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A Fatigue Flare

A fatigue flare is debilitating.
Its life changing.
It comes at a time when you are already struggling with chronic life.
It’ll replace the insomnia.
Four hours of sleep a night will be replaced by twelve.
And even then you could sleep more.
Naps last four hours.
You are horizontal on the sofa when you’re awake.
You’ll lose your appetite.
You’ll feel persistently sick.
You’ll have to drink with a straw.
Noises are too loud, smells too strong, lights too bright.
Showers are impossible, and don’t even think about washing your hair.
Cleaning your teeth becomes a dreaded chore.
And work, oh work, how your body will cope you will never know.
But you’ll make it, just.
It’s about asking for lifts home from work.
Then getting into bed without removing your make-up.
It’s about asking for help with dressing and putting on pyjamas.
It’s about your favourite company becoming your cat.
Because you can’t hold a conversation.
Or string a sentence together.
You can’t find the right words.
Questions are unbearable.
Thinking hurts.
You’ll watch re-runs of your favourite shows.
Because you can’t handle new themes or stories.
YouTube becomes too busy.
Twitter and Instagram overwhelming.
Just at a time when you need your online chronic illness community most.
You’ll become to unwell to communicate with them.
Everything hurts from your fingers to your toes.
It’ll hurt to sit, and hurt to lie down.
You’ll take more medications, you’ll feel even more sick.
You’ll be too exhausted to feel sorry for yourself.
But never too exhausted to feel afraid.
You’ll have no choice but to wait it out.
Eventually it’ll pass.
You’ll go back to your normal exhaustion, the normal fatigue.
Insomnia will return.
Naps will be two hours.
And you’ll be able to hold a conversation again.
Until the next time it returns, like a rug being gently pulled from beneath you.
You’ll fall back into bed, and begin the process all over again.

 

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Disability Pride Brighton

Before we get started, lets clear one thing up. This is DISABILITY Pride, no requirement to identify as LGBTQ+ required, although of course, that’s absolutely fine, I can personally vouch for that! So many people I’ve spoken to or heard about thought the event was for disabled LGBTQ+ people, but it was for all disabled people, friends, families, carers, assistance and pet dogs included.

The wonderful organiser decided to set the event up after an awful experience her own disabled daughter had out and about in Brighton (read here) and it was held on the same day as New York and Italian Disabled Pride. It was a small, but action packed and incredibly eye opening event. In addition to the event Brighton Dome also held an interactive exhibition on invisible disabilities (find out more here)

My wife and I both attended and had a brilliant, if not emotional, afternoon together. I promptly got glitter painted on to my face (which I am still finding in the house, and at work, now) and headed over to Lunch Positive Community Cafe for a tasty bruschetta and possibly the most delicious fudge cake we’ve ever eaten. There were inspirational speeches, live music, and a community area where there were a few charities we managed to have a chat to. We also bumped in to a couple delightful Dog A.I.D. pooches again and had a brief cuddle or three. There was plenty of space to chill out and step away from the madness, and I felt more than comfortable using Sticky (unique I know!) to help me get around.

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Just around the corner from the event is Brighton Dome, a beautiful old building which house the Hidden Project exhibition. It was an interactive display of art based around invisible illnesses. I’ll let you check out the photos below and the website for full details. It was an evocative and emotional experience for both myself and my wife who also has health concerns. The most poignant part of the exhibition was a video which actually brought me to tears. I was sat in the middle of the room full of people engaging with the exhibition crying my eyes out because one of the people on the video, Robbie, summed up what I’ve been trying to find the words for for years. He explained how he wanted people to see the old Robbie, and how he wanted that person back. all I can say is thank goodness for sunglasses! I also managed to do a bit of fangirling as I spotted a blogger I follow, Natasha Lipman, on the wall.

I’ll stop rambling for now and let you enjoy the exhibition through the photos I managed to take of each exhibit.

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Finally the short afternoon came to an end but we had to take half an hour sitting on cosy seats in a cafe before I felt up to travelling home.

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Last but not least, a few useful links in from the day:

Southdown Housing

Brighton & Hove LGBT Disabled Group – contact daniel.cheesman@switchboard.org.uk

Disabled People Against Cuts

Possability People

No Holds Barred Circus/Performance Group

Hidden Project

Brighton Buses Accessibility Guide 

 

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Overdoing It

Chronic illness is a funny old thing (not as in haha funny, as I’m sure you’ll understand if you’re reading this!). Sometimes you can do nothing and feel absolutely awful as if you’ve run a marathon then had the remainder of life sucked out of you by a Dementor, Harry Potter style. Other times you have the luxury of doing a little bit more than usual and feeling ok, no post extertional malaise days later, you just keep on plodding along. And then there is actually overdoing it and your mind and body punishing you for it as if to make sure you never leave the house again.

Last week I worked a couple of extra hours, had to get to the vet with my kitty cat (old lady check and essential vaccines) and like an idiot decided to book a ticket to the (very) local book discussion at a book store to see my favourite writer, horticulturist, and all round awesome woman.

Extra hours worked, no more than two I might add, lifts to and from work all week by my wonderful team of colleagues and friends I was doing ok-ish. Getting to the vets with my wife which is five minutes away wasn’t too troublesome. But as we were sitting in there waiting for the nurse to find the kitty blood pressure cuff (by the way the cutest thing in history – see here), that feeling came over me, as if someone had pulled the plug out and I needed to lie down immediately. I couldn’t string a sentence together, support my own body weight – thank goodness for the kind nurse who brought in chairs – or feel like I was going to be able to keep my eyes open. When that feeling hits I feel like I could collapse at any given minute, something which thankfully has only happened once and luckily I made it to my sofa in time. As soon as we made it home my wife helped me put my pjs on and I made it to bed, tramadol, a bottle of water and a very upset kitty cat for company. I slept solidly for three hours.

As the week went on I became more and more anxious. My generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) has no known trigger but tiredness makes it so much worse. I couldn’t face the book talk, could I. At the last minute I awoke from a nap just in time to slowly get ready and get the bus which thank god is only five stops and door to door. Disability pass in hand I bagged a front seat and the driver waited until my backside had hit the itchy nylon cushion. Alys Fowler is a true hero of mine, she inspired me to garden when I was housebound for almost three months with the onset of GAD, got me obsessed with growing my own fruit, vegetables and cut flowers, study floristry and she writes an awesome book. I got the lift to the third floor, folded up Little Johnny and made it just in time. For that short period of time I forgot about being ill in the intimate setting of the small discussion and enjoyed myself more than I have in a while. Everyone I told bar my parents said I need to get out more and am too young to watch a horticulturist impart her life wisdom in my spare time, but I’m so glad I braved it and made it. My hair may have been a disaster, make up smeared around my eyes post nap, but I didn’t care, and neither did Alys when I had the opportunity to chat with her.

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Next comes the weekend. A time to have luxurious lie ins, wander about the local area (I live in Brighton’s iconic area of coloured terraced houses and steep streets), eat great food and meet friends. Er no! My so called lie in woke me at 3am Saturday morning so dizzy I had to hold onto the wall when popping to the loo, lie down in stages as my head was swirling as if I’d drank one too many bottles of wine, and of course, couldn’t get back to sleep. Dizziness to this extent is reserved for times when I have seriously overdone it. I assume this means going to the vets and sitting down to watch a 45 minute book discussion. Really living it large! The dizziness intensified and waned throughout the day depending on how close I was to my next nap and all hopes of cooking delicious healthy food went out the window for a takeaway. I felt as if I was floating all day, was nauseous and a strange pale shade of grey that matched the dark circles under my eyes. I fell asleep on the sofa, awoke as dawn broke and spent the next few hours waking up every half hour. Exhausted and still dizzy I gave in at 9am and made myself a cup of tea. Unable to get to sleep for a nap I decided to get out my notebook/laptop and write this blog.

Tomorrow the cycle begins again, my alarm will go off and my incredibly boring, sedate, yet exhausting routine starts all over again…

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Coast and Countryside

My wife recently spent some time with her parents north of London so my friend and I saw it as a perfect time to hop in Suzie Smart Car and have a gentle wander in the countryside. We ended up somewhere between Woodingdean and Rottingdean in the Brighton suburbs, a place called Happy Valley that holds the mystery of an unsolved murder from decades ago. Not so happy it seems. It was a mixture of bleak countryside, coastline and microclimates, a very eclectic place indeed.

We saw numerous butterflies I am yet to identify, heard the chirping of birds that I certainly didn’t recognise from my Midlands birdwatching days, got trapped in what felt like a field of thistles and discovered a narrow fallen woodland. All in all a good Sunday afternoon with great company

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The gate that takes you from the chaos of Brighton into freedom.

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Barbed wire surrounded us everywhere we went.

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Perhaps the tiniest poppy in Sussex.

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The only butterfly that kept still long enough to photograph it.

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Roots clinging to the ground.

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Upturned trees pulling the chalk out the ground with them.

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This doesn’t do the sea view justice.
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Beautiful Birmingham

Every June around my birthday I go back to Birmingham to spend a few days with my parents, see friends and to relax. This year I was extra lucky as not only as it warm and sunny, but I managed to spend some of my birthday (which was also father’s day) with my parents. We enjoyed tea in the sunshine while laughing at old memories before I left, first class train tickets in hand (and a bag of lovely pressies from my parents and friend)

I was definitely in need of a break when the visit home came around. Although my fatigue and pain tend to be less intense in the hot weather, I have a more general ongoing feeling of exhaustion. A couple of the afternoons we all read until we fell asleep and I had glorious two hour naps. My parent’s have a beautiful garden that blooms all year round and I couldn’t resist but take lots of snaps, especially around dusk with the gorgeous sunsets. We also visited a local park to feed the ducks bird seed and meal worms where a goose stuck it’s head up my dress and pecked my camera. Luckily I escaped unharmed!

Here are some of my favourite photos of the garden and park. I know in years to come I will look back at these photos with a smile and remember all the great moments of this long, lazy weekend.

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Climbing Elm Grove

I’ve lived in Brighton at the bottom of a mile long steep hill for six years. Until recently I had no idea of the views from the top as it is too far and steep to walk and buses are infrequent. Today we hopped in Suzie Smart Car and went to check out the views. On one side you can see nothing but greenery and the sea beyond, the other the lined streets of coloured houses in Brighton and the curve of the Sussex coastline. We were surround by the sound of grasshoppers, birds and the gentle breeze in blowing through the leaves. The roadside was lined with plants and flowers. These photos do not do the view justice, but I had to share them to tempt you to the top of Elm Grove.

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Raystede Animal Sanctuary – Sussex

My wife and I have recently bought a car. The car of my dreams, a lifelong wish – a Smart Car. She’s called Suzie, and last weekend we went on our first drive out in her to the countryside, roof down, wind in my hair (not like the movies, I looked like Donald Trump when we got home!). We’ve wanted to visit Raystede for many years but a two hour trip on public transport wasn’t going to happen, it’s less than half an hour from our house in the car! Animals and wildlife are such great therapy if you suffer from any kind of health problem or are just in need of a destress, so we probably couldn’t have picked a better time to go. We spent time being nuzzled by horses, followed by geese, shouted at by moorhens and shown off to by the resident male turkey. Its wheelchair and disability friendly too.

Raystede are such an important and wonderful charity,. They rescue up to 750 battery hens every year, many of which never regrow their feathers, re-home every kind of fluffy animal you can imagine and provide wonderful habitats for wildlife such as hedgehogs and bats, and havens for insects and birds alike. If you are ever in Sussex I would strongly recommend a drive into the glorious countryside to pay this fantastic centre a visit.

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A Day With Fibro and ME (Vlog)

Whilst I will never be a filming profession, hand in my notice to my day job and become a full time YouTuber, or even create anything remotely entertaining, I have had the desire of late to create a video that shows what my typical day off is like.  And so my first video (click the link here) was born. I taught myself to edit in half an hour, spent hours trying to put cover music on it and even longer braving the set as ‘public’ button. So for those of you who are interested (don’t feel obliged) here is my first ever edited video.

It mainly shows me drinking tea, having a rest and sitting with a very protective nurse Trinny on my lap. I hope you enjoy it.

Karen x

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Daily Routine With Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS

My daily routine is far from what it used to be before I became unwell. I can’t do most of my hobbies now (gardening/baking/long walks/running) because they are just too painful and exhausting. I work part time, have had to give up my studies with The Open University, rarely cook a decent meal, and spend most of my time at home resting with a cup of tea, a pile of unread magazines and books (in the hope I will be able to muster up some mental energy to read them) and cups of Pukka Ginger Tea being frustrated about the pile of washing up in the kitchen and the clutter that surrounds me. So I thought I’d write out my routine for work days and days off just to put into perspective what life is really like, even though I’m only thirty (almost thirty one ahhhhh!) and look relatively well.
Work Days – Mon/Tue/Thur/Fri
7:15am: The alarm goes off, I snooze endlessly as I usually haven’t been asleep long.

7:40am: Finally drag myself out of bed, stretch, creak and crunch and stagger over to wherever my cat is sleeping for a morning cuddle. I let her out, change her water, poopie scoop her litter tray and top up her biscuits. She comes first as she is totally reliant on people to care for her. Tea, breakfast and medication, you get the idea…

8:30am: Leave the house to either get my bus right by my house which drops me outside work (its quicker to walk but that’s out the question) or get picked up by colleagues. I have a special pass for the bus that allows me to sit in the priority seats. The bus journey usually involves some funny looks from people who see my pass.

9am-3pm (5pm on Mondays): Work. By early afternoon I’m clock watching as I am struggling so much. Exhaustion set in a while ago and the pain creeps in behind it (and this is on a good day). A lot of the time I get a lift home from colleagues. Absolute life savers!

3:30pm I’m in bed having drunk a glass of water, taken tramadol and the kitty is usually sitting on me purring. Pyjama time has begun.

7pm: Out of bed (later on Mondays) and make the sort walk to the sofa. Still exhausted I’m in great need of a cup of tea. I’ll probably burn myself on the steam or spill some hot water.

8pm: Dinner time. Far later than I would like, and I definitely don’t have the energy to cook. Probably a ready meal, something out of the freezer chucked onto a tray or a tin of soup. Yep, I’ll burn myself again at some point during this short process of heating up crap food.

9:30-10pm; Shower. I leave it as late as possible as it is surprisingly hard work. Getting dry and dressed is exhausting. Take a handful of medication and more painkillers if I know I will be in (increased) pain all night.

11:30pm: Back to bed. I read, sometimes listen to meditation and hope for a good nights sleep.

1am: Still awake…. I can’t get comfortable from pain, my mind is racing but I’m too exhausted to get up. Sometimes I end up dragging myself to the sofa for a cuddle with my wife if she’s not working or getting up for an early shift.

2am: Probably still awake.

3am: Hopefully asleep. But often not.

Days Off:

No routine. I let my body do what it wants. It’ll sleep, snooze and rest, tell me it needs pain relief, when it’s peckish and make sure I leave the laundry, washing up and cleaning for another time (we really need to get our amazing cleaner back but at fortnightly visits it was still so expensive). These days involve endless cups of tea, a chance to flick through the pile of magazines, watch YouTube and stay in my pyjamas all day. I probably won’t go out and if I do, it’s been planned down to the very last details, and I’m probably terrified of the exhaustion that will come with it. These days are all about saving enough energy to work and earn a living. Sadly life is ruled by the need to pay bills and not look after my body and mind.

Picture credit: Meowingtons 

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Exploring The Familiar

Living in the chaotic, cramped and endlessly busy town of Brighton, I rarely get to enjoy the place I live. Tourists and annual swathes of students swamp the streets, seafront and city centre. Parks are packed with people either dancing with fire, smoking drugs, or both. Tourist attractions such as the Royal Pavilion (where I got married, the only bit of quiet time there!) have queues round the corner and are so noisy inside you really can’t get a feel for the place. I’m surprised the pier hasn’t sunk with the sheer number of people fighting for the best view to photograph hanging off the railings and the North Laine is a place where you are invisible and only worth being shoved aside. Oh, the beach. Well, don’t even attempt it on a sunny day. I could go on, but I won’t. Escaping the chaos for a day is a rare occurrence, usually only attempted when travelling with or meeting someone.  Recently I spent some time in London with dad and met my friend Stuart for coffee in Trafalgar Square. He mentioned how he often forgets how he loves being a tourist in London and I have to say I completely agree. Not only do the sights never fail to amaze me no matter how often or how many times I may see them, but I love the anonymity of it all too. Everyone lets passers by go about their day, no invisibility or shoving required, and who knows, you may end up chatting with a tourist or two (my sneezing fit and a family sightseeing from the Caribbean made for quite an amusing conversation). The coffee shops were full, but we still got seats and thoroughly enjoyed many a much needed brew.

I’ve called this post Exploring The Familiar as this is the only part of London I seem to visit with my camera in hand. I love the splendor of Buckingham Palace, the elegance and beauty of the police and military horses, the green and colourful gardens alive with buzzing insects, squirrels, ducks and birds. It’s also very easily accessible and close to Brighton. So despite a very high pollen count and many a sneezing fit that day, dad and I had a perfect day wondering through London, travelling on the Tube and even riding on Route Master Buses.

Here are some of my favourite photos of the day…