Confessions of a chronically ill mum #19

Hi. It’s been longer than my usual long while since I posted COACIM. In fact, I haven’t been writing anything much and definitely nothing so personal. I’ve had neither the inclination or the ability, and I’ve barely been keeping up with my medication not least my mothering responsibilities. It’s all felt like such a lot lately.

Not sure if I mentioned here before, but back in March I saw a consultant about my cholesterol. It was ridiculously high, putting me at serious risk for heart and cardiovascular diseases. I resisted starting medication because I’d not long commenced HRT. I’m already quite heavily medicated for my anxiety, fibromyalgia and migraine, and statins have a bit of a bad rep for side effects. Anyway, last month the consultant called me and said I had no good cholesterol in my body and without medication ‘it’s not a case of if you’ll have a heart attack or stroke it’s a case of when’ adding firmly at the end ‘you’re a ticking time bomb.

This conversation took its toll on me mentally, as you might imagine it would. Especially because since the appointment in March I’d been working really hard on looking after my health and essentially this consultant was telling me it wasn’t good enough. I felt at this point as though I had little choice, so I ignored my reservations and started the statins.

Long story short, so far the side effects are indeed awful and I have been really unwell. The worst flare up in my fibromyalgia symptoms I’ve seen for some time. I have been wading through treacle each day, or at least that’s how it’s felt with the level of fatigue I’m suffering. Brain fog and my memory, which had worsened significantly since starting HRT anyway, is now shot to bits. I’ve always prided myself on having a good memory and taking in information but for the last two weeks I have barely remembered what day it is, and that’s not an exaggeration. I’ve led in bed on days I’m supposed to work and been confused at why my alarm is going off and Kaiser’s dressed for the childminder. I’ve not been able to write because I can’t remember what it is I’m trying to say. It sucks, and this post itself has taken me a week to finish.

As you may know fibromyalgia causes widespread pain and profound fatigue. Since starting statins this has worsened and I have severe muscle pain, while also feeling as though I have the flu, all the time. I’m napping during the day when Kaiser naps and having to throw water on my face to stay awake during a work meeting. I can’t lift my son because my body feels too weak.

Parenting is kicking my proverbial. Day and night, night and day. Even after having a break last weekend to sleep and recharge whilst the kids were with my mother in law – it doesn’t feel like enough. I need a break after 10 hours. Shaun and I are drifting with no real idea where the fuck we’re going because we’re too exhausted to hold a conversation. He is knackered from picking up all the slack and it’s pretty shit because I don’t know what my alternatives to these tablets are. The consultant made it sound as though their wasn’t one. Kaiser has started walking and yes…he’s a total babe, but he’s also hands down the most exhausting human I’ve ever come across. I find being his mum a privilege and sometimes, like now when I’m not feeling my best and being brutally honest… a chore.

I have a feeling Ciara might be going through some developmental changes, because her emotions are all over the place and it can be hard work trying to prize out of her what’s going on. She is a tiny perfectionist whom hates doing badly at anything and it’s become more pronounced this term. I don’t know why or how this has become such a big deal to her because we rarely ever tell her off and absolutely never for getting something wrong or making a mistake. It’s gut wrenching to see your child grapple with their emotions. She also has the hearing of an elephant and questions everything you say, remembers it, then recites it back to you… so there’s no hiding in this house and sometimes let’s be honest, mums want to hide (well I do anyway)

Finally, I wanted to add that I’ve been feeling quite sentimental and at times, extremely lonely. Your world can become horribly small when you’re unwell and people do drift. I’m not blaming those people because I know it’s nobodies fault – when someone (me) is constantly cancelling plans and letting people down, often last minute, you lose your place as first on the list as an invitee…. I just think Covid and everything else that’s going on in the world right now has highlighted to me how insular I’ve become. It’s a bit of a dichotomy for me to be honest, because part of me loves being in a familial bubble and not having to explain myself to people or show up for small talk, but the other part of me is in need of genuine social and human connection. What I do know is I don’t really have a lot to say about much other than my health and the kids, and I’d like that to change soon, adding a bit of me back into the bargain.

Overall, and in spite of what you’ve just read, I’m happy. I’m trying and sometimes even succeeding to not letting myself be sucked down into my usual negative cycle of mum guilt and self loathing. And I feel immense gratitude to be embarking on new journeys and to have had some really amazing and exciting opportunities come up for me recently. I will elaborate at some point but ultimately what I’m trying to say is, I don’t want this post to be all doom and gloom, because my life isn’t all bad in fact it’s mostly good but it’s still hard to live with poor health when parenting small and impressionable children.

I do also have a HRT update for you but for now I can’t even begin to concentrate enough to fill you in on that, too. It’ll come soon if I can manage it! 💙

Confessions Of A Chronically Ill Mum #18

It’s been a while since I’ve written an insert of COACIM. I’ve been busy, trying to keep PMDD under control alongside parenting a riot of a toddler, a somewhat sulky six year old…. Summer holidays and work. So I guess you could say I’ve been ‘doing life.’ For the most part doing life has been good, the summer has been busy and full of adventure. The downside being, I’m still not (and never will be) able to do everything I want to do because of my health, both physical and mental. The limitations it has on my overall well-being might have lessened somewhat but is still profound. However, I’m so grateful, now more than ever for all of the things I can do!!

Since starting HRT I’ve noticed an increase in energy and my ability to move more freely. My joint functionality and all over flare up time is less than it was before commencing hormone replacement. PMDD episodes are shorter too (though not necessarily less intense) I won’t go into too much detail about that now, because there’ll be a separate HRT update shortly. For now, there’s so much else I want to say.

Emotionally, I’m riding the waves while trying to savour every moment we get to enjoy as a family.

My confession this week, is that I’ve realised, in recent months since adding in a few evening plans, just how much I miss dancing. I’ve had two occasions where I’ve been out and there’s been music. The first one was with Shaun, we went to Cardiff to watch The Libertines. They are one of our mutual music loves and it was a long anticipated gig. Thankfully the venue sorted us out with accessible seating and this was in an area with enough room to dance if you wanted to. Though I soon realised, I can’t. I can no longer move freely without pain. Even the ‘dancing’ I can manage, such as waving my arms in the air, causes me pain. While I may be able to walk a little further than I could before (and this is great) I still cannot remain standing for more than a few minutes, and sadly, I definitely can’t dance, at all really! When I realised this I became quite upset. Because let’s be real there’s nothing quite like being able to dance it out. (Fans of Greys anatomy will appreciate the reference) Like I said, I am trying to focus on what I can do as opposed to what I can’t, but it still irks and hurts and leaves an adverse feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The second music shindig I attended was Meatloaf inspired musical Bat Out Of Hell. The show was phenomenal, but again I couldn’t move much. As with standing, I find being seated for long periods really uncomfortable too. Driving is agony and I’m only really comfortable when I’m slowly walking or led down. This can put a real spanner in the social life of a music lover. Yesterday I spent hours nostalgically reminiscent of the bank holiday weekends I’d spend at all day music concerts and outdoor day festivals. Some of this nostalgia was not just mobility related though. I’ve been struggling with the kids in general over the last few days. As the end of my cycle closes in the misophonia creeps out and my tolerance levels reduce to almost zero. I’m snappy and so fatigued I can barely keep my eyes open. Meanwhile, both of my children are charging around like bulls in proverbial china shops, shouting at the top of their small-but-mighty lungs!

Parenting is hard. You don’t need a blog post to tell you that. What I will tell you is that it feels twice as hard when you’re operating on no sleep, struggling to move, and your brain is prisoner to the fluctuations of your own bodily hormones. I don’t want to muddy the waters because we really have had a lush summer. We’ve crammed in a lot and near crippled ourselves financially (and that was on a tight budget) but there are so many memories from this time we’ll keep. No matter how nice it’s been though, I know I’m not the only mum who can’t wait for routine and early nights to resume.

Another confession is that I’ve been feeling uneasy about using my disabled badge and sunflower lanyard. When attending The Libertines gig I had access to the disabled toilets so that I didn’t need to queue in long wait times for the loo. This was necessary because as mentioned - standing for long periods causes me a lot of pain! Despite the necessity I still felt as though I was being judged. Groups of men kept trying to get into the disabled toilets after me and even said the dreaded words ‘There’s nothing wrong with you’ to my face. It’s a confrontation that I just don’t want to be having whilst I’m more than capable of telling them to fuck off and stating my rights as a disabled person, I don’t want to. I instead want to be able to enjoy my night out with ease and not fear the need to defend myself against other people’s ignorance. 

Please remember that not all disabilities are visible. Not everyone whom is disabled will appear to be, and with risk of sounding really glum here, it could be you one day. None of us are immune to ill health and injury. You don’t even have to be kind if it really pains you to do so, you just have to mind your own business.

Ask Me About PMDD

Earlier this week I shared the below image to my Instagram stories and gave you the opportunity to ask me any questions you might have about PMDD.

Image used with permission from IAPMD

Having suffered with this illness for more than 20 years I feel I am equipped to answer questions relating to the condition and as a result of my own experience. However, it’s important to note I am not a medical professional and all answers are my own words, with no association to any organisations that are linked in this article. Relevant links are included so that you are able to corroborate mentioned treatment options and use diagnostic tools.

How did you obtain diagnosis?

This question came up several times, with many of you saying you had tried and failed to have PMDD accurately represented when speaking to GP’s and medical staff. In my experience from discussing PMDD within the online community I have come across similar tales and it’s one that follows a similar trajectory to that of my own experience. I first suffered from mental illness at aged 13, suicidal ideation, attempts and thoughts occurred, followed by bouts of extreme rage, panic attacks and enduring anxiety. It wasn’t until some years later I had made the connection between my feelings and my menstrual cycle. I remember seeing a GP aged around 19 when I said I believed I was suffering from a hormonal imbalance. I didn’t know at this stage that PMDD is a reaction to normal hormone fluctuations, an imbalance was my assumed interpretation. She told me all women suffered ‘some PMS symptoms’ and that there was no diagnostic blood tests that would give insight into my mental health and it’s correlation with my cycle. Since then I have seen the GP and several gynaecologists in excess of 100 times for the same problem. When I finally began to be taken seriously around age 23, my GP still referred to my condition as severe PMS. Last year aged 33, I became so unwell during pregnancy and after the birth of my son that I was hospitalised and it was only then, under psychiatric care that a psychiatrist referred to my illness as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. More recently this year when seeking further intervention privately, the Gynaecologist (whom is also head of his department in an NHS hospital) again confirmed a PMDD diagnosis.

Diagnosis is a huge relief, it allows us to stop gaslighting ourselves into believing we are raging hypochondriacs. BUT clinical diagnosis is not necessary for treatment of the condition. Your GP can advise, and treat PMDD symptoms even whilst still referring to it as PMS. If these early treatments such as lifestyle changes, hormonal birth control and SSRI’s work for you, you may never need a formal PMDD diagnosis. That’s not to say you won’t want one for your own clarity. If this is important to you, I suggest keeping on at your GP for specialist referral. If you are struggling to get a diagnosis and believe you have PMDD please head over to IAPMD for help and information on diagnostic criteria and talking to your doctor. They have an array of tools to help you cycle track and a glossary of terms that will help you explain exactly how your condition affects you see: Iapmd toolkit.

You also have fibromyalgia, do symptoms of both conditions overlap?

In short, yes. In detail, a higher percentage of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. A symptom of the condition in women can include painful and heavy periods dysmenorrhea. It’s also known that many persons living with fibromyalgia will suffer mental health problems, so it’s my opinion and personal experience that it’s fair to say symptoms overlap. PMDD can trigger a flare up in fibromyalgia pain, more prominent and prolonged fatigue, as well as sensory overload, brain fog and migraine attacks. The key difference between the two is that PMDD only occurs during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, which occurs between ovulation and menstruation. Instead, fibromyalgia symptoms can and do occur at any time during the menstrual cycle. I am often alerted to the arrival of PMDD by waves of crippling anxiety and intrusive thoughts that disappear when my period arrives. However some physical symptoms that might be triggered by PMDD end up lasting long after it’s end and will alert me to a Fibro flare up. Also with my experience of fibromyalgia, pain doesn’t ever disappear entirely. I always have some form of baseline pain. Many people also report joint pain with PMDD along with migraine attacks, these are present premenstrually as a result of PMDD and can occur and worsen at any time with fibromyalgia.

Can PMDD come on at any time in life?

Yes, it absolutely can. Some people find their PMDD starts or worsens with a reproductive event, such as menarche (which is when mine started) after pregnancy/birth or miscarriage (when mine worsened) or with the onset of perimenopause. For some it will seemingly come from nowhere. It is believed that PMDD can also be linked to genetics, childhood trauma and depression.

Is PMDD a disability?

Here in the UK, you are covered under the Equalities Act and therefore thought to have a disability if you have an impairment that is either, physical or mental and the impairment has a substantial, adverse and long term effect on your normal daily activities. Depending on the severity of your symptoms you could be covered under the act with a PMDD diagnosis. When explaining PMDD to my employer I advised how it affects me, for example: I suffer menstrual migraine attacks that leave me bed bound for days, along side extreme fatigue and joint pain. As well as this I also suffering debilitating anxiety, intrusive and suicidal thoughts and panic attacks, which make carrying out daily activities impossible. Cognitive impairment such as brain fog and an exacerbation of any underlying symptoms are also worsened with the onset of PMDD. The fact these symptoms occur every month, and last for 2 weeks makes this a long term condition with substantial impact on my life and ability to function.

Why do doctors prescribe SSRI’s for PMDD if it’s hormonal?

After diet and lifestyle changes SSRI’s are a treatment option to help manage the mood and anxiety symptoms that are present with PMDD. Whilst you may feel you aren’t depressed, some women (myself included) have found benefit in taking SSRI’s, both month round and only or double dosing during the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle.

Are palpitations a symptom of PMDD?

PMDD has many, varying symptoms. They range from severe mood alterations, to debilitating physical symptoms. I personally do experience palpitations during both ovulation and the luteal phase. I’m also extra sensitive to stimulants such as alcohol, sugar and caffeine during this time. All of which make palpitations worse and more noticeable. If palpitations are persistent it’s always best to get them checked out to rule out other possible causes, though I know many people experience them alongside profound anxiety, so if this is one of your PMDD symptoms it could also be exacerbating your palpitations.

Summary

  • PMDD is a chronic and debilitating condition with a range of symptoms that vary in severity.
  • There are a range of treatments used to treat PMDD and their effectiveness is very individual.
  • PMDD can and does exacerbate underlying conditions, this is sometimes referred to as PME (premenstrual exacerbation)
  • PMDD can occur at any time during a person’s menstruating life.

I hope this information is helpful. For more detailed and expert advice head to IAPMD where you’ll find everything you need to learn more about PMDD.

HRT to treat PMDD – Week 5

This week if I had to use 3 words to sum up my HRT experience I’d use: BLOODY, ENTHUSIASTIC and BRAVE.

Bloody

I’m still bleeding two weeks after the last time I told you I was bleeding. Which isn’t ideal. It’s not spotting either, it’s a couple of pad changes a day. The main cause for concern here is I can’t really tell what is or was my menstrual period and so I don’t know my cycle as I normally would and therefore struggle to determine how my symptoms relate to which phase. However, for now, I’ll take the blood. I don’t want to put up with it forever, of course that would become troublesome, but so far the blood I’m losing is a minor problem and is being outweighed by positive changes and more calm.

I’m also unsure whether this bleeding is related to the oestrogen gel, or the progesterone in the mirena coil as both report similar effects. It still needs noting though, because it is a troublesome symptom if it continues long term, and I don’t want to have to add an additional progestin treat it.

Enthusiastic

I chose this word because for the most part it’s how I’ve felt in the last two weeks. Potentially this suggests it’s when I’d usually be in the follicular phase, or that HRT is doing the job it was prescribed for. The trouble with me is, I am a pessimist, after decades of cyclical hell I’m almost programmed to think it can’t be working. However if I’m being honest, with both you, and myself, I have felt better, less anxious and more able to cope. It’s summer holidays -I mean if there was ever a time that was going to tip me over the edge this would be it! But I’ve managed to get out with both kids, I’ve caught up with friends (just having the energy and enthusiasm for this, is hugely positive) In the last few days I’ve suffered migraine attacks and felt fatigue and muscle pain (which I think is related more to Fibro than PMDD) and still my mood hasn’t plummeted. Moreover I’ve not been plagued with those awful intrusive thoughts. All of this, for me, is quite something!

Brave

I chose this word because I have done things I’d usually panic doing, like driving places I don’t know, on my own, and trying to get my steps up, increasing my movement. I’ve still had anxiety around doing these things, it doesn’t just disappear, but it’s anxiety in relation to normal life stuff as opposed to being crippling, as is normal during PMDD.

Gynae Appointment

I saw the gynaecologist to discuss my treatment plan and review my use of HRT. He got full marks as soon as I entered, when he thanked me for my email. I was relieved to hear that he had taken the time to read it, it was long! I explained all of my symptoms to him over the past two decades. He asked me how I cope during PMDD and I explained to him that for the most part, I don’t. Some would argue this, but I am forever calling on my mum and husband to come and help with the kids or indeed in a panic that they then have to talk me out of. I told him I’ve been in crisis so many times premenstrually that I almost feel it’s normal. That I swing from feeling like ‘I’m going mad’ to being able to cope. He fully supports a PMDD diagnosis. To be honest just hearing those words as opposed to the ‘severe PMS’ my GP always uses was such a relief that I ended up leaving in tears.

What was even more positive for me was the options he presented me with. Just finally feeling as though I have some was effectual in calming my racing mind! I’ve always known the treatment pathway, I’ve just never been able to get a doctor to consider me for the next stage before now!

We concluded that I will remain on the HRT for another few months unless I do not see any continuity with the improvement, or I experience a relapse. The next phase is chemical menopause which is induced by injection of GNRH analogues. As it’s an open referral to a private hospital, it’s left open so I can call him any time and book the next available appointment for the GNRHA shot. If I go down this route I will leave the mirena in situ and continue to use Oestrogel. I would then trial the medication for 6 months before deciding whether or not to have surgery to remove both of my ovaries and Fallopian tubes (Bilateral Salpingo Oophrectomy)

No major surprises at this appointment I knew what was to come next, I just thought I’d have to fight harder for it. Relieved to say I didn’t. The consultant explained that to obtain the injections for chemical menopause, I would need to have the first one in secondary care (Private treatment centre) and then I could be referred back to primary care to receive the injections on the NHS. This was really reassuring considering my mum paid for my appointment and I have £14 in my current account, so there’s no way I can afford private healthcare in the longterm. That said it was still worth every penny to us as a family, to enable me to have these discussions with a knowledgeable doctor whom is experienced in Premenstrual Disorders. I feel like there’s hope, and options and both of these were in short supply before my appointment.

I plan to write another blog really soon to answer questions relating to PMDD, but please remember IAPMD are the oracle when it comes to premenstrual disorders, so head on over there if you need advice, questions answered, or resources to support you.

Stream it ~ Review

I’ve watched a few series over the last few months that I’m desperate to talk (or in this case, write) about. Knowing me as you do, for those of you that have been reading DIVAMUM for a while, you’ll know my interest in TV piques and wanes often. My mum asks me every other day ‘did you watch XYZ last night?’ And I’m there like, ‘No mum, you know I don’t watch much TV’ and the reason is not because I don’t love TV, I do! The reason, is because my kids are shit at going to bed and I live with chronic fatigue, and a brain fogged mind that refuses to concentrate on anything. Oh, and also because I’ve been watching Love Island only, for the last however many weeks and falling to sleep immediately after.

Since that ended though, I’ve had to fill the pockets of time I do get with short, sweet and easy, but still interesting (otherwise I really won’t concentrate on it) watches. So what have I been watching? The below paragraphs are, in no particular order.

Everything I know about love

Everything I know About Love. 5⭐️

Dolly Alderton’s best selling memoir of the same name has been transformed and semi fictionalised for TV and I could not wait to review it.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read the book! I’m aware of the opinion of many bookish bloggers who claim not reading the book before watching a TV adaptation is sacrilegious, but I have to say I’m partial to doing it backwards. A bit like the way I love kindle and don’t obsess over or miss turning ‘real pages’ or reading with a light on. Call me a fraud if you will, but here we are. Everything I Know About Love is, in my opinion an epic watch.

Maggie (played by Emma Appleton) is a post grad, twenty four year old fresh out of uni in the early noughties and looking for excitement. She moves into her first flat with best friend Birdie (Bel Powley) along with two friends from uni, Nell and Amarah in London’s borough of Camden. The episodes are full of exactly what you’d expect… love, but not always or specifically in its conventional romantic sense. Maggie dates many men, has the craziest of nights out, frantically searches for work and her soul, eventually finding both. It’s a beautiful depiction full of warm nostalgia for halcyon days and hedonistic nights. I downloaded the book as soon as I finished watching, but I’m still yet to get past the first chapter. I’m desperately hoping they’ll be another series of this though as Maggie’s story is far from over when the closing credits roll.

Breeders Season 3

Breeders. 5⭐️

If you’re a tired parent prone to dropping the f-bomb, full of parental guilt and rage…. This is for you. A darkly comedic show that shows that side of parenting the majority of instagram’s parental users are trying to shield us from. The bottom line…. It’s fucking hard. Paul (Martin Freeman) and Ally (the wonderful Daisy Haggard) are parents to Luke and Ava whom you see grow from toddler to teens in S 1-3. The show depicts the trials and tribulations of the working parent. Mental health, marriage and menopause also feature, with S3 showing Daisy’s Ally in bits due to the national HRT shortage. A brilliantly executed storyline. Fans of Friday Night Dinner and Motherland will appreciate. For me this show is everything being a parent is, it’s fear, confusion, guilt and an abundance of love, with laughter thrown in for good measure. NB: It’s quick witted and close to the mark, not for the easily offended.

Mood

Mood. 3.5⭐️

Written by and starring Nicôle Lecky, Mood follows the life of Sasha Clay. Sasha is a twenty five year old wannabe singer recently dumped by her boyfriend Anton (Jordan Duvigneau) and kicked out of home by her parents, Sasha finds herself shit out of luck with nowhere to go, before she’s taken under the wings of ‘influencer’ and sex worker Carly Visions. Sasha’s life turns around in an instant but is it for the better? A dark and interesting look at social media and the age of the influencer. Mood also features a soundtrack written and debuted by Lecky. Eye opening if a little exaggerated in parts, Mood is wholly unique with nothing else quite like it on TV.

You Don’t Know Me

You Don’t Know Me. 4⭐️

I liked this show a lot, and the only reason I didn’t give it the full 5⭐️ is because I found it got a little drawn out and hard to follow somewhere in the middle. That being said Samuel Adewunmi who plays main character Hero sold it for me. The show follows Hero’s life and his current trial for the murder of gang member Jamil Issa. I found Hero a likeable character and I loved how the drama flits between present day courtroom and previous events, delving into gang culture and doing the right thing. I’ve read a lot of naff reviews based on the ending but I have to say, I disagree with them. The show is though provoking and the ending gets that thought process going. I thought about this drama long after I finished watching it. If you want something to pass the time before the next series of Top Boy drops; this might be for you.

Have you watched any of these? As ever, leave me a comment or get in touch to let me know what you thought about any of the shows listed in this review. 

Happy Netflix and Chill.

HRT to treat PMDD – Week 3

If I could sum up the last three weeks in three words they’d be INSOMNIA, ANXIETY, and HOPE.

Insomnia

So let’s start by telling you about the insomnia. I’m not going to sugar coat it, it’s been horrific. It began almost as soon as I started using Oestrogel and unfortunately it remains. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a HRT user yourself, menopausal, someone who thinks they may have PMDD or a PMDD sufferer. Or maybe you’re none of the above and have no previous insight into hormone replacement therapy at all… I know it can be confusing when deciding whether or not to try a new treatment, especially with how the media portray HRT as either a wonder drug (and for many it is) or a carcinogenic. But like with anything we put into our bodies, there are side effects to consider. For me, insomnia has been one of the most problematic. As a mother and someone whom lives with chronic fatigue and on occasion hypersomnia, I have found this particular symptom difficult to navigate. Mainly because, if you’ve ever lived with insomnia you’ll be aware of how it can feed into anxiety. Just how dark the depths of the night can become when sleep is evading you.

Anxiety

Since beginning HRT I’ve had loads more energy – which to some would be deemed a positive side effect. However, for me it’s not been so good, because the energy I seem to now have in surplus, is creating a quagmire of anxiety and ‘nervous tension.’ In short – I can’t relax. I’m feeling often keyed up and on edge.

A few other notable side effects have been:

  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Breakthrough bleeding – though this could be attributed to the recent mirena coil I now have in situ.

Hope

But I’m still hopeful…. Mainly because what else have we got if there’s no hope? And also because it’s very early days and adding in additional hormones was always likely to cause some symptoms particularly when you’re adding them to treat a hormone sensitivity and not necessarily a depletion as you would in menopause.

I’ve also just finished reading I BLAME THE HORMONES by Caroline Suzi Church and that gave me hope. It’s something I want to review on its own blog post, because the similarities between mine and Caroline’s PMDD trajectory are so similar, it’s more than I can possibly squeeze into a paragraph on this blog, but if you have PMDD you absolutely need to read it! Not only is it scarily accurate, a whole half of it is dedicated to treatment and self help. It really is a wonder of a book with so much insight into reproductive mental illness.

Positive changes

Finally, I need to finish by saying there have been some positive side effects, though fewer, it’s important for me to be transparent. Many people have great results using HRT and as mentioned above I am still really hopeful that I too, will get to experience more of these going forward. One positive change I’ve noticed is a reduction in the severity of my overall joint pain. Which is pretty huge considering I’m in pain almost all of the time. I’m not pain free now by any means, but my joints are beginning to allow more range of movement and I can only attribute this change to coinciding with my use of HRT. Another thing that’s improved is the horrific intrusive thoughts I was having. They are not gone altogether, but when it comes to feeling out of my mind I’ll take every single win (however small) I can get and this is one that suggests HRT could be the right direction for me.

Dear Steph – My friend had a secret abortion.

Dear Steph

My husband and I have been friends with another couple for over ten years, the female being a friend of mine from uni, which is where we both met our now husbands. We’ve been an inseparable foursome ever since and holiday together most years. My female pal told me recently she’d found out she was pregnant just after getting a promotion at work, she then went on to say she’d had an abortion while her husband was working away. I’m not against abortion, and am very much pro choice, but I find this so difficult being friends with them both! She also asked me not to tell my husband. I’ve tried to persuade her to talk to her husband but she won’t, and says he wouldn’t understand her reasons. I’m not sure I do either (understand her reasons) They are both thirty this year and have openly expressed their want for children in the past, but my friend says she just wasn’t ready this time. I feel really torn and have been avoiding her husband ever since. My own husband is even getting suspicious about why I don’t want to spend time with them. Keeping this to myself is eating me up, I don’t know what to do.

Gemma 29 Aldershot

Dear Gemma,

I don’t think you’re going to like what I have to say. In fact, I’m not sure many readers will. However, I’m going to give you my honest opinion, anyway. Before I do there are a few things to consider first. I understand you feel a sense of loyalty to both parties in the relationship and not just your female friend, in these circumstances though, I’m going to advise to refrain from making this about you. Your friend made a decision and for whatever reason, she believes that was the right decision for her. Do I think she should have told her husband? Maybe… but is it any of my business? No. Do I also believe women have the absolute and unconditional right to body autonomy? Yes. Therefore I would be a hypocrite if suggested that it was imperative she tell her husband about the pregnancy. Secondly, it’s done now and it’s highly likely that your friend is already feeling a mixed bag of emotion which possibly but not necessarily, includes guilt. Third and finally, it is absolutely none of your husband’s business. Telling your husband will only make him feel awkward and guilty for not telling his friend. I’m sorry if this sound’s harsh but I feel given what’s going on in the world in terms of abortion right now, we must support women and their decisions over what happens to their bodies. I do understand that this is a difficult situation to be in, and sometimes being a loyal and trustworthy friend will leave us feeling conflicted. Ask yourself whom would benefit from you telling anybody of your friend’s secret? It’s fine for you to express your discomfort to your friend about the situation you’re in, but I’d suggest for the time being that you don’t. Instead, give your friend a safe space to discuss her reasons with you, if and when she feels comfortable. She told you because she trusted you, I think you should honour that trust. It’s unlikely your friend is going to tell her husband you knew, but if she does, tell the truth – you wanted to tell him but realised (I hope you’ve realised) it simply wasn’t your place.

I made a mistake once of telling a friend of mine’s partner whom I was also friends with, that she was cheating on him. He didn’t believe me and neither of them have spoken to me since. They are still together and went on to get married , despite my meddling. Your friend hasn’t cheated on her husband. Yes she is keeping a secret and maybe it’s wrong of her, but that’s really not for anyone else to decide. She could have very good reason not to have told her husband and there might be things happening in their marriage you know nothing about.

Whatever you decide I wish both you and your friend, love and healing.

Steph x

HRT to treat PMDD – Week 1

What is Oestrogel?

Me holding an Oestrogel pump pack

Oestrogel is a transdermal oestrogen supplement that is used to replace lost hormones during peri menopause and menopause. It’s also less commonly used to suppress the ovarian cycle in the treatment of Premenstrual Dysphoric disorder, which happens to be what I am using it for. After twenty years and many, many attempts at treatment, including antidepressants, birth control and birth control induced cycle suppression, my symptoms have, over time, bettered and then worsened again. After giving birth to my son in 2021 and suffering severe perinatal mental illness, I noticed an increase in the severity of my PMDD symptoms. Symptoms included intrusive thoughts, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and brain fog. Along with exacerbation of physical symptoms; frequent migraine attacks, perennial fatigue, recurrent shingles outbreaks and an increase in fibromyalgia associated musculoskeletal pain. My doctor, (after some persuasion) finally got advice from gynaecology who agreed to proceed with Oestrogel as a treatment, providing I had a mirena coil fitted which contains localised progesterone to protect my uterus from hyperplasia. Please note it’s strongly advised you discuss the use of add back progesterone with your health care provider in the treatment of PMDD.

Treatment pathway for PMDD

Below is the treatment pathway for UK patients. You can find out more detailed information by visiting IAPMD or NAPS for resources.

How to apply the gel.

There are various ways to apply Oestrogel, for most women, application to the upper arms is the easiest and preferred method. I was specifically advised by my doctor not to apply above the waist due to the other health issues I have, and therefore, I apply my Oestrogel to the inner thighs, one pump to each. Rub the gel over a large area leaving a sheen on the skin and then allow to dry before getting dressed. It’s important not to apply too close the the genitals due to the absorption differences in that area, or breasts, because of the oestrogen receptors present there. I was also advised to apply the gel at roughly the same time each day.

How’s it going?

I’ve been applying this gel everyday for a week and I’ve felt pretty rubbish if I’m honest. I’ve experienced saturating night sweats, insomnia, nightmares, nausea, migraine attacks, plus prominent feelings of anxiety and agitation. However – and this is important; looking at my cycle tracker I felt the same on these days last month. Aside from the night sweats and insomnia, last month at this exact time, I reported feeling ‘keyed up’ suffered a three day migraine attack, and felt particularly unwell requiring a day off from work. I also believe some of my current anxiety could be directly related to my personal fear of negative side effects. I did ask my GP the likelihood of a worsening in symptoms upon starting the HRT, and she said it was unlikely to have a result on mood – she knows pretty much nothing about PMDD so naturally I did my own research and pulled the below reference from the late Prof John Studd’s clinic website, referring to the use of transdermal oestrogen in the treatment of PMDD:

Ovulation can also be suppressed by moderately high dose transdermal oestrogens in the form of oestradiol patches or oestradiol gel. Appropriate doses would be a 200ugs oestradiol patch or 2 or 3 doses of oestrogel twice daily. Woman may occasionally feel a little worse in the first two weeks on this high dose, like an early pregnancy, but should be advised to continue as substantial benefit is almost certain if the diagnosis is correct.

John Studd Women’s Health Clinic

I found this reference particularly relevant because I said to my husband just yesterday that I feel almost exactly like I did in early pregnancy, and that was bad!

Moving forward

There’s a fair amount of controversy about the long term use of HRT particularly for women who are not yet experiencing symptoms of menopause. That said, it’s not a short term fix either, my doctor advised I need to give the Oestrogel a minimum of three months at the current dose before deciding if it’s of benefit. So I’ll continue, and aim to update you fortnightly going forward. I also plan to save enough money to visit a private gynaecologist, because sadly as we know the NHS is not doing so great and the wait times for appointments when you’re feeling suicidal or experiencing symptoms so debilitating it’s affecting your everyday life just aren’t acceptable. If you’re wondering how I can afford this, the answer is, I can’t afford it, but nor can I continue to live through this hell. Wish me luck.

Disclaimer: Every PMDD patient will respond to treatment differently. In the writing of this blog I aim to provide an honest account of my personal experience. Although this post contains hyperlinks to official medical resources, it does not constitute medical advice. My experience is individual and yours will be too. Please see your healthcare provider to discuss all of the treatment options available to you. 

Disability Pride

Disability Pride Month can mean various things to each individual in the disabled community.

Some people may see the month as a time to celebrate their individual success and accomplishments, whereas others may celebrate the feeling of pride about being disabled.

https://www.inclusiveemployers.co.uk

Have you heard about Disability Pride? Honestly, it wasn’t until a few years into my diagnosis that I first heard of it myself. Though I think that’s because I wasn’t referring to myself as disabled back then, despite spending weeks at a time in bed, wracked with pain and requiring months and months off from work. Unable to function without help, everyday activities became once in a blue moon activities. There have been many times over the last six or so years that I’ve been too unwell to dress myself or shower. Not as a one off, but consistently for long periods of time. At times I’ve been too disabled to work and to walk. My own disability pride has arrived, but only after battling years of internalised ableism.

I was once a person that believed disabilities were -for the majority at least- visible. I believed you had to have a permanent wheelchair or an aid, a prosthetic or an obvious disfigurement to be considered disabled.

I believed if you were depressed you had to look depressed (whatever that looks like) Despite myself suffering from mental ill health since childhood, I still had this idea that mental illness meant being obviously and outwardly ‘crazy.’ (I use this term to poke fun at my own misconceptions and it is not intended to cause offence.)

I’m here today to say, I was wrong. Not only was this way of thinking disrespectful to minority groups including those with disabilities, it was wholly inaccurate, and it was disrespectful to myself. I spent a lifetime playing down my own experiences, symptoms and health issues, because there was no way I was possibly suffering as much as someone else. But there’s an issue with the notion that other people have it worse and therefore we must ‘suck it up’ and the issue is that it’s harmful. It’s harmful because it attempts to invalidate a person’s suffering. Someone will always have it worse, we know this without a doubt, but to apply that to a person’s suffering (including your own) leaves us open to discrimination, feelings of shame and guilty whilst also furthering to escalate mental health issues.

Disability pride means celebrating all disabled persons regardless of the severity of their disability or it’s visibility. Not everyone who becomes disabled will remain so forever, though many people with chronic and ongoing illnesses will be impacted enough by their conditions to be considered disabled.

You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

https://www.gov.uk/definition-of-disability-under-equality-act-2010

My battle with internalised ableism is an ongoing one. Despite feeling more comfortable, open and able to discuss my health and it’s effects on my life, I still feel some guilt around doing so. I feel as if I am seen to be attention seeking if I tell the truth about how my illnesses affect me. There’s a real crossover between being positive and not focusing on all of the things you can’t do, and downplaying symptoms to appear more positive to the outside world.

In 2020 around 20% of the working population reported disabilities. This number, though higher than previous years, is still disproportionately low, considering more than 1 in 5 of us are affected by disabilities in the UK. It is unfortunately more likely that disabled people don’t feel able or comfortable disclosing their disability to their employers. Disability pride is a great way to celebrate disabled people for whom we are. As well as raise awareness, and shine a spotlight on discriminations such as the disability pay gap and lack of world wide accessibility in the work place.

The purpose of DP is to highlight that a disability can have a significant impact on a person’s life, whatever the cause and regardless of its visibility. It also encourages more people to be proud of their disabilities. Perhaps you’re like me, and find it hard to pride yourself on things that have felt traumatic, debilitating and painful. Or perhaps you are proud of how far you’ve come, in spite of, or alongside your disabilities. Perhaps, you’re just proud you’ve managed to stay alive. And that’s ok too.

Disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, and 3 times as likely to be economically inactive

https://www.scope.org.uk/media/disability-facts-figures/
Disability Pride Flag
The charcoal background – to represent those in the community who have been subjected to ableist violence, as well as representing protest in the community.
The “band/road” shape – represents how disabled people face barriers and have to navigate their life according to them. The different colours in the shape represent the creativity in navigating life, and how the community is breaking free from stigmatisation.
The colours – represent the various experiences and needs (mental illness, developmental disability, invisible disabilities, physical disabilities and sensory disabilities) in the disabled community.

There are many ways you can still get involved in disability pride month. Sharing on social media, writing your story, and talking to your employer about supporting disability pride, are all great places to start.

Dear Steph – I’m afraid my partner will cheat on me.

Dear Steph,

I’m in a new relationship with a great guy. I’ve been dating him for seven months, we met through work and have been inseparable since. The relationship is moving fast and we’ve already talked about moving in together. But I’m so insecure, every-time he goes out with his friends I’m convinced he’s cheating on me. We’re both 28 and my last relationship was two years ago. My ex who I thought was the love of my life cheated, and it killed me. I know my new partner is already getting fed up of some of my comments about his social life, but I can’t stop myself from saying them or feeling jealous when he’s out…. I even feel insecure when he’s at work or the gym. I know how this’ll sound and I am embarrassed, but I feel so paranoid when we’re not together. I don’t text him all the time when he’s out, but the next day I’m so stressed about what he might have been up to, that I avoid talking to him altogether sometimes. He’s never given me any reason to doubt his loyalty to me but he is a lad’s lad. He’s getting annoyed with me over my ‘jealously’ what can I do?

Emma – Swindon Uk

Dear Emma,

I’m sorry you’re feeling like this. I’ve been there; and don’t doubt that almost every woman I know has at some point in time been where you are also. You probably already guessed what my advice is going to be, and that is to start unpacking the insecurities that have embedded because of the infidelity with your ex. Whether that be with a therapist, or with yourself. Jealousy and fear are like mould in a relationship, it starts off as the odd spec but if you don’t treat it, it grows at a rapid pace. Before you know it, your whole house is covered in rot. You obviously, though not unsurprisingly, have some trust issues. But your new man isn’t your ex, and it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect him to be penalised for someone else’s mistake. I myself have trust issues, mainly from a fear of abandonment, and I’ve been in relationships that have torn me inside out wondering ‘what if.’ When I met my now husband, I was forever waiting for him to let me down. And on occasion he has, and it’s likely will again, because he’s human. I had to learn to trust him regardless. What I’m trying to say is, your partner might fuck up by staying out late with the lads or forgetting to text you back, but that doesn’t mean he’s being unfaithful. I suggest being honest about how you’re feeling with your partner. You may find that rather than making him want to run a mile, it’ll help him understand and for you both to learn to compromise. You might worry that being honest with him will push him away, but your snide comments and avoiding him when your pissed off, is likely to do so much faster than an honest conversation will. It’s normal to fear history repeating itself, but moving in together is a huge step that requires a lot of trust. You don’t want to be the girl that goes through his phone and smells his shirts after nights out. That’s no fun for either of you. Talk to him now, explain that you have trust issues but you understand they aren’t his issues, and you want to work on them. Chances are he will be able to both reassure you and help you work through them. From experience I can promise you that any work you do on yourself to overcome this cycle of insecurity will pay dividends. Break the cycle now. I’ve included some links to organisations that may be able to offer you some support. In Swindon you can also self refer to talking therapies who provide free cognitive behavioural therapy, which focuses on changing the thought process and can be particularly useful if you have a specific anxietywhich in your case seems to be around trust, and probably also self esteem that was shattered by your exes betrayal.

Relate

IAPT self referral (talking therapies)

I also found this book which may be of some use to you. Insecure In Love By Leslie Becker-Phelps and it’s available to buy on Amazon.

Wishing you all the best, Emma. Acknowledging that you have these issues is the first step to overcoming them and being happy.

Steph x

Be Weird Be Wild Be Wonderful ~ Review

Got a preschooler who loves to explore? A baby under six months that is fascinated by their surroundings but still limited with movement? A tornado crawler? A toddler? If you answered yes to any of the above BWBWBW will surpass your play expectations. Situated in East Bristol’s Longwell Green suburb, occupying an old shop space with free parking, it’s a play hub like no other.

The hub is open plan so wherever you are you can see your little person playing safely

If like me you dread soft play and get jittery just thinking about joining a baby group Be Weird Be Wild Be Wonderful is the perfect alternative to both. Roomy, open plan interiors and infinite open ended play resources, even an indoor sandpit, the play hub offers an ideal space for your little ones to roam free and explore safely. Possibly what’s even more special about this place is that they offer proper coffee in childsafe cups! That’s right, you can crawl about with your little ones and get your caffeine hit whilst it’s still hot. Teas and coffees are served in flasks with closed lids, making it much harder for your little one to come into contact with any hot liquid, yet miles easier for you to be able to enjoy a hot beverage. The perfect place for a Mother’s meeting too, aka a catch up with your bestie, where you can chat away freely whilst your babies safely enjoy all the hub has to offer. And there’s a lot on offer. Areas of imaginative play include a dress up station full of vintage treasures. An outside space to enjoy the summer months. A corner den lit up with twinkling fairy lights with hanging shower loofahs posing as pom poms. Giant teddy bears and a monochrome section, sure to peak your child’s imagination whatever their age.

Kaiser is a huge fan of the metallics and spends ages with the sensory bottles

Down the middle of the hub is a huge tube ready and waiting to have wooden cars and balls launched down its innards, enticing laughter and repetitive delight from the little people.

In our favourite corner – the black and white area

The hub also sports a café so you can grab a cake with your coffee, or feed your little’n lunch so they’re nice and full in time for a nap on the way home.

The hub is designed for children aged under five, from tiny babies and beyond.

To access the play hub, booking is essential and can be done quickly and easily online via the website. Also on offer are classes including mother and baby fitness, and creative Little Pumpkins Play Time along with scheduled events for all of the family. The hub is run by early years specialists and all staff have the passion and knowledge required to bring out creativity, and inspire imagination in tiny brains. And if all of that isn’t enough to prompt a visit, they also have a range of items available to purchase from local small businesses. All products on offer -which include clothing, toys and child essentials- have been tried and tested by the hub’s staff.

Kaiser and I have recently purchased a membership which allows us to visit the hub for everyday play sessions as many times as we like, for just £18 a month. Usual pricing for everyday play is £4 per child and £2 per adult, so even if you only manage to go once a week, you’re still saving a tidy £6 a month with a membership.

Give the hub a follow on Instagram to stay up to date with all their latest goings on.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #17

It feels as though the last week has been littered with extremes. I have felt full all the emotions. Health has been quite poor, a migraine attack the weekend saw me in bed for three days. The longest I have been out of action for a while. To make matters worse I was due to be out with mum and friends yesterday and had to cancel. I’ll never get over the sinking feeling of firstly, having to let people down, and secondly, serious fomo at having your life made smaller because of illness.

I’m waiting for a call from the doctor regarding my referral for a more detailed treatment plan for PMDD. At the moment despite taking medication and birth control I seem to have fallen back into a fortnightly switch. Meaning, I get two goodish weeks, and two that set me on fire with the flames of hell. (Not an exaggeration) My anxiety has been so palpable the last two weeks, coming at me in waves, and I’ll confess, there’s been a few incidences where I’ve felt really terrified, again. Terrified that all it’s going to take is that one hormonal cycle that tips me over the edge and into madness. For those of you that think I’m already over that edge… Hun, you have no idea!

A few things have been niggling at me for a while – like Kaiser’s birthday and feeling some panic around what I remember from hospital and his birth. Those feelings of insanity and desperation- and PMDD seems to bring those niggles into the spotlight. I’ve tried again to write Kaiser’s birth story but it just too painful and triggering for me to go back there, it’s also too long! So much happened in those ten days I was in hospital, every-time I think I’ve told the story, I remember more, and it’s mostly hell.

Another thing PMDD does, is make my physical health so much harder to manage. This week I’ve had hives, migraine attacks, nausea, all over body pain in the extreme, and profound fatigue like someone has pulled the plug on my body and it cannot function until it’s recharged, which isn’t as easy as just getting some rest, when you’re a mum!

I think I mentioned quite recently that I’ve been working really hard on trying to be more consistent with my blog. I’ve also had a couple of other writing projects in the pipeline. I’ve had a few rejections too, which have been quite hard for me to move past. Not because I think I’m better than I am, but because it takes so much energy to be creative that when it doesn’t pay off as you hoped it would, it can be disappointing in a much more personal way. As I said, hormones don’t help my mood and undeniably influence how I perceive rejection whilst in luteal. It’s funny though, I’m writing this today after a hellish migraine, and there’s some pattern to me feeling a need to write after an attack. I have no idea if there’s any scientific evidence to suggest the brain becomes more focused after migraine, but for me, it seems fitting.

It’s been mentioned to me that I seem fixated with my hormones lately. And looking back at my last few COACIM it would appear to be true, I am fixated. However, I don’t think it’s just lately. I’ve always been obsessed with them, because of their insurmountable affect on my life. But I will confess again, that since having Kaiser they have felt magnified and I am both distraught and fascinated at how the fluctuations of hormones affect me (and one in twenty other women, too.) It’s hugely important for me to raise awareness of hormones and their effects on health, mental health in particular. So this is one fixation that’s here to stay. So much so, my next blog post is going to be about why you should track your menstrual cycle.

Also this week, I spoke to Enable magazine about living with Fibromyalgia and the impact of the condition. The lack of support during covid, for people in chronic pain, along with the changes to NICE guidelines and the prescribing of pain relief. The publication hasn’t gone live yet, so I don’t know how accurately I’ve been quoted, but when it does I’ll definitely share.

Finally, the kids…. Kaiser has been having tummy troubles since transitioning to cows milk and this has further affected his already crap sleep. And Ciara, well, she’s been her own kind of emotional. She is such a good kid, but communicating with her can be difficult at times. I notice she isn’t like me in my directness, she can hold back and that can make me panic, thinking there could be something going on she isn’t telling me about. However I also know, I need to learn not to push her too hard, together we are navigating this new stage and trying to respect each other’s feelings. It’s a whole new world, and finally I’m about to say something I never normally do…. She’s growing up too fast!

All in all, I’d say this has been a below par seven days. Life has felt harder, but in keeping with trying to retain some positivity, I am confident it will improve again soon. For now though I’ll leave you with some pics of the kids, because they may be enough to cheer someone who may have also had a shit week, up!

Almost one, not a fan of the sun 🌞
We chose to visit a man made beach on the coldest day of the week

Reasons You Should Track Your Menstrual Cycle

One of the things I get asked occasionally when discussing PMDD and how I manage it, is how I track my menstrual cycle. Now, I know, as a writer, I should probably favour good old fashioned pen and paper, but instead I prefer to use an app. It’s quick and easy, and all the information you need is available at your fingertips. I’ll go into more detail about which app I use and why, shortly, but first a few reasons why you should track your menstrual cycle.

THE WHY IF YOU HAVE A PREMENSTRUAL DISORDER….

There are many reasons why you might wish to start tracking your menstrual cycle, or maybe you haven’t been considering it previously at all. Either way, here’s a few core points as to why you might start. Not all of them are relevant to PMDD, but if you do have PMDD see this as a reminder that in order to gain access to adequate treatment, and or diagnosis, you really need to have tracked your cycle for a minimum of two months (or two previous cycles.)

The reason being, cycles as we know, change, with hormones fluctuating regularly. When living with PMDD specifically I would (personally) recommend cycle tracking to have taken place for a minimum of three to six months. Because, as a consequence of hormone fluctuations, symptoms will too fluctuate and it’s important, for diagnostic purposes, to note the severity in symptoms and whether they occur frequently or ad hoc. It’s also useful for you individually to note how long your PMDD episodes last, their impact on your life, and whether normal every day activities are compromised. PMDD doesn’t only come with psychological symptoms, despite it being a hormone based mood disorder. Many persons with PMDD also experience a range of more prominent physical symptoms than those with PMS. And all of that’s without really delving into the influence they have on our moods and mental health. IAPMD recently published a study showing that an alarming 34% of persons with a menstrual disorder such as PMDD will attempt suicide. If you have been feeling depressed, anxious or dealing with intrusive thoughts, see a health care provider as soon as possible and start cycle tracking. It’s a really useful tool in determining if your symptoms could be related to, or be exacerbated by hormonal changes and your period.

THE WHY IF YOU HAVE A NORMAL CYCLE….

If you’re someone who has never experienced menstrual health issues, you might be wondering why you’d bother to track your menstrual cycle. Surely if your period arrives like clockwork every month with minimal impact on your life, cycle tracking is an unnecessary chore? Well…not necessarily. The purpose of tracking your menstrual cycle is a personal one, but many people still want to get ahead of aunt Flow’s monthly visit, and keeping track is a great way to do it. You may be planning a holiday in advance and having tracked your cycle for the last few months is more likely to give you an accurate prediction of when a future cycle is likely to end and your period start. You may be keen to learn when you’re likely to ovulate. Again, this is more likely to be accurate if you are regularly keeping track of when you bleed. Many people now use cycle tracking as a medicinal birth control alternative, as well as when planning pregnancy. Perhaps your period has always been regular but now isn’t. Could you be pregnant? Is it peri menopause or even menopause itself? You might also be experiencing symptoms that you are completely unaware could be caused or exacerbated by hormonal fluctuations. Did you know common illnesses such as colds and sort throats can also be caused by hormonal changes including being premenstrual? Learn more about ‘period flu’ here. It’s even possible you’ve developed random hives, or your hay-fever is much worse. When you are cycle tracking though, looking back at the calendar you can pinpoint when this is likely to occur in future and potentially prevent the impact. Perhaps your migraine attacks have worsened or increased despite avoiding your usual triggers. Aches and pains have been bothering you, and fatigue is something you’ve been sure is just ‘normal tiredness’ but has become overwhelming recently.

Hormones affect so much of our bodily functioning and have the power to better or worsen how we feel much of the time. Without tracking your cycle it’s simply impossible to know if physical symptoms you could be putting down to everyday problems, are actually linked to hormonal fluctuations, imbalances, sensitivities, and in some cases more serious illnesses such as PMDD, endometriosis or poly-cystic ovarian syndrome and even some cancers.

HOW DO I TRACK MY CYCLE?

There are infinite ways you can cycle track. Of course, as previously mentioned, good old fashioned pen and paper AKA a wall calendar or diary, will suffice. Just be sure to be consistent with diarising your symptoms and how they affect you. Specific menstrual health diaries are available to purchase on Amazon too.

The reasons I personally choose to track using an app are: it’s quicker, you can set reminders to prompt you to log symptoms, and even add medication prompts on some. Ovulation prediction is easier via an app too, it does it for you based on your previous two cycles. The App I use and have always used is simply called Period Tracker and is free via AppStore it has all the above features and also includes a place to diarise what’s going on, or leave yourself notes. Other common favourites seem to be FitBit and using your phone’s built in calendar, adding emojis to describe mood and notes for symptoms. There are so many to choose from though, plenty of options to make finding the one that works best for you easy!Typing in key words such as menstruation or period in your preferred App Store will allow you to see which ones are available on your device. As ever the infinite wealth of resources available via IAPMD is also a fantastic place to start. They have a self screen tool for people who feel their symptoms could be related to PMDD or PME. Diagnostic criteria and advice as well as symptom tracker sheets specifically designed for PMDD. You can access all of their resources via this link

I personally use a cycle tracker to prevent, reflect, prepare and manage my periods and their impact on my life and abilities. It helps me understand why I might be feeling a certain way and is also a useful tool when presenting symptoms to healthcare professionals. Good luck, ‘appy tracking!

Disclaimer: Everything mentioned in this post, including the links and suggestions, are my own personal experiences, opinions and preferences, and are not affiliated in any way with the websites or brands mentioned.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #16

So much can change in a week. Such as estrogen dissolving as fast as an effervescent pill. Or progesterone over egging the pudding and ballsing up those chemical reactions, more catastrophically than Walter White on his first cook. I’m speaking in metaphors because I’m bored of saying the same thing about how I feel being attributed to hormones. My boredom doesn’t make it any less true though.

This week I’ve felt my patience being stretched and my rage reaction time quickening. My body has shown signs of a flare up in similarly dramatic fashion.

Aside from that though, there have been good things happening too, and as is the new and improved version of myself; I want to concentrate on those. Not because I’m feeling overly positive, but because I am trying to extract the positive from days when there feels like there hasn’t been any.

On Saturday I wrote a caption on Instagram that saw me confessing to finding parenting both of my children, whilst alone and with physical limitations, really fucking hard.

The reason for the post wasn’t even so much about the kids, but more in relation to how I feel about myself and my disabilities. I know they are there, I know how much they impact me, and you all know, because I write about it. However, in my everyday life I find myself playing down how bad things get sometimes, because I’m worried about what other people might think. Or even sometimes because I do go as far as gaslighting myself and telling myself that I’m the problem, rather than the fact that my being unwell, is the problem. I compare myself to other mothers, as many of us do, but I compare myself to healthier more able mothers, and that is not a fair comparison. Being kinder to myself and remembering that I have limitations is an important part of healing. Even if that healing must occur every luteal phase, every flare up in chronic pain, with every migraine attack, I must remember it’s not my fault.

After I posted the above to Insta I packed up a picnic for Ciara and I, leaving the boys at home and we went out to meet up with our friends. A girly afternoon in the woods was exactly what was needed to distract myself from overthinking, to calm down and get some reprieve from the noise and the chaos of being home alone with both children earlier that morning. It did wonders for my mood in lots of ways and was great bonding time for Ciara & I. We made a den in the woods and ate chocolate cakes and cold pizza slices from tinfoil. Ciara climbed trees and used her imagination whilst I got to sit and have a moan to a friend. It was therapy, and simultaneously a reminder that these are things I need when I’m not feeling great. When I’m overwhelmed and unable to fight through the mental and emotional fog of everyday life. I need to take a break, get outside, force myself out the door and just enjoy being away from my phone pinging a comparison inducing notification every 75 seconds.

That little outing also reminded me, it’s ok to not love every second of motherhood. Reiterating to me that my not loving every second of motherhood, has no bearing on my love of being a mother. Which is an insurmountable amount of love. I just needed the quiet time to be able to reflect on that.

Outdoorsy but make it chill
Unless you’re six, then make it fun.

This coming week I have a lot going on in general ‘life stuff’ terms, and I need to remind myself of the things that soothe me when my mental health, hormones, or physical ailments are drip feeding their steady dose of hell into my body.

Do you have a go to self soothe aid? During therapy last year, one of the first things the psychologist advised me to do was to create a self soothe kit. I plan to write about this in more detail in a new blog, but until then, do share your personal self soothe favourites – but keep it clean! 😜

A novel for the migraineur

As someone who identifies as disabled, living with several debilitating chronic illnesses, I am forever searching my beloved books for representation of such characters. Until now I’ve been yet to find a protagonist whom is presented as disabled and humble. A character doing things along side of their disability, as opposed to in spite of. So many portrayals of disability can come across as though everyone living with one should be more productive, and offering accurate representation of invisible yet life limiting chronic illness, is paramount for awareness. Fiction writers are getting better at being more inclusive, particularly with mental health in narratives, but many are still falling short on the disability front. It’s a hard balance to strike when wanting to write exciting plot twists, but including a realistic representation of disabled or mentally unwell characters. What tends to happen is, a disabled character may get a side part in an able bodied person’s story. Or a mentally unwell character might end up being the villain in an attempt to emphasise the extremity of an illness, but I’m pleased to say, not in this book.

Seven Days In June by Tia Williams is a tale, written with grit and heart. Honestly, I devoured it, what a marvel! A book that really inspires the likes of me, a chronically sick, wannabe author.

Eva Mercy is a single mother and bestselling erotica writer who is feeling pressed from all sides. Shane Hall is a reclusive, enigmatic, award-winning novelist, who, to everyone's surprise, shows up unexpectedly in New York.

When Shane and Eva meet at a literary event, sparks fly, raising not only their buried traumas, but also the eyebrows of the Black literati. What no one knows is that fifteen years earlier, teenage Eva and Shane spent one crazy, torrid week madly in love. While they may be pretending not to know each other, they can't deny their chemistry - or the fact that they've been secretly writing to each other in their books through the years.

Over the next seven days, amidst a steamy Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect - but Eva's wary of the man who broke her heart, and wants him out of the city so her life can return to normal. Before Shane disappears though, she needs a few questions answered . . .

What the blurb doesn’t tell you, is:

Protagonist Eva Mercy lives with the (often invisible) disability, migraine. The pages dedicated to her illness are raw, heart wrenching and honest, despite their fictional nature. Eva is a complex character and Williams is a perfect story teller. Offering up a window into the life of a young disabled mother. Not only is Eva a disabled person but a talented author, mother and sexual human being, too! Real life with migraine is often painkillers and dark rooms and this book captures that, even down to triggering smells and ‘face melting’ pain. It also tells the full story, the story of a woman with complex emotions, sexual desires, ambition and drive, that is often hindered by migraine attacks. As is her ability to parent and participate in loving relationships. It links trauma which is so often the catalyst to a life of chronic pain. But includes subtext, relating to mental health and teenage mistakes, drug abuse and even parental neglect.

A Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick

If I had to rate this book in stars I’d give it a full house simply based on the mention of migraine, and the debilitating nature of their attacks. However, I’m giving it a 4.5, and the reason I hold back the full five, is that the plot itself, whilst raunchy, does teeter over the edge into contemporary romance. If happy endings aren’t your bag, this book may not be for you. What I will say, is the road to happiness is portrayed with honesty, stubbornness and heart. Bonus, it’s a relatively short read that isn’t clunky to digest.

Praise for Tia Williams. You have a new fan!

Buy Online at Amazon now