It’s been a while…

It’s been a while since I sat at my laptop and wrote a blog post. It’s been such a tumultuous time, so much going on in the world, so many changes and because of that I haven’t felt like publishing a blog post. However, I had a lovely chat with a friend as she picked up a cake order a few months ago. She asked why I hadn’t published any blogs recently as she’d missed my reading them and when I said I had been nervous to as I hadn’t written for so long, she said, you really should write again, it’s always eye opening, interesting and educational. So, I thought, maybe I should.

As we do do throughout our lives, we live and learn. There are things that I am always a bit scared to write on here for fear of upsetting people or saying it in the wrong way. But then I remind myself that this is my safe space, it’s my truth and it’s always been about getting it out there to educate people on life with an invisible illness.

In October I will have been home and ill for 7 years and let me tell you, it truly feels like it’s been that long. And in all honesty, for some people around me, I think it feels that long to them too and not always in a good way. I have definitely felt the pain from some being ‘over it.’ At times, I feel like I am becoming more and more invisible in my own life, absent from it in so many ways. And then it dawned on me that by not writing my blog posts anymore, that’s another area of my life that I’m absent from. In a way, I’ve stopped advocating for myself and the M.E community that I hold so dear.

Therefore, it felt fitting to publish this post today, on May 12th, which is the Millions Missing and International M.E Awareness Day.

I am having to remind myself on a daily basis that I do live in my own bubble. A bubble that allows me time to think over the smallest of things and dwell on them. I can’t have the release of getting up and on with my life in the way others can to distract from things that happen. So, things that upset and hurt me, probably sting for longer because to me, they are much bigger. Losses feel bigger, hurt feels harder, sadness feels all consuming and moving on take longer.

Los is the big one at the moment. No-one likes to lose anything in life. Loss hurts. It cuts deep. This illness has taken so much from me and each time it takes something, I have to deal with that and reconcile it. Lockdown caused everyone to lose their freedom in many ways and that was so tough and yet it was nice because people gained an understanding in some ways of life with a chronic illness. However, here we are, lockdowns down and freedom day passed and I am still in my own form of a lockdown, like so many others. Limited by my facial pain and fatigue, having to consider every little thing as to if I’m able to go somewhere and do something. That in itself is exhausting.

I feel in a very precarious situation where I don’t want to lose any more from my life. It’s like I can’t afford to because I’m not in a position to go out and replace it. However, I am growing in strength. If something doesn’t add value to your life, makes you feel worthless, causes undue stress hurt and upset and makes you feel disposable, that is not something that needs to be kept or treasured. But that doesn’t mean it makes it easy. What is does mean is that it feels like my little bubble and world gets smaller. I’ve always been someone who lives in a world that feels big and open so getting used to ‘smaller’ takes some time.

The frustrations that comes with living with a chronic illness are also heightened. I can be in a room full of people and feel invisible, like I add nothing, like I want to scream. People who live with chronic illnesses may spend the majority of their time at home, resting, sleeping, pacing – but we do have lives. Lives that contribute to others and to the world. We listen, we read, we watch, we hobby – we can talk about more than our illness, so ask us. Don’t forget us. Show an interest, ask questions, you might be surprised by what we can and do, do.

I am in awe of the things that my online friends with M.E achieve. None more so than Anna, the Blue Sunday QUEEN! Once again, Anna trusted me to help her with the fundraising packs for the 2022 event and we went big! We made limited edition napkins alongside the 60 fundraising packs and everything sold out within 24 hours of their release back in March. It may not seem a lot to some, but to us it’s huge. We spend so much time planning, making and worrying about if they’ll sell, if people will be interested and for the second year in a row we had a cry at how much love and support we recieved.

This tea party means so much to me, it’s a day where the M.E community comes together to raise awareness and money for M.E. Seeing friends and family host tea parties, have fun but more importantly, show their love, support and understanding, it’s beyond words what that means.

Sunday is just around the corner but there’s plenty of time to dust off a tea set, bake a cake and brew some tea…and more importantly, donate some money for such a worthy cause. I have attached the link for the fundraising page for Action For M.E, the charity we support as a family. So if you can spare the cost of what you’d pay in a shop for a cuppa and a slice of cake, I’d be so very grateful.

http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/bluesundayaforme22

Hopefully I won’t leave it so long until I write again – until then, bring on Blue Sunday!

Hannah

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A little M.E update

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

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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.

#hairlesshannah

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Afflicted

According to the dictionary, the definition of an enabler is:

a person or thing that makes something possible. A person who encourages or enables negative or self-destructive behaviour in another.

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Some of you may or may not have heard about or seen the new Netflix series, Afflicted. It is a series that follows seven people living with chronic illnesses or as they put it, afflictions.  Before I watched, I had already seen many people tweeting and blogging about the series, it seemed that the chronic illness community were not happy at all. So, like with all of these things, I felt I needed to watch before passing judgement or comment.

I managed to watch one episode and decided not to watch any more. I flicked through the second and third episodes but found it upsetting and stressful. As with any of these series, the film makers had clearly got their angle and that was all they wanted to follow. It appeared that they wanted to portray these people as mentally ill. Without directly poking fun at them, that’s how it came across..dismissing autoimmune, neurological illness and just simply labelling these people as crazy.

For me, it was damaging. There is enough disbelief out there about these curious illness that people, including doctors, don’t believe in and this series was adding fuel to the fire. They focussed a lot on what homeopathic treatments the subjects had turned to, making them look hippy and alternative.

They failed to say that they were under specialists and had tried anything and everything to try to find help and a cure. They missed the point that these people were turning to alternative therapies because no one out there is putting money into science to find cures and treatments and even causes for these illnesses. They failed to emphasise the point that these people, like all chronic illness sufferers are desperate. They will try anything to see if it has an impact, no matter how small on their symptoms. It’s interesting to read able-bodied, ignorant people writing about this.

The programme touched on the point that some of the subjects were turning down expensive treatments that were lacking in foundation or evidence. Again, failing to tell people the actual cost and not pointing out – how would these people afford them? So, as so perfectly put by @gnomesChainey on Twitter: “Able-bodied people: They’re turning down expensive treatments! Don’t they want to get well? Also able-bodied people: Why would they pay so much money for unproven treatments? It’e like they don’t care about science at all!”

The emphasis was about the mental side of the illnesses. Why aren’t these people on anti depressants? Well, most of them were. That doesn’t make them crazy. That doesn’t ,mean the illness is in their heads. It means that the illness has affected them so badly that it’s impacting on their mental health too. If you were trapped in your body or your bedroom, if you were being told by medical professionals there’s nothing more that can be done for you, you too would probably suffer and need some help and anti depressants are an option.

There was a line in the series that hit me like a truck: “You can be deluded that you are sick. You can believe that you’re sick when in fact you’re not sick.”

And then, people who know nothing about chronic illness, have started being keyboard warriors and accusing the carers of these people of being enablers. They’ve watched the programme and seen parents, husbands, wives and friends caring for these people and decided that they aren’t caring for these people, they are enabling them. Not helping them get better, enabling them to continue to think they’re ill when they’re not.

Wow.

Now, I know first hand what this is like. Early on in my illness I had someone feel like they had the authority to email my mum and tell her that both she and my dad were not giving me the help I needed. That they needed to give me a kick up the backside and encourage me to get on with things. They weren’t helping me get better. If I hadn’t experienced this, I wouldn’t have believed it. How do people have the audacity to pass judgement? To have the guts to tell people what they are and aren’t doing the right by their child!

People forget that when you live with a ling term illness, we get good at lying. We get good at covering our pain. My pain threshold is pretty high now, I can mask the constant pain and I can act like I’ve got energy when it feels like I’m wading through treacle. My parents are not enablers. Believe me, if you knew my parents you’d know that they would be the first people to “give me a kick up the backside” if they thought I was being lazy.

My parents are quite the opposite. They enable me. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am now. They support  and push me in the kindest, gentlest ways. They get me to appointments, they see me when I’m struggling and need help, they lend me an arm to hold onto when walking hurts, they give me their shoulder when I need to cry.

I would also like to point out that the majority of chronic illness sufferers that I know, including myself, are our own enablers. We do not want to be ill. We do not want to be relying on others financially, emotionally and physically. We don’t want to be on benefits and out of work. We don’t want to avoid social events, holidays, alcohol, sunshine, work etc etc etc. We are so tuned into our bodies that we notice the slightest change be that an improvements or new ailment.

At times, my parents will tell me to stop. That doesn’t make them enablers. They live with me, they see me at my best, my worst and my ugliest. So they know that I try, every single day to achieve things. But also can see me wilting when I’ve done too much and know what the fall out could be, so, to stop that happening, they will sat, do you think you’ve done enough for today? Maybe you should go and have a lay down? Why don’t you sit down and do a bit more later? This is not enabling behaviour, it’s love and support at the highest degree.

My parents at retirement age had not planned for their 30 something daughter to be living back at home, to be caring for her, supporting her financially. That was not in their plan. So therefore, I highly doubt they would enable to me continue to be like this forever…think about it, it’s just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. No one would want to live my life or live the life my parents have at the moment. And I’m not saying they would change it because they wouldn’t have it any other way than being there for me in my time of need, but we only manage to deal with it because we live in hope that one day we can go back onto the right paths and live are normal lives again.

I guess what I’m trying to get across here is linked to a lesson I always do on the first day of the school year with my children in class. I get them to squirt out a whole tube of toothpaste and then try to get every last morsel back in using a toothpick. Obviously it can’t be done but they have great fun trying. And then I tell them, the toothpaste is the words we speak. Once those words come out of our mouths it’s impossible to take them back. They can cause unknown hurt and damage to people.

Afflicted is out there now. People living with chronic illness, especially the people featured, have had untold damage done to them. They are experiencing trolling and cruel words from people who have zero clue. One participant tweeted: “ We hoped that with it might come investment in research to find biomarkers and better treatments. We never fathomed that we were participating in a project that would instead expose us and our communities to further ridicule and disbelief.”

It’s also given people who have no understanding, a programme to watch for entertainment and laugh and jibe and make fun of people who actually need love and understanding.

The wonderful Jennifer Brea who spent five years making the film Unrest about her life living with M.E. has been fighting our corner on Twitter since Afflicted came out. She is a hero in my eyes. In response to a tweet someone put out about enabling people with chronic illness, Jennifer replied: “ Many people with severe chronic illness, if not “enabled/supported” by loved ones, would simply become homeless or commit suicide.”

And I’ll leave it there. She says it all in that one tweet.

#hairlesshannah

 

Learning to let go…

Firstly, I’m sorry I’ve been MIA on my blog, no real reason, just life. But today I felt the urge to write again, it’s my go to self help and therapy when I need it to be I suppose.

I’m writing in a new space today though, in my flat. In my very empty shell of a flat whilst a man is cleaning my oven..I joke not! It’s a very surreal time. I have convinced myself of all the reasons why I’m having to sell and the positives that come with it but at the same time, I am unfathomably sad about it all.

I bought this flat almost eight years ago. I worked hard for it and the sense of achievement I got when I moved in was huge. It marked a point in my life when I was secure enough to be able to move forward from the after effects of jury service and live alone, move forward, be independent. It was exciting, a new chapter, something for me to be proud of and it was the best feeling ever.

This flat has seen some brilliant times – Halloween parties, birthdays, gatherings for all occasions, any excuse really. It’s seen two eventful room renters for which many stories can be told and endless hours of DIY for my dad! It’s been a safe haven, my own space and I truly have been so lucky to call this place my first independent home. For any other single pringles out there, you’ll totally get the hardship that comes with being a singleton trying to get onto the housing ladder– it’s bloody tough when you’re on your own and that’s what made finally getting my flat such an achievement.

My flat is the last thing I was clinging on to for dear life, my aim to get better and be able to live here again. But sadly, for powers totally out of my control, that can’t happen and the choice and dream has been taken out of my hands. I know that one day I will be able to start afresh somewhere new, I know once it’s sold it will be a stress removed from my shoulders however, I think it just highlights the unfairness of my situation and demonstrates once more what ME robs from people.

By selling my home, that’s the last thing that essentially makes the life I made for myself, gone. I’m no longer a teacher, a traveller, a home owner. I’m back to square one and regardless of how I try and put a positive spin on things, it hurts and it feels like one more thing to mourn. And I won’t dwell on it too much because it won’t change the situation or do me any good, but I am allowing myself a little time to process and get it out of my system I suppose. Then, I’ll toast the good times and look forward to the next chapter as and when it comes.

I go through phases where I am totally in control of life and my mental and emotional well being and then, like most things that seem to happen to me, a lot happens all at once and I can’t keep things in check. I guess with hope there’s always the danger of it being dashed. That’s why I don’t hope for too much at once and take the little things as and when I can. ME is just such a random, uncertain illness – there’s almost no point in saying, this time next year you’ll be able to do XYZ, because you just don’t know. I might be able to do XYZ in six months but equally it might take another two years. I’m learning to accept it more and am trying to be at peace with it because like I said before, I can’t do anything about it, but what I can’t silence in my mind is how much I hate it. I really do hate it. It has stolen so much from me, I’m not in control, I miss my independence, my life before.

But, life goes on and I do believe things happen for a reason, (if anyone would like to shed some light on this, I’d love to hear it!) so, for now, I’ll enjoy the fact that a man is cleaning my oven and that I don’t have to do it or ask my parents to, I’ll sit here and quietly remember the fun this place has seen and dare to dream a little about what lies ahead.

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I hope you’ve all had a lovely weekend and are still enjoying this freakishly long sunny UK Summer!

#hairlesshannah

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Health Update Time

The time has come to publish a blog that I’ve been writing gradually over the last three or so weeks. If you’ve been with my blog since the beginning you will know that writing has been an outlet for my emotions and has proven to be very therapeutic. However, it also lays me bare and it can be quite daunting knowing that my life is out there for the world and his wife to access and judge. That’s why I haven’t pressed publish on this post until now because it’s been a tricky few weeks and my writing is quite raw, but, it is my way of communicating so it seemed silly to write it and not share. I have no idea why but I find opening up verbally to the people I love really difficult. Not because they won’t listen, support and comfort, simply because I find it hard to put into words sometimes – odd when I can write without difficulty right?!

I’ll start from the beginning. A couple of Fridays ago Dad and I went to London to see Lumiere London. It’s something I’ve always wanted to go and see and take photos of and this year I felt strong enough to go and see some parts of it.  I cannot explain how wonderful those few hours in London were. Although cold, London was still. No wind, rain, it was at night so no sun…I was able to walk outside without intense pain on my head and face for the first time in well over a year and it felt liberating. So much so that I ignored all the other symptoms as they began to creep up – knees piercing, muscles contracting, headache niggling and fatigue enveloping me with each step. But I didn’t want it to end, I wanted a normal night and to enjoy the moment, a day or two pay back would be worth it for this moment.

 

Nah. My body was not happy with me. Saturday lulled me into a false sense of security as I woke up feeling not too dissimilar to when I over do things but by Saturday night I was in a world of pain and this continued day after day for almost nine days. This is often the case with ME, post exertion malaise will often only properly kick in until 24 hours after the activity. With this pay back came a world of grey and I couldn’t shift it. I couldn’t really focus on anything other than the pins and needles, the joint and muscle pain, the fatigue on top of fatigue and simply how low I felt. I was well aware that I wasn’t really talking to anyone, friends or mum and dad and I know how frustrating, irritating and annoying that must have been to live with but I couldn’t face it any other way. By talking I would cry and crying is exhausting and I literally didn’t have the space to exacerbate the hell I was experiencing. I wanted to be alone, in silence and darkness and to hibernate until it passed.

But for me, the hardest thing was a new symptom. Rage. Anger. I am not an angry person but honestly, I wanted to smash things. Break, punch, scream…I was so angry. Angry at myself because I hadn’t paced myself: I’d ignored all my CBT “training” and my body turned round and basically punished me for being so stupid. Then came the anger because I am done with this life I’m living in. For others I guess it’s easy to think I am doing well – I still smile, I’ve had a book published and I make cards and pom poms which is an improvement. I agree with that. BUT, and it’s a big but…I live every day at a level people take sick days for and when I push myself, what I experience is something most can’t contemplate because it’s hidden and it’s misunderstood. That place that I live in day-to-day is lonely and frustrating. I am not better, I am not well.

I did have a CBT session thankfully in which I cried…a lot…she knew something was up. And as always, she was fantastic at convincing me that I need to focus on the positive that I had such a lovely time in London and not to allow it to put me off doing it again because I need to throw caution to the wind sometimes and live. She explained it that if she, as a runner, suddenly went from running a mile and thinking she was doing well so went and ran a marathon the next day, her body would make her pay and that’s the equivalent of what I had done. And I get that, but as I said to her, what I did in London that night was a fraction of what I’d have done in my previous life and it just seems so cruel and unfair that this far down the line I still can’t.

I’m angry that the life I lead now when I have a good day, is like the couple of days after you recover from flu and think – phew I feel a bit more human today. We did laugh though when at one point she said – just tell me all the things you’re angry about, which I did and then added, “I hate that I’m making f**cking pom poms and I am capable of so much more!” It just sounded so juvenile and ungrateful that it jolted me a little. I love making crafts but I can’t make it into something I’d love to because I don’t have the brain or body capacity to, so when you break it down, I make pom poms when I used to teach and make a difference and I just feel like my brain and body is rotting and isn’t good for much.

It’s so hard accepting that you are experiencing a hellish few weeks but that when you feel “better” you will simply be back at the level that most people couldn’t cope with. I have forgotten what it feels like to wake up and feel refreshed from sleep, to have a day without pain, to wear make up or have hair, just to feel nice. It’s not a pleasant place to be and it’s a daily battle to keep taking steps forward and bury the negatives and focus on the positives.

I mean – I did warn you that this post is a brain dump of everything I’ve been feeling, it does seem over the top and desperate but I guess that is the truth of it at the moment. ME isn’t a straight path. You take a few steps forward and then from nowhere you are flung ten steps backwards. Being in such a dark place is scary which is why I am grateful for the antidepressants at the moment because I know I need them. It’s children’s mental health week this week and now, having lived with an illness that’s so hidden and misunderstood makes it so much more important to spread awareness for these types of illnesses because they can so easily be missed, misunderstood and belittled.

Thankfully, with the help of some puppy love, brownies and time, I am just about out the other side of the pay back from that Friday three weeks ago and I will now continue with my targets and pacing and claw back some of the steps I’ve taken backwards.

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Remember, be kind to everyone you see. You never know what they’re dealing with.

Happy Thursday.

#hairlesshannah

 

Lonely.

The definition of lonely in the dictionary is: ‘sad because one has no friends or company.’

I agree that this is one way of looking at the word however, it isn’t always as simple as that. I am sure the feeling of loneliness has affected most of us at one point or another in our lives but thankfully, I am also sure that the majority of people reading this are lucky enough to have a whole host of friends and family of whom they can call upon in times of need.

I started to really think about the state of being lonely a few weeks back because I did indeed feel very lonely and isolated. I count myself extremely lucky because I do have the most amazing group of friends and I live with my amazing family so the dictionary definition doesn’t fit in with my sense of loneliness. So how is it then that I go through extreme stages of feeling like I am totally alone?

I have always been very good in my own company. I can occupy myself and keep busy most of the time without giving it a second thought. I pop on some music or a film and can potter about quite happily without a second thought that I am ‘on my own.’  I lived on my own in the UK and in Dubai without giving it a second thought. Yet, I also absolutely adore human interaction and good company. I love a good catch up, bit of gossip, a debate, laugh or simply to sit in silence with someone close to enjoy TV or a film. I know some people aren’t like this, they can’t stand being in their own company or at least not for very long and I also know those who choose smaller amounts of time with people as they prefer the quiet life. There is no right or wrong, as individuals we all suit different lifestyles and ways of filling our time.

However, my circumstances have led to a real upheaval of my normal routine and therefore I have had much more time on my hands to be by myself and I can’t do many of the things I would usually do with this time because of my illness. Therefore, I spend many hours feeling isolated, frustrated and trapped. Although I have never had one day by myself since coming home two years ago, I have discovered that it is totally reasonable to feel lonely even though you’re surrounded by people – a crazy concept I know!

This isn’t a ‘woe is me’ post, more a mind dump of thoughts I’ve been having of late and a way of reasoning with my feelings. One is of course the circumstance I find myself in compared to that I wish I wish in. I don’t have a partner, I am a single pringle who is in no position to contemplate or entertain the idea of dating or finding someone. Therefore, that results in not having that one person to lean on, confide in, share with and look after. I love a cuddle but I can, at times, go days without any human contact physically. That is sometimes my own doing because I know if I am touched I will crumble and I don’t always want that!  Of course I have the emotional support from my family on a daily basis, but ultimately, when I go upstairs and close that door, I am alone. Just me. Just me and my thoughts. And although sometimes this is all I want, it’s where I can just focus on what I need, it can also be a danger zone because being alone can become quite a dark place at times.

During the last month I have made a choice of being alone most of the time. I haven’t been in a good head space and haven’t wanted interaction and when I have, I’ve found that the smallest of things will irritate or upset me. I’ve just wanted peace and quiet, low lighting and comfy surroundings to ease the symptoms that have become so acute. This is most definitely a double-edged sword because although it’s what I have wanted, it hasn’t necessarily helped. Being around people and socialising, although exhausting, lifts my mood and occupies me. I’ve noticeably not reached out to people for company like I normally would and I am now consciously making more of an effort because I know that friendships are two-way and I can’y always rely on others to organise, I need to meet them half way. That’s where CBT is helping because I can pace myself in terms of self-care and preservation alongside seeing people and doing nice things to keep me going.

Lonely is a tough place to be. You can’t always see a way out of it but there are always options – texts, phone calls, Skype, arranging catch ups or simply making links within communities on social media with people who understand what you’re experiencing. This is one that I find most helpful at times because one cause of my loneliness is the feeling that people don’t truly understand and ‘get’ what I’m going through on a daily basis. It’s through no fault of anyone, life has to go on, but at the moment I simply can’t shake this overwhelming sense of feeling trapped by my mind and body. For the first time in months I gave up the other day. I uttered the words, “I can’t.” I’d gone with mum and dad for a little walk at High Elms, it wasn’t sunny so my pins and needles shouldn’t have been too much of an issue – but storm Brian had other ideas and set about sending strong gusts of wind. The only way I can describe it was that the pins and needles were lodged in my face and head, and every time the wind blew against me, it pushed those bloody things in and out of face and head like they were drilling tiny holes. It was so painful and for once, I couldn’t ignore them, so I went back and took shelter in the car. I didn’t cry, I didn’t get upset, I just felt anger. Like so many times at the moment, I wanted to scream, to shout and to vent the frustration that courses through my body several times a day. I hate this life, I hate my body and I hate that at the moment, my mind won’t let me push these thoughts away.

ME is a lonely illness, it is isolating, it is frustrating and it is a place where you spend a lot of time alone. I’m okay with that most of the time, I’m becoming more accepting of it because really, there’s no other way I can be because there is no fix for it. I don’t always want to talk about how I feel or what I’m thinking, I don’t want to discuss the pain or frustration but that equals an even more lonely feeling because I can’t share it with anyone, I only burden myself and that is tough. I just have to remind myself that although I spend much of my time by myself or with the same four people I share a house with, I am not alone.  I will never be alone and I should be grateful for that. There is always someone who will listen, whether that be someone you know or a stranger you can connect with. We must take advantage of the positives that living in this social media driven world provides us with and I can’t recommend it enough.

So, please, if you’re feeling lonely today, reach out, talk, share and know, you are not alone in whatever you are going through so don’t be afraid to talk.

Be kind to yourself.

Happy Tuesday,

#hairlesshannah

 

 

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Me, ME & CBT

On September 21st, we were made aware that Radio 4 would be doing a phone in all about ME/CFS. So, mum, dad and I sat in the kitchen and listened in and I have to say, my reaction was not necessarily what I was expecting.

I assumed that the show was probably picking up on the fact that there has been quite a bit of press attention towards ME/CFS recently because NICE have ordered a review of the “treatments” available. Because of research I have done, I was aware that there are many people who suffer with ME, around 200,00 in the UK and there are only two therapies recommended by the NHS- GET (graded exercise therapy) and CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy.)

The phone in involved many people contacting Radio 4 and giving their experiences of ME and talking about the support and treatments they have tried or been recommended. And that’s where I was astounded, the sheer quantity of people they had contacted them was overwhelming and each person they spoke to or read out an e-mail from was so devastatingly sad, hopeless and in many ways negative. Yes, in some ways I found it encouraging that it’s not just me that has experienced the lack of knowledge around the illness from health professionals, that treatment options are sparse and that language used towards us is often belittling and derogatory. That I am not the only one suffering the way I do on a daily basis and feeling like they’re getting nowhere.

But what I found most frustrating was the views they put across about GET and CBT. Now, I am not a specialist on this and would never claim to be. Everyone’s experiences will differ and depending on the outcomes of said treatments, people will have different opinions on their worth. I am well aware there is no “cure,” and I know that there are many differing levels of suffering with ME and that I am by no means at the severe end of the scale. But that’s what’s tough, my level of suffering is bad enough so to imagine it being worse is unthinkable.

I won’t be commenting on GET as I haven’t any experience of it but as you may know if you have read my previous blogs, I have been given a course of CBT on the NHS. Even though I had heard some negative connotations around it, I really am a – ‘anything is worth a try’ kinda gal so purposefully didn’t do too much research as I wanted to go in with an open mind.  Therefore to listen to so many people’s stories of how it hasn’t worked for them, made them worse etc made me fearful for those who have been offered CBT and haven’t yet started.

I am ten sessions in and am still totally undecided on how I feel about it. It’s hard. It’s emotional and in some ways I have had to take steps backwards BUT I can see the reason why it is suggested as something to support ME sufferers. It has not made me better but it has helped me to “cope” a little more and supported me in terms of learning how to pace myself properly – before was all guess-work and I didn’t know what was best. I am lucky that I immediately hit it off with my therapist. I like her but more importantly, I trust her. She hasn’t once fed me the optimistic bs that so many doctors and specialists have over the past two years, she hasn’t guestimated how long it may take to make improvements and she hasn’t once made me feel stupid or that it’s all in my head.

My mind is still divided and in some ways uncertain as to some of the things we do – sometimes I think if I have to fill in one more bloody diary sheet I might scream!! I am not for one minute saying no one should be negative about CBT because believe me, I’ve had my moments. It isn’t a cure but you know what, if it’s the only thing that can be offered to me then I’d be silly to not give it my all and put my trust in her.

I spent the entirety of my last session talking to her about the Radio 4 programme. She hadn’t heard it but was interested in my thoughts and feelings. I admitted it had made me doubt the CBT process and feel terribly upset and worried that if it doesn’t help me, there aren’t any other options and it had made me feel hopeless. I also expressed my deep sadness for those about to start CBT or those who are only a few sessions in who may have tuned into the programme. At that stage you are so vulnerable and it could totally tip you over into the frame of mind to approach CBT negatively from the start and that surely leaves you in a worse off position than going in open-minded?

I explained how I worried that our sessions were very much based around unhelpful thinking patterns and that although I understood that helps my mental state, ME isn’t a psychological illness, it isn’t in my mind and that made me sad to think that is how I was potentially being viewed – as nuts. Or as it was expressed on the show, an over emotional female who can’t cope!

My therapist then took time to explain how she 100% knew that ME was not a psychological illness. How she’d worked with people who were bed bound, had seen the pain and other obstacles that her patients have to deal with first hand and that she would never want me to think that she thought of me as mad!  Once again she reiterated that she could make no promises with my recovery but that everything we do is with the aim to improve upon the way I live my life day-to-day right now. And that may be simply by increasing my daily activity by five minutes and she would be excited by that. Then we discusses my brain – a scary thing I can tell you! There is so much in the press about mental health which is so brilliant and she explained that although ME most certainly is a physical illness, the psychological fall out is just as real. The impact that ME has on your life is beyond explaining, I still struggle to fully explain the pain and frustration that lies behind my smile and the tears that are always ready to pour – to most it either looks like I’m fine or on the flip side that I’m in a mood (sometimes that’s true but mostly I cope by either smiling or being quiet because words just aren’t enough.)

I am slowly learning that my brain is just as in need of treatment as any other part of my body. If my arm broke, I’d get a cast, if my eye sight starts to go, I’d get glasses, if I hurt my back, I’d get physio. So when my mind is put under stress and strain, why shouldn’t I seek help through therapy? And there in lies the beauty of CBT. I can talk to someone who knows ME like the back of her hand, I’m not saying they all do, but luckily, my therapist is first class. She understands my symptoms and she helps me, asks me what I want to talk about, what I want to aim for, what my ultimate hope is for my illness and the treatment and slowly, gradually we work together to try to aim for that.

We make and monitor targets. I needed to know if and when I should push myself. I have totally reverted to being a teenager again and feel terrible guilt if I don’t achieve my targets or have to turn up saying, “Sorry, I didn’t do my diaries this week because, well, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.” It’s awful, I feel like I’m going to get detention! But that’s something to work on because as you may have guessed, she doesn’t get mad, she doesn’t berate me. She tells me I know my body and mind the best. I know when I can push myself to achieve those targets we set, there is no point adjusting them or pushing for them if they will make it harder than it already is on a daily basis. Now that doesn’t mean she doesn’t push me to some extent but she pushes me within or jsut slightly beyond my limits and always does so with care and consideration. She is always at the end of an e-mail and replies quick as a flash and has supported me in so many other ways outside of the therapy room, in ways no one else has done before. I tell you, this woman really is top class.

It’s hard to see any progress, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack sometimes and I know I get blindsided by time and milestones i.e. it’s nearly two years since I’ve been home and I feel just as stuck and possibly even sadder than I did back then. But at the end of the last session, she sensed that the Radio 4 programme had popped a seed of doubt into my mind so we got out my targets and charts from when I first met with her.

Over ten sessions (24 weeks) I have upped my daily activity by 20 minutes, this doesn’t seem by much but when most of the activities I do link to crafts – using scissors and using my hands, well, that hurts quite considerably so, yeah – 20 minutes is a lot!  I have reduced my daily sleep allowance to 2 hours (not achieved on many days, but on more than not) and when I achieve my ‘get out of the house daily’ (not met on 6/7 days this week, hangs head in shame) I can walk for 15 minutes without needing to stop or get home. I have also started to drive once a week, 5 minutes down the road to get to my reflexology sessions which is the biggest thing for me because I feel like that gives me some independence. I find it daunting and scary because I haven’t driven for so long and I am very aware of my capabilities or lack of them!

So, in actual fact, I have made progress. Yes, I may have achieved these without CBT but I reckon, for me, it would have taken a lot longer because I wouldn’t have known the best way, the safest way, the way which would help me most.

As I said at the beginning, this is my own personal experience and I know not everyone will be as lucky as me to have a therapist so experienced and so wonderful. But I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you haven’t started CBT yet or are nervous to, try not to be. Everyone’s experiences are different. It’s important to be honest, yes, and it’s brilliant to take advantage of that online community because you get so much support through it and learn a lot, however, as we know all too well, online communities can also have a flip side. It’s a safe place to moan and vent, I’ve done it! But that doesn’t mean it should cloud your experience. In the week between listening to the show and seeing my therapist I spent a lot of time online looking into others experiences with CBT and honestly, I only found one or two positive ones. I then felt bad, guilty almost that in some ways I am finding comfort from it. I’m not stupid, I know it won’t cure me, but I am realistic in that it helps me and I’m okay with that, it’s the closest I’ve got so far with any kind of proper help.

So accept those NHS sessions if you’re lucky enough, like me, to be offered them. And if like me, you weren’t aware that you could get access to sessions on the NHS, ask about them, request them, because who knows, you might actually find some benefit from it like I have. I certainly hope so anyway. This blog all began because I wanted share my experiences with alopeica but I think it is so important to share the good alongside the bad. Sharing positive experiences is so important, so please, if you’ve had a positive experience of CBT, let me know, comment below or send me a message, I’d love to hear about it.

Have a good Friday and a lovely weekend,

#hairlesshannah

My spoonie survival kit!

One of the questions I am often asked is what things help me on a day-to-day basis, things that ease the symptoms of ME. Obviously this will differ from person to person but I thought some might find it interesting or helpful to see what helps me, so here is my ultimate list for my spoonie survival kit!

What I always carry in my bag

I have never been one to pack light, even in my days pre ME! In the sixth form I was awarded the medal for being ‘mummy’ as I could pretty much always provide what anyone needed, from a tissue to a paracetamol, polo to a nail file! You will very rarely see me with a small bag as it just simply wouldn’t cut the mustard (where does that saying come from?!) in order to accommodate my needs!

  1. My polarised sunglasses. These were an expensive purchase when I lived in Dubai but my goodness have they been a life saver since being diagnosed. My light sensitivity is really bad and the difference between wearing normal sunglasses and my polarised ones has been incredible.
  2. Ear plugs. As I’ve mentioned before, noise sensitivity has also remained a real issue for me. As soon as I go somewhere that is more crowded I need these bad boys to keep my head from exploding. At home we can monitor and adjust the noise level but that’s not so easy if I venture out for a meal or to walk around a shop!
  3. Polos and rescue remedy. These two have featured in my bag essentials for a while now. Since suffering with panic attacks, these two things are my go to life lines. Bach’s rescue remedy I find really calming and helpful and as for polos, I’m not overly sure apart from a previous CBT therapist explained it may be because I can focus on a different sense which distracts me from my anxiety – who knows, all I’m bothered about is that they help when my anxiety rises!
  4. My little medication purse. One of my anxieties is that I could be somewhere and not have the thing I need to make me feel better so I have a medication bag! The essentials are: travel sickness pills, Imodium, paracetamol, Paramol, anti-histamine, inhaler, antiseptic hand gel, hand cream and throat sweets.
  5. Bottle of water. One of the side effects of some of the drugs I’m on is a very dry mouth but also, water is always good incase I need to take tablets or have a hot flush!
  6. Eye drops. Since losing my eyelashes I’ve noticed that my eyes are more susceptible to getting dry, itchy and getting dust etc in them. Eye drops are just a useful things to have at hand for those irritating moments.

 

At home survival essentials

  1. Electric blanket. Honestly, this bad boy is slowly becoming my new best friend! I haven’t had it on during the Summer but popped it back on my bed about three weeks ago and oh my, I had forgotten the benefits it provides. The difference in my restless and painful legs is definitely aided by this hot piece of material and I have found that the sleep I do manage to get seems to be of a better quality.
  2. My pregnancy pillow! Again, it provides me and my painful limbs with the much-needed support they crave. I am so much more comfortable lying down with this wrapped around me – who needs a man eh?!
  3. My diary. I’ve kept a diary every day since I was 11 but it really has been an essential for me as it’s a way of venting every day and getting my emotions out. I still find talking tough so this is my way of getting my thoughts and feelings out of my system before I go to sleep. Again, this helps me to go to bed with all those heavy thoughts weighing me down.
  4. Bath range! I love me a bath! Any Lush bath bomb will suffice but I absolutely adore the Marks and Spencers Sleep range. A friend got me them for my birthday – all lavender based, not overpowering, just right. A shower gel, foot cream, hand cream, body lotion and pillow spray, all amazing products although I am also partial to the Lush cream called Sleepy. There’s been a lot of press around lately about how it’s a miracle cure for insomnia…it hasn’t done that for me at all but I do love the smell and it definitely is a calming scent.
  5. Dimmer lights and subtitles! Yep, I am a granny…these link to light and noise sensitivity but there are always options to make life bearable.

 

So there you have it, my list of goodies that I use everyday to help me – if you have any to add to it, please comment and let me know.

Hope you’re having a lovely week,

#hairlesshannah

Dream a little dream

If you take time to stop and think about how your brain controls everything you do, how it generates your thoughts and how it governs our emotions, thoughts, actions…basically everything we do, it can become quite overwhelming.

I am learning that my brain is quite an interesting little fella! It generates thoughts and worries that I can’t control – it’s like a beast that is refusing to be tamed! However, I am trying and through the help of CBT, I’m sure I will whip it into shape. I have found it so interesting dissecting my thoughts and learning about the influences that impact me and therefore enable my unhelpful thinking patterns. We/I often react to a situation by responding to how it makes me/us feel and that then leads to me/us behaving in certain ways and reacting to it on a physical level i.e. something has made me/us feel stressed so in my case, I can’t sleep and this leads to me feeling fatigued.

So if I try to consciously think about something it might start to change my behaviour, emotions and reactions which will mean that my physical and emotional responses will also change. The way it is described in the book I am reading sums it all up perfectly; The way we think about something will determine how we feel, and the way we feel will often determine what we do.  (‘Overcoming chronic fatigue’ by Mary Burgess.)

It is a really tough thing to unpick. I am keeping an unhelpful though pattern log at the moment where I have to dissect my thoughts. Thinking about the various aspects of that single thought is hard. Seeing things broken down and written in black and white really brings home the truth behind how I’m feeling and how it is impacting me on a daily basis. However, even though it’s a hard process, it is helping me to challenge the way I react and respond to my thoughts/worries. Don’t get me wrong, at the moment it really isn’t changing the way I respond to certain things but it is in the front of my mind and I am noticing how after I have these thoughts, I dissect them a little and challenge them and it helps me to box them up and shelve them rather than dwell as much as I have been.

Our brains are such intricate organs and one that I will never fully understand! Sleep is still a bloody nightmare for me at the moment. I simply cannot fathom how someone who is SO fatigued just can’t sleep. Over the last three weeks the most sleep I’ve had in a 24 hour period of 5.5 hours. I am sticking to my CBT targets and setting an alarm in the day for a maximum 2 hour nap although I could sleep longer – why is that?! Why could I sleep in the day with no issue yet when it comes to night-time, I just can’t get to sleep? And when I do, I will wake up every 30 minutes to an hour and then remain awake for anything up to two hours?! I just don’t understand and although I know so many ME sufferers have this problem – insomnia and painsomnia – I can’t find any research or explanation for it?

I have always been a vivid dreamer – always in colour and I can often wake up remembering them. But over the last few months – really starting when I was taking melatonin – my dreams have become stunningly vivid. I have a least one dream that I wake up from a night that feels like real life and affects me on an emotional and physical level. Some are totally bizarre although I can relate them to something I may have watched on TV or read about but some are quite clearly linked to my subconscious and they are the ones that are having the biggest impact on me. They are so cruel, it’s like my brain is torturing me on yet another level and although the dreams are wonderful to “live” through at the time, they are a flippin’ hateful things to wake up from because I come back down to Earth with an almighty thwack!

I’ll give you some examples! Here are two of my more bizarre dreams of late!

  1. I was the right hand lady to the President of the United States who just happened to be Denzel Washington – I do love that man! He was in terrible danger and I had to defend him Jack Bauer style and I have to say, I was kick ass! The dream ended with him shaking my hand and thanking me and I replied, “It has been an honour Sir.” Ha ha ha I mean, this is obviously a dream concocted by someone who loves ’24’ and would love to be a real life super hero!
  2.  Tom Jones was my friend and he was about to do a concert but had very swiftly been struck with dementia so couldn’t remember any of his song lyrics! Mum was hysterically upset because no-one would ever get to watch the genius of Tom in concert again and the dream ended with me trying to find a cure for dementia.

And then we come onto my more upsetting dreams to wake from!

  1. The marriage dream. I’ve had several dreams where I am either getting ready for my wedding day or living my wedding day. I can never see the face of the man but I just know I can feel how happy I am. The dress, flowers, party – everything – is always beautiful and the happiness overwhelming.
  2. The engagement dream. Again, where I can literally feel how happy I am and how in love and the dream is based around telling people we are engaged and it’s all jolly and wonderful!
  3. The baby dream. I am either pregnant or have a little baby and again, totally in love and totally happy. The most recent and interesting dream linked to this is one I had last week; I was a single mum, pregnant and had consciously decided to use a sperm donor because I hadn’t found the right man but knew I wanted to be a mum! I had a C-Section and had a little girl!

These dreams are tough ones because they are all linked to my real life dreams – I would love to be in a happy relationship and have my own family unit and if any of you know me, I have always wanted to be a mum. These are all things that for now, are way out of my reach and are pipe dreams quite literally. So to wake up feeling so deeply the happiness and love and then realise it isn’t true is hard and it takes me a while to shake it and separate it from my actual reality.

I love a good dream and what I am trying to say here is how powerful our brains are. Even in our sleep they manage to formulate our conscious and sub-conscious thoughts, hopes and wishes and bring them to life. It brings me back to the fact that our brains are equally a part of our body as a leg or arm and need to be cared for in the same way. We may not be able to see the hurt and damage that our brains are dealing with but that doesn’t mean that it’s any lesser than anything else that needs care and attention.

So, as always, remember that not everyone’s demons are visible, they can’t be fixed quickly, people can’t just snap out of it and all they need is a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear and a good old laugh.

Happy Friday everyone.

#hairlesshannah

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The reality behind the photo

It’s been a while since I wrote about how I’m coping with having an invisible illness. I’ve now been formally diagnosed with ME/CFS which was both a relief and a worry. A relief because I can now answer questions definitively about what is “wrong” but also a fear because part of me really didn’t want it to be ME. I wanted it to be something curable, treatable…for someone to be able to ‘fix’ me.

I’ve been using social media much more to promote my blog lately and as we all know, social media portrays an image of people that doesn’t always reflect the honesty of your reality. Some people that I follow who have ME are truly brave and use their accounts to show the reality of daily life living with ME, but I don’t. I guess I don’t because I try to keep as many aspects of my life positive and happy in order to keep myself as pepped up as possible. There is nothing wrong with either but my option does then cause problems. By posting a photo that shows me out, smiling, laughing, with people, posting positive etc etc it would appear there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not opposed to the odd selfie but I also don’t always feel comfortable to show reality through them, my space for being honest is here in my writing.

But what I want to write about in this post is the story behind the social media photos. Photos give you a snap shot. Take for example the photo below.

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This was taken on Friday evening at a surprise party for my ex head teacher and friend. I was picked up at 7pm…well 6.45 as Olivia was EARLY!…the party started at 8pm and my Dad picked me up at 9.30. In the photo I am laughing, surrounded by some of my loveliest friends, drink in hand, having a ball. And I was. In that moment I was happy, I was with people who accept me for who I am, support me through what I’m going through and understand my limitations. To many people though they will see this photo and possibly think the following:

  • Hannah is out, she tells us she’s in bed by 9pm
  • Hannah is dressed up and out at night when she tells us she struggles with noise and busy places
  • Hannah tells us she is in constant pain and can’t do very much let alone go out with friends

Now, I will tell you the reality behind that photo. I haven’t been out in the evening in a party situation since July last year and on very few occasions have been out for a meal in the evenings, so Friday was a big deal. I was anxious about going and I spent most of the afternoon trying to nap to have enough spoons to cope and calming myself down in anticipation. When we arrived it was much louder than I’d imagined it would be. I put my ear plugs in straight away but soon realised that because it was so loud, music plus ear plugs meant I couldn’t hear a word anyone was saying! So I spent the entirety of the few hours I was there with an increasingly banging headache and fuzzy head. I loved those few hours, but I also felt so self-conscious. I was literally the only bald person in the room, I felt like the light was catching my head or that people were staring at me and I certainly didn’t want to be in any photos. I felt hideous, I didn’t feel feminine, I felt ugly and awful and the worst I’ve ever felt about myself. So that photo was me putting on the biggest show of my life in a way – I was happy but would have been happier to not have been captured in that moment. By the time Dad collected me I was done. My legs, knees and back were throbbing, my ears were ringing to the extent I felt like I was shouting when talking to him in the car on the way home and my head was pounding. As I lay in bed that night it was like I was drunk (I only had diet coke!) my head was whirring, my legs cramping and having spasms, my knees seizing. I finally fell asleep at around 8am. That is the reality behind what it took for me to be at that party for two and a half hours.

I’m 31 in a few weeks. I should have been there with my friends on Friday until 1am dancing, drinking a Malibu and coke and being the one snapping the photos like I have always been known to do. I should be looking back on my 30th year and have it littered with good memories of adventures, holidays, milestones and happy times. Instead, it’s a year of appointments, medications, blood tests and sleep. Of course I have had happy times in the year but I think you know what I mean. I feel like a shadow of my former self and I find myself needing to defend how I feel because of photos like the one I’ve talked about. I refuse to not post those photos because otherwise I will not have any memory of these years, in effect I will be missing from these years of my life. There’s a campaign called ‘Millions Missing’ that promotes ME. It talks about how people who have ME are missing from their jobs, social lives, holidays, families..we can’t participate in life in the way we used to but we are still here, we still make the most of what we can when we can. Last year they organised a protest in Whitehall and various other places across the world where people left pairs of shoes to demonstrate how they were missing from their lives because of ME and protesting for the fact that more needs to be done in terms of research and greater funding needed from the government to help people understand the illness more and treat it and it’s sufferers better and with more care and consideration.

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I have been talking to a dear friend this afternoon about this but also about mental health and the similarities that we share. Mental health is also an invisible illness. Just because we had a good day or hour or five minutes yesterday, doesn’t mean we will today or tomorrow or next week. Mental health and ME are fluctuating conditions with no rhyme or reason, no straight path or definitive ending. They are illnesses that need understanding and for people to simply say, “I believe you.”

I find it hard when I see people who say, “You’re looking so well,” or “You’re looking so much better than when I saw you last,” because it makes me feel like a fraud. I feel like I need to defend myself and explain that it’s a hidden illness and looks can be deceiving. If I could wear a wig and pop on some make up I would look totally and utterly fine but I’m not. I feel embarrassed to have to then explain that I’m not actually feeling great but, “thank you for saying I’m looking good.” I know whole heartily that these people are probably being really genuine and kind –  it’s my issue not there’s, I should be thrilled to be told I’m looking well. But because of my personality, I worry that they think I’ve been having them on. My positive attitude and positive mask can work against me in that way because people come to believe it and don’t question it. I saw a friend the other day and we talked about how I am, the loss of my nose hair (!) and everything else in-between but when I saw her again on Friday night she said something that made me smile from inside out. She said that when she got in the car to drive away the other day, she thought about me and what we’d talked about but then she wanted me to know she thought, Hannah is still the same as she’s always been to me. Wicked sense of humour, same old laugh and smile and sense of caring for everyone. To hear that being said so genuinely meant so much, it wasn’t focused on how I looked, or all the changes in me that have occurred, it was a comment about me as Hannah.

Living with an invisible illness is teaching me so much and I’m sure there’s more to come. It’s such a debilitating condition that is stripping me of so much of what I consider my identity. And there’s no end in sight especially when the only recommended “treatment” of a course of CBT is a waiting period of 4-6 months! So, I will continue to try to test different ways to cope and pace myself, I will deal with the ups and downs, I will continue to try and like myself and my appearance, I will try and start to accept that I can’t drive or have much independence and I will continue to strive to stay positive.

It’s a lonely place in this little arena, my bedroom and little writing area are my safe place but they are also lonely. It accentuates the fact that I’m not in a busy classroom or planning for nights and days or even weekends out. But it means that when I do see my friends or I do go out with my family that I don’t take it for granted. I savour every moment even though it may hurt and will inevitably wipe me out for hours, days or nights after. Because at the end of the day, whether I like it or not, this is my life and I will still only get one shot at it. If and when I get better there won’t be a rewind button.

So as with so many of these blog posts, I leave you with this thought: many people you know or will meet may have so much going on in their lives that isn’t visible to you. So be kind and patient and understanding. Give them time, give them a smile and possibly some chocolate…every little helps!!

See you Friday.

#hairlesshannah