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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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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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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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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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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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Taking Medical Leave From University

Deciding to do a part time degree, while working part time, and living with ever changing chronic illnesses has always been tough. I may never have got the best marks but I have somehow managed to complete three full years with the Open University and overall my scores were good.

The latest module started in October and was the first level three, or third year for full time universities. I cannot describe the change between second and third level, it was so much harder. But I found it so interesting having the freedom to independently study and use my research in essays. Despite being persistently behind I achieve the best scores in my university career to date. However it got harder and harder to keep up. As my anxiety greatly worsened at the beginning of the year I found my studies were only adding to the exhausting endless turmoil in my mind. I certainly don’t need help feeling exhausted, and I got to the point when I knew it wasn’t doing me any good, in fact I felt it was being detrimental to my health.

I chatted with two good friends about my thoughts to defer and take medical leave, which gives me the option to return and use the credits I have within twelve years of starting. It took a while to sit with my thoughts to know what was truly the best thing for me, and my health, both mental and physical. It was on the short walk home from a coffee shop, whilst propped up with Sticky (my latest walking stick) that I made my ‘executive decision’ (I always call important decisions executive, I think it gives them a bit more oomph!).

I called the university on Monday, a call back never came, so stressed out and pacing I called again on Tuesday and finally spoke to someone who said I wouldn’t be entitled to a penny back of the hundreds of pounds I had paid for the year. After pressing the matter more, I was told I would urgently need a letter from my GP to state it was is not in my best interests health wise to continue studying. My GP have advised this will take three weeks and will cost me £20. I have never requested a letter from my GP for any reason, not for any type of benefit, not for work, never, so I am saddened and angry I’m expected to pay yet more on top of my taxes and prescription charges.

The first days after cancelling my course and getting those dreaded emails through were hard. I had a sudden realisation at work that I was no longer a student and that it is probably for the longer term, if not for good. But as the days have gone on I feel a great sense of relief, a huge weight feels as if it has been lifted off my shoulders. I am free to use what little spare time I have doing what I love; reading, taking photos, spending time with family and friends. And most of all I don’t have to feel guilty for napping, for sleeping, or for taking entire days in bed with cups of tea, my cats and a steady supply of painkillers because that’s what my body needs.

So I’m not a student any more, and I may never graduate. And that’s ok. Because I come first, education will always be there, and I have already achieved so much despite all the things set against me. So if you don’t mind I’m off to stick my head in a magazine and have another cup of tea.