic pain, and antidepressants do.

“This guideline is very clear in highlighting that, based on the evidence, for most people it’s unlikely that any drug treatments for chronic primary pain, other than antidepressants, provide an adequate balance between any benefits they might provide and the risks associated with them”

I’ve come to know many chronic pain sufferers that are indeed already prescribed antidepressants as an addition to pain relief for chronic pain. I’m yet to know any that find these effective in place of further treatment. I also know many people who benefit from holistic therapies and exercise and diet for pain management. The problem here is the assumption that everyone or nobody benefits from one type of treatment. NICE make some very encouraging points in the idea that collaborative discussion with patients will play a role in deciding treatment, sadly what it then does is states pain relief won’t be offered initially, leaving many people awaiting a diagnosis in agony.

If you’ve suffered chronic pain ongoing and for a long period it’s likely you will be hoping for a diagnosis. NICE addresses here that the prognosis isn’t always simple and a true diagnosis other than pain itself can be hard to find on occasion. Another of my issues with this statement is, people who are seeking diagnosis will be further fobbed off and advised their pain has no known cause without a full and thorough investigation being carried out. It also indicates that addiction to painkillers is commonplace, as opposed to people taking them in order to function and live a more fulfilling life.

Furthermore suggesting antidepressants come without similar risk or harm is also damaging. I have taken antidepressants and opiate pain medication on and off for twenty years, I’ve experienced withdrawal for both and I personally found antidepressant withdrawal a much more hellish experience, that said I don’t speak for everyone and I’m fully in support of medication being commonplace to treat mental health issues. What I’d also like is to not be branded or implied an addict for taking medication to treat pain.

I don’t dispute that alternative options to medication should be commonplace. My fear is the removal of treatment or the lack of prescribing in the first instance will lead to untold suffering and the search for pain relief elsewhere. Potentially from illegal drugs and under researched off label medications. You only have to look at Twitter to see the outrage from people in the chronically ill community to understand that this will impact us significantly.

As a mother and an expectant one it would be idealistic to not have a need for medication at all, but I like many other sufferers have tried countless attempts at reduction and abstinence. It doesn’t work, because my pain is physical and it’s real. To suggest psychological therapies in place of a prescription is another way of suggesting our pain is psychosomatic and not physical. Yet upon first analysis you couldn’t possibly know that to be the case. I don’t disagree that better information needs to be given as standard, that alternative medicine should be available on the NHS as standard and that exercise and diet are all impacting factors. I do however, disagree with the statement suggesting pain relief doesn’t work for chronic pain. Granted it won’t work for everyone, and granted NICE have advised individual plans will be made, but how many of us already feel judged on how we manage our health? I know I do, and I know hundreds of other people that do too. What would have been really nice is for NICE to include alternative therapies as standard without pillshaming people already taking medication or those seeking adequate investigations and subsequent pain relief.

Yes I have launched a petition and yes I have indeed read the guidance offered and I still feel strongly for the need for this advice to be overhauled and at the very least reworded in a more sensitive and less ableist fashion.

Not everyone can exercise. Not everyone can access alternative health care and not everyone will become an addict when treating their pain with painkillers even long term.

The petition is currently in review and will be shared when and if it goes live. I’ve also emailed NICE directly for clarification and I hope they are able to address the concerns of those of us that have voiced them.

I also feel the need to state: I am not suggesting everyone take pain medication for the rest of their lives to treat chronic and ongoing pain, I’m simply asking that we don’t have the option taken away from us.

A letter to myself.

I wrote this because I had to make sense of my thoughts as mother and an expectant one, one who is trying to find the strength to be both whilst battling the demons that are chronic illness and mental health.

Reach out they said, so you did, and it didn’t immediately help, and when it didn’t help people stopped reaching in. You are not their responsibility, this is not their fight, and they have their own shit going on. In the middle of a pandemic everyone has their own shit going on, some worse than yours. People can’t take on your shit too. They don’t want to, they shouldn’t have to, so what are you supposed to do now?

You have spoken to your doctor, you’ve got yourself in touch with organisations that can help support your mental health, but your physical health is declining further, your hormones are sending you crazy and you’re in limbo. You’ve requested help, but there’s no magic pill, no imminent cure for your troubles. So what happens next? You’ve written a thousand blogs, almost as many poems, you’ve cried, screamed and forced yourself to calm.

Keeping busy helps, keeping moving, except you can’t do anything because you’re immobile. Stay positive, think happy thoughts, so you try, really hard to do both but your mind is clouded in worry. You wonder sometimes if you have the strength to be the person everyone needs you to be. To get back some of your fire. You’re losing interest in the things that have previously brought you joy, like reading, and writing, you feel blocked. Getting outside is increasingly difficult and because you’re not going anywhere you’re not getting up and ‘ready’ because your whole body is racked with pain you’re not focusing on getting outside, it feels too hard.

You know you need to nourish your body to give your growing baby what it needs but even eating is becoming boring, a chore, you don’t have the ability to stand at a countertop and cook, you can’t be bothered to decide what to have next so takeaway’s are your go to, but they’re distorting the view of what you see in the mirror. Your need for medication increases with your pain and with that comes more guilt because it’s not just about you anymore.

You tried to do ‘yoga’ and got stuck on the floor for an hour with only your four year old home. You tried to shower but you can’t stand so even cleanliness is taking a backseat. You have to depend on your husband to help you in and out of the bath and you feel your self esteem being crushed further, your sense of humour no longer able to gloss over the hard parts with a funny anecdote.

People care, you know that, but they don’t know what to say, so they stop saying anything. You feel like a shit friend because you know your life is consumed by your disability and as much as they can’t take on your burdens you can’t take on theirs either, so thats another stick you can use to beat yourself with. You’re still trying to be everything everyone needs you to be but it’s draining. You feel like your lack of positivity confirms your worst fears – that you can’t be saved.

You feel more connected to strangers you talk to online than anyone you know in real life, because strangers can’t judge you in the same way friends can. They don’t expect you to man up, or try harder because your lack of effort doesn’t impact them.

You spend most days led down trying to find a focus, trying to be better, to do better, to find some joy in anything.

Glimmers of hope come from your loved ones. They carry on loving you despite your struggles and your children carry on depending on you. You know that without them, your life doesn’t mean all that much to you, but to them it’s everything it means everything, you are their everything and so you snatch the glimmers, you pocket them, and you remember that this period in time isn’t forever.

Your life isn’t what it used to be and you grieve it, desperately, sometimes so much that it physically hurts, but you’ve grieved it before and you’re still here, you still have a life. You still have a future. It’s a new version, and not everyone will walk your new journey with you, not because they don’t care (that’s just your brain telling you that) but maybe because they don’t understand and your own acceptance of the things you can’t change takes time.

Learning to live a newer life, a more conscious life, a life that has limitations, isn’t easy. Sometimes the grief will be daily and feel renewed, but someday, in your future you will look back on this time like you’ve looked back on all the other hard times, times you thought you couldn’t live through and you will know that you survived it. You survived it because you put one swollen foot in front of the other, because you held on when you thought there was no hope for you, and you found a way.

You know with certainty, that you have grown. This is a set back, this is not a failure, your health has declined as a result of you trying to do what’s best for your baby.

So Steph, the message is clear, when you really aren’t ok and you feel like you’re alone with your troubles, don’t take it day by day, don’t wait for tomorrow to be better, take it hour by hour, do the things that you feel able, even if that is nothing, because it won’t always be nothing. Each day that you wake up is you doing something. You’re surviving, and when you find a way to survive you can find a way to thrive.

X

A Decade Of Lessons

The last 10 years

Well, it’s been a testing decade that’s for sure, but it’s also been the most amazing pilgrimage of self discovery I’ve ever been on.

I feel like the last decade is where I really became an adult and anything before was part of my youth.

In 2010 I was glassed in a nightclub in an unprovoked attack whilst out with friends, and it shook me beyond measure and took me to a place I didn’t know existed. I’d been in fights before, been given a slap when I probably deserved it, in my teens, I’d even (believe it or not) been hit with a bottle before, but it hadn’t shattered the first time and this was on another level. This was in response to me just being out having a laugh with friends, and it could have left me blind. Thankfully, physically most of the scars are on my décolletage and not my face (though I do have a dent in my skull) it could have been a lot worse physically.

But despite keeping up appearances, mentally I was scarred beyond recognition. I was scared too just by the weight of the attack, but in being scared I got angry.

I went ‘mad’ for want of a better word. I was wild. Following that night every time I went out I braced myself for a row and alcohol only fuelled that self destruction. I got in more rows and fights than I’d ever had before. I rowed and physically fought with my then partner, and when I ended that relationship I continued down a rabbit hole of hell.

I did some messed up things and 2013 saw the catalyst to that phase of crazy.

I lost my job, almost my house, and I was alone. Friends had given me a wide berth and my nights out were spent with people I didn’t even really like and who only hung out with me for some drama or entertainment.

I’ve always had a need to fill the shoes of the life and soul of the party, but I’ve filled them by acting like a fool. Being the loudest, the craziest and the wildest person in the room.

I met my now partner at the end of that year. I saw the new year in in Ireland with a good friend and it was like something just clicked, an epiphany if you like, and I didn’t want to be that self destructive, unemployed mess, that I had become.

I got a job, a pretty good one, and from there life has progressed at a steady pace. The following year I was shaving my hair off for charity and raising thousands of pounds. I’ve had some backslides, like being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and it’s affect on my both my physical and mental health. Having a baby wasn’t an easy feat for me, and it can be hard work just being ‘normal’ most days, but I’m surviving it, and thriving too.

Last year my mum nearly died from a freak fall and I can say with certainty, I’ve never been as scared as I was then. It puts what’s important into perspective.

Nowadays I don’t feel like I’m falling from Beachy Head every time I wake up. I don’t want to hide for a week after a night out anymore, and I don’t wish I was dead. Even on the bad days, I’m glad to be alive.

I still feel like some days I fight stigmas and a bad reputation, but it took me a long time to make it, so I guess it’s only normal that it will take me a long while to break it, too.

That being said, my future is bright and I’m lucky. All the people in my life are in it because they want to be and contribute in some way to helping me be and feel better. So I’d say, despite all of that drama, this past decade has been pretty spectacular and I’m looking forward to the next one. Taking nothing for granted is my only resolution.

Happy new year 🥳

Just another chronic illness blog

When I got diagnosed with a chronic illness I didn’t get the same quota that you get when you’re told you have pneumonia or you break your leg. I didn’t get ‘get well soon’ cards or flowers – which I guess is a good thing as get well soon doesn’t really exist in the chronically ill community. But we still appreciate the sentiments.

I don’t get much love for my illness, I get eye rolls and people annoyed at me talking about it again, but I don’t get much love.

I get people accusing me of using it as an excuse and comparing me to people with the same problems. But not love.

I get disbelieving shakes of the head and funny looks when pulling into a disabled parking space, but not love.

I get people telling me to be positive and exercise more but I don’t get presents or hugs.

Imagine waking up one day and not being able to get out of bed, yesterday you could of ran for the bus, but today you can’t move. Now imagine feeling too ashamed to talk about it for fear of being dismissed, accused of faking, or mocked. Because that’s what living with chronic illness is. That’s what happens when people can’t see your pain. They assume it doesn’t exist or that you’re making it out to be much worse than it is.

Even your friends think you’re exaggerating, and even your family get fed up when it encroaches on plans with them yet again. When I tell people I have to pace myself or I’m not feeling too good, I literally brace myself for their reaction. Nobody ever says, it must be so hard, I admire your strength.

That’s why I write it down, and that’s why I share it on the internet with people whom I’ve never met. Because some of those people get it and they aren’t (at least not visibly) rolling their eyes at yet another post. People are happy to offer you their support for the occasional bout of misfortune, but when its ongoing nobody wants to get dragged down with it. I get it! I really do, I’m a realist, I know it’s hard for people to understand, and it can be miserable to hear about, but imagine living with it.

Imagine just for a minute that it’s you who’s sick all the time. Then imagine feeling like nobody cares. Feeling like you’re burdening people whenever you talk about it, feeling guilty for being sick, imagine how lonely that gets.

Everyone has their own battles and some people have it much worse than you or I, that’s a fact. Some people have the same illness on a different level and some people have diseases that are killing them.

What living with a chronic illness has taught me is not to make assumptions on people’s lives, to believe people when they tell you they’re suffering, and to remember to check in on your friends. Pain changes people, in different ways, sometimes it’s empowering and when you’re on top of it you feel like you’re winning, other times it’s dark and makes you wonder what’s the point of living at all if this is how you’re destined to feel everyday. It’s overwhelming and hard to explain – but by sharing my experiences with it I’m remaining sane. I’m not hiding and so that is the reason behind yet another chronic illness post. If you know, you know. 💜

View this post published on The Mighty here.

https://themighty.com/2020/01/when-people-cant-see-your-chronic-illness/?utm_source=engagement_bar&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=story_page.engagement_bar/

Forgetting your illness

Things are good, you’ve had low impacting symptoms for a while and you’re starting to remember your pre-diagnosis life. Surviving quite happily on a steady dose of painkillers and enjoying the festive fun.

Not so fast pal!

Cue a poorly child you’re responsible for nursing back to good health, a weather change, or maybe an allergic reaction to some costume jewellery. Could it maybe you’ve done a little more walking than you usually do, or a long drive? – and bang!

Hey chronic illness, long time no see.

Now there’s no need to pretend like all the above things haven’t been thoroughly enjoyable, because if it wasn’t for those things you would have been sure to shrivel up and die of sadness, but when a flare up occurs it can be completely life limiting, and that’s why it’s called an invisible illness, because you don’t see it coming.

It’s December and Christmas cheer is everywhere. You’re getting right into the spirit of it and so you should, but then you catch that cold your daughter came home from preschool last week with, and it’s downhill from here.

I wanted to write a bit about how it feels to have a ‘just a cold‘ whilst fighting a chronic illness and what catching viruses does to our already weakened immune system.

Of course at first it starts like any other common cold and you get a sniffle or a bit of a sore throat. Then the pain from your congested sinuses trigger a migraine and the onslaught of nausea that follows makes you feel weak and shaky – for days!

Once that’s passed, the aching from the flu like symptoms, makes your already weary joints feel like they’ve been battered with a hammer, every single bone in your body feels bruised and your skin is sore to the touch. The raging temperature you’ve acquired messes with your already shot internal thermostat, and you constantly flit between grabbing extra layers and peeling sweat covered ones from your limbs. After you’ve done that a few times the fatigue completely floors you, and you have to close your eyes. Which is a bit of a problem when you’re sat at your desk or the school run needs doing.

What is just a sniffle to the average Joe can disable someone with an already weakened immune system and if you see them feeling a bit sorry for themselves try and refrain from telling them to man up. You can’t see the fight they’re fighting but underneath the snot their body feels like they’re in the ring with Ali. Don’t make an assumption that because people look well means they aren’t battling, they may well be trying harder to conceal it.

It’s so important to pace yourself when you suffer from a chronic condition but it’s also really difficult when you’re feeling well to remember to do this, and not get down about missing out on fun stuff. Suffice to say I didn’t pace myself all too well this time around and now I’m paying for it.

I’ve tried really hard to fight through the tougher days lately too, and I’ve done so with not much back lash, however the start of this flare up is swiftly reminding me that actually I need to slow down. So this is my reminder to you, be kinder to yourself and anyone you know who has an invisible illness – the winter struggle is real for us all, but it’s even harder for them.

Living my best life with fibromyalgia.

Cough, I know you’re thinking Jesus, Steph has finally decided to get out of her funk and help herself.

Not really, I don’t know, maybe I’ve just been lucky. Since I left my job my health has improved tenfold. I believe this to be because I have more time to rest when I need to, but it could be due to a lot of factors, or it could just be good old coincidence.

Mentally, I am stronger than I have been for some time. I’m off of antidepressants for the first time in years, and I’m not feeling constant impending doom. This is a really big deal for me, and I’m feeling positive about the next chapter.

But it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows (yes that was a Trolls quote) Pain has got a lot to do with mood, low mood can exacerbate pain. Especially when suffering with a condition that effects your central nervous system, as that’s when it’s on high alert. Psychological pain can bring on physiological symptoms. I’m not a doctor, but I have spent a lot of time researching my condition. I’m not going to sit here and spout that positivity cures illnesses as that’s untrue and offensive, but when you feel happy it makes pain more manageable. That much I do know.

Today I woke up earlier than usual due to Ciara’s new found love for 6am. I felt terrible, my body was heavy and I can feel pain deep inside each joint. This is not imaginary, this is real pain, and I’ve had to take some heavy duty painkillers to combat it today. Despite being in very real pain today, I feel good. Good, because I’ve had a decent run of late, without this kind of debilitating pain. I’ve had pain, but the kind of pain I’m in today, is what reminds me I have a disability. In short, it sucks.

However moving on to the positive bits again. I’ve been doing little things that make me feel better. Small things like, having a tidy living space, getting enough sleep (when I can and Shaun’s snoring allows) but generally doing things that make me feel good. Avoiding toxic people, not analysing every little thing, not comparing myself to everyone, and trying to accept my pain without beating myself up. All these little things help. They aren’t a cure but they do make a difference. I went through such a battle with myself to accept this illness without it breaking me. To allow myself time since my formal diagnosis to grieve for the old me. I’ve spent two years grieving, and I still suffer! I won’t play it down, but I’m in a place now where I can accept it without it breaking me. I can move forward and still live a good life. I can have bad days but they aren’t all bad. Some of them are fucking brilliant!! You too can have good days again. It’s not going to be easy, but even without an illness or disability life isn’t easy.

But I have all my faith in you. You can do this, you can live your best life too. 💕