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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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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