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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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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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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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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.

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The Ups and Downs of Being ‘A Part-Timer’

People say how lucky I am to only work 26 hours per week. And I guess I am in a way, who really wants to spend 40 hours plus a week at work? Well, I’d quite like to go back to a full-time nine to five actually.

I work so few hours because I really can’t work any more right now. I do this over a four day period with a mid week break which works quite well for me, but I’m still utterly exhausted and riddled with pain after every day, especially my one eight hour day at the beginning of the week.

Working part time doesn’t allow me to spend my time off gallivanting, skipping through meadows, or reliving my raving days. I don’t come home and cook up a daily feast at 3pm every day, or take myself off shopping for something I ‘need’ such as another large pile of books (although I quite fancy doing all of those). It allows me to rest, rest, rest and take additional painkillers so I have more time to deal with the side effects, then have another rest. On Fridays I come home and sleep for the entire evening, because I just can’t function in any other way.

At weekends I’m not bursting with energy after all that rest, I’m ready for more rest. Which is really bloody boring at times might I add. I’m a bookworm, someone who loves to continually learn, I love going for walks or discovering new places (especially now I live on the coast), I’m a gardener and a baker. But I don’t do much, if any, of that, because brain fog makes it difficult to read much more than short magazine articles, and I can’t walk far because I’ll be so exhausted by the end of the road and my body hurts too much to be able to support myself with a stick or crutches. I can’t bake because I don’t have the energy to do the big clean up afterwards (I’m quite messy – think Selasi in the GBBO) and my gardening consists of keeping my lemon verbena plant alive through the winter.

Amongst all of this I’m half way through getting an Open University Degree. I’ve had to defer twice, and it’s taking me far longer than ever expected, but somehow I’m doing it. I’ll be honest, I can’t really remember a thing I’ve learnt along the way when put on the spot, but I’m getting good at answering University Challenge questions with my parents so it’s in there somewhere. I’m dreading the exam next spring, but what will be will be. If it doesn’t work out I’ll just try another module without an exam.

Then there is the financial freedom that working full time could bring. My wife currently earns considerably more than me and the is some  pressure on her to keep it that way, much to my dismay. But I’m lucky to be in a job I love and earn enough to pay my half of the bills and buy all the boring household groceries (she gets the fun tasty food and treats) and still be able to afford to treat myself to a few subscription boxes a month.

So, while working part time isn’t all doom and gloom as it means I actually get to see my wife on her incredibly unsocial shift pattern, and I get extra cuddles with kitty, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be when you work less due to health reasons.

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Pyjama days and kitty cuddles

Karen xx

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Today is the perfect day for…

…heading out in the sunshine. Off to the beach, or to the park, maybe a trip to the local shops. Ah, a perfect British summers day.

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Perhaps not. I have to go to work tomorrow, and I went to the shops yesterday evening, and I worked all last week. So today will consists of reading, resting, snoozing, and maybe an episode or three of Bones.

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But I still managed to get my fifteen minutes of vitamin D rays in the courtyard with the small plump furry one.

I marveled at my poor neglected plants which have somehow managed to flower.

And then I headed inside for a sit down, with a cup of ginger tea and a magazine.

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Days like today may not be what they were a few years ago, but I’m thankful for the sunshine, the beautiful flowers, my furry friend and endless cups of tea.

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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A Blustery Afternoon on Brighton Pier

A rare afternoon out lead to a wet and windy trip to Brighton Pier.

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After filling my face in Harvester (who can resist the endless salad and filled potato skins?!) we headed to the pier for some sea air and arcade fun.

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Seagulls fighting the gusts

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Living a twenty minute walk away from the sea front would lead you to think I’d be there all the time, and if I had my own way I would be. But chronic illness doesn’t allow for that so I make the most of it when I can.

Blustery weather is one of my favourite times to visit the pier. I love the sound of the pebbles rolling in the waves, the sight of waves crashing against the sea and rocks, and dodging the crashing water splashing everything it comes within fifty feet of.

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The West Pier left in ruins in the distance
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The sound of the pebbles crashing in the waves makes me feel so content with life.
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Brighton Marina is almost invisible in the mist of the sea and rain

After an hour on the pier and emptying a two penny machine of Love Hearts for the grand total of £2, I was ready for the dark bus journey home.

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The tourists stay out longer than me

Of course, this afternoon out means it’s compulsory rest with my kitty the following day, but the pain and exhaustion was totally worth it. I had the best afternoon in what feels like forever. I can’t wait for next time!

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Listening to happy music with Trinny

Karen xx

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Trying to take a break

I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ve had so many thoughts and ideas jumbled up in my head, I’ve wanted to, but it’s been to difficult to put it on paper. I’ve been attempting to make some dramatic changes to my life. I realise now I took on too much, wanting to do more, be more, make use of myself. But it backfired, and all got too overwhelming. I sadly had to stop working for FibroAction, which is such a shame as I loved it, but it was beginning to feel such a chore, replying to emails late in the evening through blurred eyes, yawning and a complete lack of interest. It’s a bad time to leave the charity as they are going through an exciting time that I don’t really want to miss out on, but sadly it’s a sacrifice that had to be made. What’s lovely though is that I have made friends, especially the lovely Sian who runs the FibroFlutters blog and support group.

I have also taken up regular resting, planned days in bed after a long day, or two hour naps after work so I can function and hopefully spend some coherent time with my wife in the evening.

But trying to ease up on my workload hasn’t been all that easy. I recently had booked in to a business conference at the Bafta House in London, it was something essential for my business that I didn’t want to miss. Walking past The RItz and a number of shops that probably wouldn’t let me through the door was exciting, and the Bafta House itself was quite an amazing place. There were lots of speakers including Claudia Winkleman, Jack Monroe, Trish Halpin and other Marie Claire editors along with lots of people who have started their own business from scratch. I learnt so much and was having an amazing day. Until about 2pm. I hit my wall and needed urgently to get a break and sit down, or infact get home as soon as possible and lie down. But the conference didn’t finish till 5pm, and there was lots of standing around to contend with first. I cannot tell you how I got through the last few hours as I honestly don’t know. The train journey back to Brighton was one of the most uncomfortable painful journeys ever, and I spent the night on Tramadol hoping for some relief, and the following day in bed.

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I celebrated my birthday last week and another action packed day was planned, shopping, lunch with friends, dinner, lots of fun and a movie with my wife. I woke at 8am and got home after 11pm. I felt fine until the final bus journey home as I was enjoying myself so much I refused to let fibro join in. But the next day was spent in bed and I struggled through the weekend that followed. Just sitting in the sandpit playing Cool Auntie Karen to my friend’s gorgeous little girl on the Saturday knocked me out for the rest of the weekend. But I had fun, and I have to make sacrifices in order to experience these things.

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I recently saw a pain specialist after 3 years of waiting for a referral. He was amazing, so understanding, listened to me and knew what he was talking about. He’s writing to my GP to ensure I’m kept on the right medication (my GPs are generally quite useless and tell me off for taking pain relief) and referring me to a physiotherapist who can help with gentle stretching and getting my life back on track using pacing.

I have previously tried yoga, and loved it, as a form of relaxation and stretching, but it’s just too painful, my joints can’t take the pressure. And I’ve stopped using mindfulness and meditation too. I’m not sure why, I just can’t get into it any more. I used to find it so relaxing but now I find it stressful as I feel I have to force myself to relax which just increases my anxiety and pain.

Another move we’ve taken is getting a cleaner to come to the flat once every two weeks to give a thorough clean and change the sheets. This takes a lot of pressure off me as my role of a housewife, which is a role I gave myself and feel pressured to keep up, even though I’m not expected to.

So all of the above is a rather long ramble, probably doesn’t make any sense, and is just an outlet for the jumble of things in my head at the moment. But I feel better for getting it out there sometimes. And sometimes reading other peoples blogs and Instagram accounts makes me realise I am not alone. I have made a couple of lovely fibro friends recently and sharing things with them, and being there for them too, is a really wonderful thing.

Karen xx