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Side Hustles & Chronic Illness

As I written about before, I work part time, four days a week with one full day on a Monday. Every work day is followed by a rest the moment I get home, these have got longer and longer over recent months and now can be up to four hours – quite significant for a six hour work day. This mean I have less time in the evening than I would if I was a healthy full time worker, and the time I do have is not exactly filled with me bouncing off the walls with energy. Think more sloth after a long day hanging around on my branch. 

So the short evenings, three days a week off regularly spent almost entirely in bed or simply doing nothing but listening to audiobooks and lying in a heap mean there is little to no time, or energy, for my hobbies, ambitions, hopes, dreams and projects. 

I work in an industry notorious for its exceptionally long hours, being on call during time off and stepping in at the very last minute to cover shifts. While this isn’t something that really applies to my role I can’t help but feel guilty when I’m fading after four hours,  staggering out the door after six knowing I’ll soon be crawling into bed with my cat while my colleagues still have another six hours to go. I have to keep reminding myself, I didn’t choose this, I’d rather be working full time along side them, earning a living and leaving with the energy to do the things I want.

Over the years I’ve had many hobbies that I’ve had to give up and I often even struggle to read. But lying in my cosy heap of blankets has also given me much time to think about what I’d like to do alongside my day job, to think about what would really light me up and have me excited to work on in my own time.  

Projects have come and gone, often just ideas that never make it on to paper, or screen, because I just didn’t have the energy or cognitive power to get anything done. Other projects linger on for months, while I debate whether or not to give them up. I wake up on a Monday with plans to make lists of what I need to do to keep on track but the lists never prevail, and Mondays pass by like they were worried time was going to run out. I feel guilty that I haven’t done anything, a failure even. And the less I do the less I can bring myself to do, I just can’t face it anymore. So my passion projects linger in the background, until they dwindle so far into the distance I can no longer reach them. 

In today’s society, busy is often seen to equal success. But what if you aren’t able to be ‘busy’, what if your idea of busy is planning an entire rest day on the sofa because you want to celebrate a birthday or go to a friends wedding? Is this form of busy any less justifiable than spending three hours on a Saturday afternoon writing website copy and blogs? Absolutely not. My lists on a Monday should consist of scheduling in rest, and if I spend ten minutes writing ideas for my project that week then it’s a huge success, because add up those ten minutes over the weeks and you’ve got yourself a few hours work, a massive achievement in my book. 

I’ve recently scheduled in rest times on the calendar app on my phone. A little reminder pops up on my screen when I get in from work and at weekends to remind me to head to bed for a couple of hours because that is what is most important. If a three hour sleep gives me two quality hours in the evening then that is success. And if anyone asks, I am BUSY, busy resting.

So if you are wondering what the hell happened to the projects I probably chewed your ear off about last time I saw you, it’s coming, but first I’ll be taking my much needed rest. 

Featured Image photo credit: Stuart Hermolle

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Who Am I – 2017 Edition

Who am I? Who are you? How does anyone know what their identity is? Is it your job, marital status or age as so often detailed in a magazine columns – ‘Lady K, 31, Civil Partner, Brighton’. I prefer to think of it as what you enjoy – hobbies, interests, pastimes. So for me I think I can be identified as an eccentric, cat loving, bird watching, nature loving trainspotter who loves reading, spending time alone and is a classic introvert. Or can I?

Life with chronic pain and fatigue and all the other symptoms that come as part of the joyous package mean life is far from what I would like and what it used to be. My days now revolve around feeling wiped out, worrying about feeling wiped out, resting to recover from feeling exhausted and resting to store up enough energy to get through the coming days at work. So where does that leave time for my hobbies, of which I know there are many.

‘Health Professionals’ and various people I have come across tell me not to waste energy. I can rarely muster up enough energy to cook a decent meal, and when I do end up with some sort of injury – a burn or cut – so if I can’t even feed myself properly, then why should I use any lucky spare energy on doing what I enjoy, for example reading a book. I’ll tell you why – because I’m allowed to enjoy things too. It what makes me who I am, keeps me sane, and allows me to cling on to the little bits of me that I feel are left. Its a reminder that the real Lady K is still in there somewhere, fighting and waiting eagerly to escape the slow, tired body and mind I’m currently trapped in. So while I may feel absolutely awful after such activity, the chances are I’ll feel absolutely awful anyway, so I might as well enjoy a little me time while I can.

In 2017 I’ve attempted to make myself a priority. I’ve spent my life putting other people and things first, and it’s really hard to stop that. However, I think for a first try I’ve done well. I’ve read seventeen books this year. Admittedly some of these are graphic novels or books that require very little brain power, but others were deep storylines, that although short, were a challenge to read. And I loved every second of it. Some of my earliest memories are of reading. My parents reading bedtime stories, winning awards in reception class aged four for having read the most books and having a reading age double my actual age. Reading is a part of ME (not M.E.) and I’ve made space for it in my life. I’ve read in bed, reclined on the sofa, in between napping on long train journeys home (I recommend advance first class tickets, affordable and comes with a reclining seat and endless tea on Virgin West Coast). Reading is rather easy to incorporate into chronic life, and I thoroughly intend to keep it up in 2018 and beyond.

2017 has also seen me making more time to spend with friends and family. My anxiety, pain and fatigue often leaves me trapped in the prison of my home but this year I have tried to fight it just a little. It’s gone well. I’ve seen plenty of my good friend Dr M, managed to have catch ups with friends who also have M.E. and pain conditions, met with Mrs B for tea and cake, spent more time with my parents despite the distance between us. Yes, a very good year for socialising indeed. Go Lady K!

I’ve also ensured I’ve had good, quality time on my own. Yes, alot of that is in my pyjamas talking to my cat while I drink tea and eat crisps, but throw in a book or a good TV series and it makes it that bit more pleasant. You forget how flippin’ awful you feel for just a moment and get lost in whatever it is you are focusing on.

So while all of the above may not seem very rock ‘n’ roll told the old me, it’s progress for the present me and it’s making life more enjoyable. No, I won’t be running along the seafront at twilight any time soon watching the starling murmuration around Brighton Pier (hopefully one day though!) but I can curl up under a blanket, have a cup of tea with a friend, nap and read a chapter of my latest book.

So the next time someone asks you to identify yourself, remember, you are more than your job or marital status, your are more than any illness that may affect you, you are YOU.

My name is Lady K, and I’m an eccentric, cat loving, bird watching, nature loving trainspotter who loves reading, and spending time alone.

Who are you?

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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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It’s ME and Fibromyalgia Awareness Week

Every week, every day in fact seems to be awareness for something nowadays but this one is one that I feel is really important. Invisible illnesses often get less recognition because you can’t see what effect its having on a person. Here’s a few of my favourite blog posts and websites to help you get clued up about the illnesses I live with and how they affect my every day life.

Meg Says

Action for ME

ME Association

Once Upon A Fibro Time

Cloudy With A Chance of Pain

Fibro Blogger Directory

An of course… my blog!

If you know of any others that you think should be added to the list let me know!

Happy reading 🙂

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Life with Insomnia

Insomnia is something I have lived with for many years. It really started to hit when my fibromyalgia symptoms began after my accident five and a half years ago but I’ve never been a great sleeper.

As a child I always thought it was normal to go to bed and lie awake for an hour or so before dropping off. I’d frequently have nights where I’d lie awake until gone midnight, which felt so late when I was under ten as you need so much more sleep as a young child. Those days at primary school that followed felt endless, the light from the projector in class (yes I’m that old) burnt my eyes, other children would ask why my eyes were so black and the days felt endless. Days like this usually continued for a few days until my sleep somehow reset itself.

When I became unwell with fibromyalgia my sleep became very erratic. Not only would it still take an hour or so to get to sleep but I’d wake up every hour or two and struggle to get back to sleep. I’d wake up with a jump, or at the sound of the cat meowing in a different room. I’d always been a light sleeper but now the sound of my partner breathing beside me was enough to wake me up.

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I started taking medication that helped me sleep a bit better. Amitryptaline didn’t help me get to sleep as it was supposed to but it did stop me from waking up with a jump a much. This medication was changed to pregabalin a couple of years later to help treat pain but I found it had the most impact on my sleep. Again, it didn’t help me drop off but it made a big impact on the quality of sleep. Once I was asleep, the pregabalin seemed to ensure that I stayed asleep until the morning. At this point I was managing about six hours sleep a night. Not enough, but manageable.

As my health continued to deteriorated and a diagnosis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) was made I started to be unable to function after work without a nap. As time has gone on my work days have got shorted and the naps have got longer varying between one and a half hours and four hours as the week goes on. I have found that on days I force myself to stay awake all day and end up feeling exhausted beyond words I have an even worse night. Recently I was awake until 5am after an especially long day. I had been awake for twenty one hours. My new frame of mind is to just take sleep where I can get it as the less I nap, the less I seem to be able to sleep at night.

Over the past few months insomnia has shifted to a new level. I am frequently awake until past 3am when my alarm goes off around 7:15am. The sleep I do get is broken, light and filled with vivid dreams and troubling nightmares. On the three days a week I don’t work I try and let me body do it’s own thing and make sure I don’t plan anything for the morning of those days. This often means sleeping from around 3/4am and waking up at 10/11am. I have read this is common in ME/CFS patients as the body doesn’t produce the sleep hormone, melatonin, at the correct times.

I have been struggling to function on such little sleep despite the fact I thought I was used to getting by on just a few hours. This has lead me to try different things out to try and help. Nytol worked the first couple of times, after half an hour spent hallucinating in bed I had a decent night of sleep. But this soon wore off and now makes not an ounce of difference. Pukka Night Time tablets help me feel sleepy, too sleepy to read, and they help settle me but they don’t actually get me off to sleep. I’ve tried various night time teas with chamomile (which I hate the taste of – I’m desperate), valerian, lavender and a whole host of other things. These just make me get up more frequently to use the loo. I’ve tried night time pillow sprays to no avail. Meditations such as my favourite yoga nidra used to help, but again not any more. I’m at a loss as to what to do and think that speaking with my GP is the last resort. But I’m reluctant to start taking yet more medication, with more side effects, and adding to the list of prescriptions my body has become dependant on.

So for now, I let my body nap for as long as it wants as I know this may be the only sleep I’ll be getting for a while. I find it amazing how the body can survive and continue with such little rest. With my trusty kitty by my side, I’m off to get tucked up in bed and hopefully snooze the afternoon away…

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Photos 1 and 2 – Psychologies Magazine

 

 

 

 

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‘Normal’ Poorly With Fibro/ME

I might be used to it by now, but every day is probably like living with a cold/flu without the cough or snotty nose. Aches, pains, fevers and fatigue is just a part of every day life, and just because I’m used to it doesn’t mean it’s any easier after a few years.

Every year the dreaded cold and flu season creeps upon me where I shrink away from every person on the bus who sniffs and hold my breath in the lift when someone coughs. It’s the time of years I rattle with supplements and alcohol hand gel becomes my best friend. Despite having a compromised immune system, I think I’m relatively good at avoiding the lurgy. But when it hits, it comes down like a ton of bricks, casting  veil of fatigue like nothing before over me, increasing pain five fold, the germs and ‘usual cold’ symptoms linger on and on and on. Well, if I’m going to be ill I may as well do it properly!

The virus I currently have couldn’t have picked a worse time. I’m about to have six days off work as holiday, my longest break in well over a year, which I’d set aside for studying and a day trip to see a friend. First came the swollen glands, then the sore throat and painful chest all washed down with complete exhaustion. Then I felt better for a day. Then it came back, and along with a blocked, runny nose came dizziness, light-headedness and a feeling of surrealism, altered vision and of course, the lucky bonus of increase fibro and ME symptoms. This resulted in me almost collapsing at work and having to be helped to the work car to be brought home. Not before I’d burst into tears in the toilets first because I was so scared. The funny turns lasted into the next day. I had to be dressed/undressed by my partner and dried off after a shower. Not your average cold you’d think. But it probably is, most people would feel awful for a few days, need a couple of days resting up with soup and hot drinks then be back with a spring in their step.

Living with symptoms and fibromyalgia and ME on a daily basis is tough and tests the willpower of even the most positive of people, but when germs and bugs find their way into that mix, it ends up in a long, drawn out period of awful symptoms and fear that it will never end.

I think  writing this blog has just been an excuse for me to get things off my chest after what has been one hell of a week, and it’s definitely not over yet!

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Organic Life

On a cold, damp poorly weekend, its good to know my kitchen is full of organic fruit and British grown apples to snack on. How colourful and delicious does this fruit bowl look! 

Never one to take much interest in organic produce I’m now a complete convert. Often too fatigued to rustle up anything too adenturous, or not wanting to waste what little energy I have standing in the kitchen, my recent discovery of Abel & Cole has been just what the doctor would order (should they ever decide to take interest in my health). With a selection of crisp apples, super sweet bananas and lemons big enough to make a drizzle cake with after a squeeze in your water or smoothie, I’m in ccomplete heaven. 

Have you ever tried a home delivery service of organic and local produce? I’d love to know what your thoughts were.

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Books, Reading, Donkeys and Disability

Books are some of my earliest memories; from standing in front of the assembly in reception class winning prizes for having read the most books (and crying with shyness), to raiding book boxes at car boot sales as a child to find an unread Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl book, and bedtime stories every night as a young child. I had a bookshelf full of books by the time I was about eight, and I read them at lightening speed.

As adulthood swept in I continued to read, having piles of books on my bedside table and churning out books faster than the charity shop receiving them once I’d finished could cope with. As a fully functioning ‘grown up’ with a job, chores and bills to pay, reading came in waves but it was always there, and I always had my eye on a book I’d want for Christmas or my birthday. Then came along the disabilities I live with today.

Fibromyalgia and ME cause such fatigue, such brain fog and a great difficulty in focusing. I had to read the same page ten times over before I knew what the words written on the page were hinting at. My book collection grew and grew, eventually causing one of my book shelves to break as the weight of unread books grew too much. I began to grieve the loss of such a huge part of my life, something which had defined me for the last three decades. Finally, Christmas 2015 gave me a nine day break from work which meant I had a little more energy to spare, and in the space of about five days I managed to read the two books my parent’s gave for Christmas – Sue Perkins Spectacles and Steph and Dom’s (from Gogglebox) Guide to Life. I enjoyed reading them so much I ordered and acquired yet more books in the hope I was back in the swing of reading. Then I went back to work and all of that went out of the window.

Fibromyalgia and ME can cause debilitating insomnia, something which has been particularly challenging for me this year. After a countless row of nights with barely any sleep before work I decided to take an over the counter sleeping aid in a desperate bid to get some decent shut eye. Upon waking I felt like superwoman, the first quality night’s sleep I can remember in years, and on the second occasion of taking the tablets this week I read approximately 80% of a book whilst waiting in for an engineer on my day off. That book was Amber’s Donkey.

Amber’s Donkey is a real life tale close to my heart. It’s based at Birmingham Donkey Sanctuary and tells how an abused Donkey, Shocks, and a little girl called Amber help heal each other over a period of months to help them both defy the odds of a recovery. I have sponsored Moses at the sanctuary for a couple of years, and one particularly poorly day when I was staying with my parents ended up in a trip to see them. I had the pleasure of grooming my sponsor donkey and meeting some of the others. Strangely, when I was there, my symptoms eased and I felt so much calmer upon leaving. Having first hand experience of the effect the donkeys had on me as an adult left me eager to read the book and find out how animal therapy can help children and teenagers with illness. I’d had my eye on the book for months since it was released and was determined to get around to reading it.I’m so glad I waited until I was well enough, and I’m so pleased this was my first read in eight months.

The last few days I’ve found myself glued to Booktubers on Youtube (see Jean Bookishthoughts and Reads and Daydreams) and my Amazon Wishlist is ever expanding. I’m hoping to take time out for myself, pushing thoughts of unmade beds, unswept floors and unfolded washing to the back of my head, giving my body the time it needs to rest, and fuel for my imagination in the form of books.

Next on my list to read is Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg and Bodies of Water by V H Leslie. Goodness only knows when I’ll actually finish them but I’m hopeful I’ll get there, soon.

Karen xx

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Be Kind To Yourself

Hello lovelies

It’s been a tough few weeks, a tough 2016 in fact, health wise and stress wise. I won’t bore you all with what’s happened but it’s made a scary flare up of ME symptoms bubble over the top and pour into my life, ruining just about any plans I had. Many days have been spent completely resting as I’ve been too unwell to do much at all, plans with friends repeatedly cancelled and it’s just been me and the cat while my wife seems to work endless hours in her job as a train conductor.

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Trinny 

I’ve been accepted onto an NHS CFS/ME management course which takes place every second Wednesday until July. There’s only been two groups so far but already I know this is exactly what I need to sort my life out. I’ve connected and made friends with people who ‘get’ me, who understand what’s really going on when I say I’m exhausted, and the people who run the group are fantastic. The ins and outs of the group are for another blog post, when I’m feeling well enough to go into all the great stuff we’re learning and remembering, but the main point they keep drumming into us is to be kind to ourselves. And finally, this has made me listen.

I’m currently on a short break in between jobs, and ordinarily this would have made me turn into a a crazy woman, feeling I need to justify what I do with my time off, doing  something I deem to be ‘useful’. But instead I’m resting. I’m working my way through some courses by Susannah Conway and flicking back through her book as her influence really revolves around the fact it’s ok to be doing what I’m doing, it’s ok to be kind to myself.

I’m resting lots, I’m stretching and meditating with crystals in spots of sunshine that briefly pop into my basement flat, I’m trying to eat as much fruit and veg as possible and stay away from the sweets and my beloved crisps. But if I slip up, it’s ok, it happens, and tomorrow is a new day. A new day for my morning kitty cuddles, to put on my new Kalula Colour Therapy Jewellery, for my enormous breakfast mug of tea, to catch a brief ray of sunshine. It’s ok.

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Blue For Balance

I’m trying to take a photo or two everyday, even if I don’t leave the house, to capture my all the things that are good in my days and weeks of trying to recover. My cat obviously features in a lot of them as she’s always by my side. But there’s shots of brand new notebooks, treats that I ordered from America a few weeks ago that have started to arrive, bits and pieces I have found given to me by my wonderful grandma in the months before she passed away last autumn, endless cups of English Breakfast and Pukka Ginger Tea

I suppose this blog is something I want to be able to look back on when I’m having a bad day, a bad hour, feeling guilty for resting or not leaving the house.

So lovely readers, remember, always be kind to yourself, it’s ok.

Karen xx

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I adore taking photos of beautiful flowers.

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Last Week

My week in pictures.

  • A flower amongst the over grown pot plants.
  • A train ride
  •  ME Management Group
  • Cuddles with pets
  • Living in pyjamas.

The pictures disguise the difficulty of the week, but show how my pets are such an important part of living with chronic illnesses.  I don’t know where I’d be without my regular kitty cuddles.

Karen xx