It’s been quite a while since I sat down to write a blog post yet here I am again, using writing as my therapy of choice.
I guess I felt compelled to write today after spending several hours yesterday with mum and dad at an Action For M.E conference. We went along hoping to find out more about what research is being done, to network and to get some useful, practical advice. I think all three of us would say we’re glad we went although it wasn’t easy.
I’ve been struggling recently with my illness, I suppose because I’ve been ill for so long now, people almost forget that I am ill. Let me expand on that a little. A lot of this is my problem, my insecurities, but I have started to feel like I need to justify things that I do. I am wary that I feel like some people are judging me for STILL not working yet being able to do other things. I guess one thing has never changed, people don’t see what goes on behind the scenes. The careful planning that goes into pacing myself, the constant pain and sensitivities. The fatigue. The constant, wading through treacle, un-refreshing sleep, fatigue. Yes I smile and yes I can now wear make up but NO that does not equal me getting better. I am not. Yes, I am starting to do much more than I could before but that is simply down to the fact that I can manage my symptoms, most of the time. If I didn’t do this, I would not be able to do anything.
For example, I have had to cancel the few lovely things I had in my diary for the next few days to simply rest and sleep. Not go outside, not communicate with anyone, just recharge my batteries by doing the least stimulating things I can in order to re-charge. My body also likes to show me in other ways that it needs to rest, my symptoms get worse but also for me, I get skin flare ups – my right eyelid is red raw and painful with eczema underneath. I don’t always talk about these periods of time, because I usually plan in one or two days like this anyway to avoid major flare ups – but people don’t see or hear about those.
So, going along yesterday to hear people talking about something that myself and my family live with on a daily basis was, in many ways, a comfort. Truly heartbreaking to hear of people telling their stories of how their GP’s treated them like mine have me but comforting to know that I am not the only one. Frustrating to hear that the benefits system is failing so many who are in desperate need but comforting to know our battle isn’t a lone case. Encouraging to hear that the charities medium and long-term plans are to get the World Health Organisation to sit up, take note and help us by funding more research but devastating to know that short-term, all we can do is try to persuade our GPs to simply take the time to understand what living with M.E is like.
But amongst all of that, we met Alice Kelp. We didn’t make it up to the conference in time to hear her whole talk because, well, I couldn’t get up to London that early. But, we caught the end of her talk and it was inspiring. Alice is now 24 but cannot remember the year of her life from age 14-15 when she was almost comatosed, bed bound with M.E. I must admit, because we only caught the end of her speech where she was talking about what she does now and how she is proud of having M.E, I did think, god, this is not for me, plus – HOW did you go from being that bad to being able to talk about your life now?
But, I sat with Alice and her mum whilst we had some lunch and it all became clear. She was nervous to share her story, she didn’t want people to assume her story was only one of positivity because it isn’t. There was no lightning bolt occasion that she could pin down to explain how or when she began to feel better, her body just gradually got stronger. It’s like the M.E just burnt itself out. She had to go down a year at school and fight hard to get her teachers and friends to believe that she wasn’t just attention seeking. She lost 4 stone in weight and became anorexic because she became intolerant to different foods and felt nauseous. She had to learn to walk again because she lost all the muscle tone in her legs. Her mum had to give up work and be her full-time carer and be by her side because, for a while, she was suicidal. This is what M.E can be like. But, luckily for Alice, she found a pediatrician who listened and wanted to learn and research and help and gave her that lifeline that she needed. He believed in her and believed she deserved his time and help.
Like me, she’d tried everything; acupuncture, reflexology, saw a chiropractor, various herbal remedies, pacing, CBT. But, ultimately, none of that worked to cure her. She has never been cured, she is not better. Yes, she now has a job and she has recently moved in to her own property but she has to live carefully. She paces everything she does carefully, she knows she needs 9-10 hours sleep a night otherwise she can’t work, she knows she has to pick and choose what social events she attends and has to plan in rest. She is protective of her illness but isn’t ashamed of it and certainly won’t apologise for it. She gave me hope. Hope that one day I will be able to achieve the things that she has – work, home, travel.
It was also refreshing to hear her stance on CBT. Like me, she doesn’t want it removed from the NICE guidelines. The wording needs to be changed yes, because it is NOT a cure, it is a management tool to help you deal with how M.E impacts your life. Of course, it all depends on the therapist you get and how much they understand M.E but if we removed CBT from the NICE guidelines, what is going to replace it? At the moment, nothing. So, GPs wouldn’t have to refer us or give any further help because the guidelines wouldn’t force them to. At no point have I ever claimed that CBT is making me better or curing me and nor has my therapist. What is has done is help me deal with the depression that has come as a result of living with M.E and the changes it’s had on my life and my families. It’s taught me how to change my thought patterns to encourage me to try to find the positives and it’s helped me pace myself properly in order to get that joy back in my life.
Alice works for Notts County Football Club who employed her knowing about her M.E and help her work alongside having a chronic illness. So much so, that they helped her produce a one minute film with the team to explain to people what M.E is because in September, the players wore shirts with ‘Action for M.E’ on the front.
So, what I am asking, is that you take a minute to watch that video – go to YouTube and search ‘Notts County action for M.E’ and then perhaps help out with Christmas appeal. One of the facts you’ll hear is that since 2012, the government has invested only £2 per year per patient into M.E research, that’s less that a match day programme. That fact in itself feels like a punch to the stomach – for me, that means that since I’ve been ill, only £6 has been spent on research to help find a cure.
So, from noon on Tuesday 27th November until noon on Tuesday 4th December, any donations made to Action for M.E will be doubled. As a family, we would far more appreciate a tiny donation to this than a Christmas card this year because it will help so many people living with M.E to get the research that we so desperately need.
You can donate now at: http://www.actionforme.org.uk/BigGive2018
M.E is a hidden, life changing illness that impacts not only the person with the illness but those they are closest to. Like so many hidden illnesses, remember that just because someone shows up, smiles and looks ‘well,’ that can be disguising what’s going on underneath.