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An open letter to my GP

You have been my GP for over 25 years, you know me and my family well and have been there since the start of my illness in October 2015.

We haven’t had the smoothest relationship since my diagnosis of alopecia and ME/CFS, at one point you even rang me up to apologise about your conduct and approach to my condition. You apologised and promised that you would use my case as a learning curve so that any other patient that presented with my symptoms would not be treated the way I was.

After this, I didn’t see your for a while as I was seeing specialists and have been having CBT with the most wonderful, caring and understanding therapist I could have wished for. But, in seven sessions, my NHS input will finish and if I want to continue with CBT, which I do, I will have to pay for it privately. But, myself and my family also felt, in a way, that it’s the NHS washing their hands of me, abandoning me, because they don’t know enough about ME. So, that is why today, myself and my mum came back to you.

We accept that you won’t have all the answers or know everything about ME. As a teacher,  I never knew all the answers but if that was the case, I would research, refer and call specialists so that I could help and support the parents and children in their darkest hours of need to the best of my ability. I would never do what you did to me today.

Today, you sat in front of me and my mum and said that you had no time but that I had all the time on my hands to research, make phone calls, request tests and go privately.

Let that sink in for a minute. You have no time for me.

Now, let me ask you to digest this. Yes, I have time. But it is not my choice, it is not a holiday. I have a chronic, hidden illness that has robbed me and continues to rob me of my life. Myself and my parents have researched, spent money, done everything we can. Every test and specialist I have seen has been as a result of our suggestions to you. But today, we came to you because we needed help and support. We have hit a wall and needed suggestions of people, places, trials or just a simple offer of, “let me see what I can find out and I’ll get back to you.” Instead, you quite simply said you have no time.

Social media has given me a wealth of knowledge about my condition. I’ve heard about countless heartbreaking stories of suicide from patients who have received no help or support, who have simply been left to hope and deal with the cards they’ve been dealt. I’ve read of people no longer having the strength or support networks around them to keep fighting so just live with this illness, not having much of a life. I have never given up hope, yes, I’ve had my dark days, but I’ve always had the hope and belief that doctors and specialists would also not want a 31-year-old woman to just accept this is her life. But today, you changed this. Today, you knocked me down and I felt bereft.

At no point today did you show any empathy or understanding. You commented on my weight several times and yes, I know it is an issue – partly due to the ME, partly because of the drugs I’m on and partly because it’s been an issue for a while. You offered no suggestions of help or support, you asked if I was pushing myself to exercise, suggesting GET – by doing this you further emphasised your lack of knowledge of ME and your lack of bedside manner.

I ask, if you will, just for a minute to put yourself in my shoes and think, could you live like it for a day? Not just with the physical and hidden symptoms but with the loss of work, social life, income, and independence. And then consider how you’d feel after living that way for two and a half years.

I will pick myself up again, my family and friends will make sure of that. And we will keep on fighting. But as my dad said, we now know the NHS has abandoned us and we will have to go forward privately. You have no idea of how that feels, and I hope you nor anyone you know and love ever has to, because believe me, it is a horrendous prospect. It’s lonely and scary, it’s worrying and frustrating.

I would assume that like teachers, you have training each year to update your knowledge. May I suggest that you put forward ME/CFS as an area for all doctors at the practice to learn about, because the thought of another member of our community leaving their appointment feeling like I did today, leaves me heartbroken.

Yours sincerely,

Hannah

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What would you do if you were cured tomorrow?

Recently I replied to a tweet from @TomKindlon who posed the question: “What would you do if you were cured tomorrow?”

I answered quite quickly with the things that immediately sprung to mind, but I must admit, that question lingered with me and the more I’ve thought about it, the more things I’ve added to that list. It’s a hard one to contemplate because in reality, I am not going to wake up tomorrow cured. I am still ill, it is still on going, there is still no cure and the road ahead is still a long, frustrating, upsetting one. However, as with a good book or film, escapism from reality can be a release and I found it nice to dream for a while. So I thought I’d share with you my imagined “day in the life” if I woke up cured. (I’m also assuming that covers alopecia too and I’d have glorious locks again!)

I’d wake up in my own house/flat that I own because I can work full time again. I have a long shower where I’d use a hot oil treatment in my hair and luxuriate in shampoos and conditioners and revel in the fact I wouldn’t need a rest after my shower or at any point in my day until the evening! I’d style my hair, carefully apply make up, look at myself in the mirror and think, yes, today is a good day! I’d be able to choose a decent outfit because I would no longer be on tablets that caused weight gain and I’d be able to exercise because I don’t have pain or fatigue anymore to hold me back.

I’d then complete normal jobs around the house before jumping in my car, cranking up the radio and driving to meet friends for lunch…somewhere busy and social and with a beer garden so we can sit in the sun (Yes, I’m imagining Summer!) because I’m not longer sensitive to weather and I will tan and not burn!

I would then go to a travel agents and book a looooong, exciting holiday to places I can explore, meet new people and make memories. I won’t be worrying about money or being frivolous because I now cherish life, it’s not a rehearsal so work hard play hard has much more meaning. Following this I pop to the book shop to buy a real book because I can read again and I go home to sit in the sun, with a Kopperburg cider and read my book…it’s bliss.

As I sit in the garden, I don’t feel fatigued, I’m not worried about the brightness or the words blurring on the page. I don’t have to think about pacing or consider the guilt I feel for things I can’t do or contribute to because I am now able to contribute to society again. I can teach but also know that I don’t live to work. My health, family and friends are my priority and I will never again let work rule the roost. I reflect on how lucky I am to be surrounded by the people I have in my life, how they never gave up on me and how I know they never will.

I then go upstairs to have a bath because I recognise the importance of self care and quiet time. But also because I know that tonight I am hosting a party where everyone is coming round to eat, drink, play games and have a good time. Everything is organised and I’m not even thinking about the tidy up because I can manage it! I am grateful to be well, to be able to function as a normal human being and live a normal life doing all the things I love to do and after a brilliant music filled evening of taking silly photographs and laughing so hard your sides hurt, I climb into bed feeling exhausted. But good exhausted. Exhaustion that will be alleviated by the sleep I’m going to get.  It won’t take me hours to get to sleep and I won’t wake up a gazillion times because of pain, I will dream and wake up to another day.

One day….

#hairlesshannah

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Pet therapy

If you’d have told me this time last year that I would find pet therapy a huge help, I would have laughed in your face. We have never had pets because mum and I both have asthma and long-haired animals always used to make our breathing worse. However, last summer, mum and dad decided to sign up with a company called Barking Mad – quite appropriate for us! I categorically told them that that was their decision and the dogs would be their responsibility!!  I was very apprehensive about the idea. In case you don’t know, Barking Mad is a company that is an alternative to kennels when families go on holiday. “Host” families don’t incur any costs, in fact you get paid a small fee, the dog arrives with bedding, food, toys: everything it will need for its stay and then are collected when their holiday is finished!

Within hours I was in love with the first dog we had and then every dog that followed, bar one, become dogs that I fell in love with! I can’t explain it but I just feel so much calmer and more relaxed when they’re around. Stroking them and getting that unconditional love helps in a way that drugs and medication can’t. They are a distraction from the normal daily routine, they are fun and loving and I just love it when we have one to stay. The bit I didn’t account for is when they have to go home! It is SO tough to say goodbye but luckily we’ve had several returnees which is lovely because you know then and they remember you.

 

It is proven that having a pet lowers blood pressure, but more interestingly for me, they can cause endorphins to be released which are chemicals in the body that help to suppress our pain response. I can’t say I noticed a huge difference in my pain levels but they do distract me and take my mind away from the pain and discomfort which is good enough for me.

Each dog has been amazing for us as a family. Dad can often be found down on the floor playing with them regardless of the problems with his knees, depending on the dog, he is walking thousands of steps a day, mum has walked them and we are all noticeably calmer and happier when they’re around. It’s lovely. They bring big laughs as well that wouldn’t happen had they not been with us – for example, the night mum thought she was going to sit on our stool but actually fell into the dog’s bed and couldn’t get up because she was laughing so much! Lots of people have asked why we don’t just get our own dog but quite simply, they are a tie. Mum and dad are retired and want to go on holiday or have days out and having a dog means you have to plan around them and right now just isn’t the right time so Barking Mad suits them/us perfectly. But..I’m sure that one day they might get their own…I hope so anyway!

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Hope you all have a lovely weekend,

#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

 

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One Second a Day

So here we are, 2018…how’s it going so far?! It’s been pretty drizzly, grey and windy here which always makes these dark January days harder to cope with.

One of the things I struggled with at several points last year was keeping positive. It’s hard to maintain that sunny disposition day in day out. I have learnt that this is okay but I do still struggle to strike up a conversation with friends and family when I’m having these days, there’s always the element of not wanting to sound negative or bring their days down as well. Through CBT and medication, I feel slightly more balanced now and use my newly found skills to try and turn things on their heads to find good points and happy things. Changing the way we think about things, for me anyway, really has been enlightening. You don’t realise how much baggage a negative/worrying thought can bring until you channel that energy in a different way.

As well as implementing these new skills, I searched for activities I could do to put positivity and happiness into action. Since I was twelve I have kept a daily diary and I find that very cathartic, there’s something about writing, getting things out in a pen to paper way that really helps me. However, what with keeping a diary and writing a blog I felt like I was at my limit with writing. So, what else was there? I love photography and memory making and one day I was watching a vlog and they mentioned an app called one second everyday and that was it – I was hooked!

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I think I mentioned it as one of my favourites last year, but honestly, I love 1SE. It’s such a simple idea and so easy to do. Yes, you’ll irritate your friends and family to begin with because they won’t be used to being filmed during the happy times but even my most reluctant friends were happy to participate by the end of the year!

To start with I used it as a video diary depicting something, anything that had happened in my day. I was learning how and why I wanted to use the app and during January there are some days when I documented tough days, sleepy days and even turned the camera around to say something! I also shot all the videos with my phone in portrait. However, as the days went on, I figured out that I wanted to use the app to find the happiness or positives in every day, no matter how small they may be – the weather, a good meal, a favourite TV programme. I also found out that if I shot the videos landscape, it filled up the screen and was easier to watch back.

You don’t have to be precise in shooting a one second video, you can take videos and then within the app, edit them down to the singular second you want to keep. That part is quite fun because sometimes snapshotting the perfect second is tough. The app has recently been updated so you can include 2 seconds a day if you want to. Most days I won’t do this but it was something I’d wanted for a while because there will be some days you do something in the day and the evening that you want to capture…and now you can!

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It doesn’t have to be a video second, you can also use photos which I know some of my friends have down and it works equally as well. If you do use photos, you can insert music over the top to make it more watchable.

If you’re feeling adventurous you can have several projects going at once. For example, I have a 2018 project started for now, but if I wanted to start a project on all the bakes I make, I could create a separate file. I also recently saw someone using the app to document their weight loss and once it’s all put together you can see the progress made. The options are endless. You don’t have to use it every day either, you could just use it when you’re on holiday to document your travels!

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I love using this app because it helps me focus on the good even when my day has not been. It’s so important to turn things around and find the positives because more often than not it’s easier to think about the bad things you’ve experienced in the day and that doesn’t help anyone in the long run.

I haven’t been able to upload the video on this post but I will on my Facebook so if you want to, head over the see my 2017 one second a day Hannah Green.

If you do use the app, let me know, I’d love to see your projects when they’re done.

Happy Thursday.

#hairlesshannah

 

 

Worry less, smile more

.Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was an off switch for all our worries? If you’re like me you will love a good quote and many a good quote base themselves around being positive, living your life to the full, worrying less and smiling more. But sometimes it doesn’t matter how much we try to convince ourselves of this, worries just can’t be magicked away that easily.

One of my targets from CBT has been to write in a worry diary every night, 3-4 hours before sleep, the aim being to oust the worries from my mind, write down steps I can take to begin to overcome them, close the book and hopefully that’s expelled them or at least calmed them from my mind for the night to come. I get the concept, I really do, but in some ways I’ve found that all this has done is emphasise my worries.

Now, I have always been a worrier, it’s been a long running family joke for as long as I can remember. I get it from my Grandma although I stand my ground on the fact that there is no- one in the world who worried more than she did! I do recognise this trait in myself and I do believe I have got better with age. However, although I have got better, I will now totally contradict myself and say in a way I have got worse because although I don’t worry about as much, the things I do worry about, I worry about BIG time. I definitely over think more and sometimes my worries are totally and utterly ridiculous and I will find myself researching how I would survive in a falling lift situation!

As we get older we become so much more susceptible and sensitive to the world around us. It astounds me when I see children running, playing, socialising fearlessly, not worrying about falling or hurting themselves, worrying whether someone is being mean or isn’t who they say they are – when does this change and why? I had the same upbringing as my brother yet he doesn’t worry to the same extent as I do – so is it a gender thing? Is it nature or nurture? I don’t know.

The worries I live with on a daily basis now are obviously different to those I had a few years back – the money worries I used to think I had were nothing compared to those I have now! But worry is all relative. My money worries are no more or less important than anyone else’s because they will be just as stressful depending on different scenarios. Those with children or new homes or a broken boiler or a flat tyre or a lost wallet – all worthy causes for worry. But referring to my earlier CBT task, the worries I found myself writing down daily didn’t seem to have any next step scenarios. They all had more long-term outcomes so seeing them written down in black and white over and over every day  oddly enough made me worry more! Oh Hannah Green! So long story short I’ve stopped writing my daily worry diary until I can ask some questions about how I can approach it differently…I don’t want to fail my targets…yes, I turned up to my last session feeling like a naughty school girl because I’d not met all my targets and honestly, at the age of 31 I felt so bad, like a detention was waiting for me! My lovely therapist laughed at me when I told her and just said that was my problem, I worry about things I shouldn’t worry about….but honestly, that’s me and I know that has to change in order for a healthier mindset.

Worry can be irrational – I mean, my biggest fear, well one of them, is bears. Not teddy bears but the kind that can run, swim, climb trees…you ain’t getting away from one of those bastads if you disturb its cubs – have you even see The Revenant?! Yet I have learnt that trying to squash someones worries isn’t helpful, you may be trying to help them, goodness knows I’m sure I’ve done it so many times but the best way to help is to just listen, offer a hug and tissues to wipe the inevitable tears and then throw in a good old quote for good measure – finishing with a laugh always helps!

Worry is something that will never be extinct in our world. New fears and worries occur every minute of every day for people and sometimes they’ll be worries they’d never dreamt of. Watching the news over the past few months and witnessing the horror of the various terror attacks across the world but mainly in London and Manchester, in places and situations so close to my heart, it’s unthinkable how many people will have been affected by the atrocities. So many of the survivors, the emergency services, news crews and witnesses will be now living with the effects for days, months and years to come. They will be experiencing worries and fears that hadn’t entered their minds before, yet for some they will now be devouring their existence. However, when I’ve read reports and watched interviews I am amazed, encouraged and proud to see how many of them approach these fears by fighting, not taking flight. Facing their fears head on and getting back to their daily lives – going to concerts, returning to Borough Market, walking over London’s bridges.

This is not how everyone will respond to fear and worry, fight and flight are both two very valid responses – I’ve done both at varying points in my life and neither were wrong choices. What I mean is, the human race is amazing. We support each other in the choices we make and help each other take steps forward to reach our end goals, worry will always be there in one form or another yet it won’t beat us. It won’t beat me.

And now comes the toughest part of this blog – what worry quote to end on, there are just too many good ones to choose from hahaha!

 

Have a fab week fellow worriers…or should that be warriors?!

#hairlesshannah

A very spoonie-fied blog

I’m sorry I’ve been absent for a while – well, almost a month now. There is no real excuse, especially when I know how writing helps me, but I just haven’t had the urge to write, I’ve had a slump and I thought that rather than force out blog posts that I didn’t really believe in, I’d stop. Pause. Take stock and tell myself it’s okay to take a break and come back as and when it felt right.

I am disappointed in myself that the month of May has been the time for this period of nothingness because it’s an important month for ME/CFS. May is ME awareness month as well as awareness for many other hidden illnesses. I’ve watched and followed eagerly how my little spoonie online community have raised awareness and done so much for the cause. Next year I will do more but for this year, all I can offer is this blog post.

I’ll start with a little fun fact; May 12th was Florence Nightingales birthday and it is suggested that she was one of the earliest sufferers of ME.  From 1857 she was often disabled by ill-health and spent much of her time bed bound; she is now considered a kind of patron saint for this under studied illness and this is why May 12th is used as a day for awareness. How about that eh?!

I then thought I would recap the main facts about ME, so I have used the main websites that I find useful and informative to provide you with the following:

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides three levels of severity for ME: mild, moderate and severe. This is how they explain them:

  • People with mild CFS/M.E. are mobile, can care for themselves and can do light domestic tasks with difficulty. Most are still working or in education, but to do this they have probably stopped all leisure and social pursuits. They often take days off, or use the weekend to cope with the rest of the week.
  • People with moderate CFS/M.E. have reduced mobility and are restricted in all activities of daily living, although they may have peaks and troughs in their level of symptoms and ability to do activities. They have usually stopped work, school or college and need rest periods, often sleeping in the afternoon for one or two hours. Their sleep at night is generally poor quality and disturbed.
  • People with severe CFS/M.E. are unable to do any activity for themselves, or can carry out minimal daily tasks only (such as face washing, cleaning teeth). They have severe cognitive difficulties and depend on a wheelchair for mobility. They are often unable to leave the house, or have a severe and prolonged after-effect if they do so. They may also spend most of their time in bed, and are often extremely sensitive to light and noise.

I come under moderate. I won’t go on about my personal experience because I feel I’ve done that enough in previous blogs. However, progress has been made in that the 4-6 month wait for CBT has been destroyed and I have already had my first two sessions. Now, I know there is much debate about the usefulness and effectiveness of CBT for ME patients and I must admit, initially I was wary. But you know what? This is the only thing, the only offer of help I’ve had from the NHS so I am grasping it with both hands. I’ve gone into it with an open mind but also with open eyes. Luckily I made an immediate connection with the therapist and I trust her – both a bonus when you consider all the bad luck I’ve had over the past 20 months! We have set targets together to try to help me with my sleep – not working yet and as she predicted have made things worse before they hopefully get better. I like her because she is honest. There’s no BS, it might work for me, it might not but with everything crossed it could improve on what I live with daily and that’s enough for me thank you very much!

  • ME is a chronic illness which means it is long-lasting with no cure or guaranteed treatment.
  • ME is a physical disorder – having ME is NOT a state of mind and there is real scientific proof for this.

Life with ME has made me reevaluate everything about myself and my life, I guess a life changing illness will do that to you. It’s a terribly lonely illness. Yes I am surrounded daily by my wonderful family and I have constant contact with friends but I don’t have that connection with people anymore. I don’t have work banter, I don’t have social banter or random chats with people you may see when you’re simply out and about. I spend A LOT of time alone, sleeping, thinking…and that is lonely. It’s isolating and it makes daily life tough to face.

Raising awareness of illnesses like ME is so very important. Even doctors don’t know very much about them and patients – including me – often have to educate their GPs and specialists about possible medications, treatments and symptoms. It’s a frustrating situation that can be made easier by more people being educated and therefore having an understanding of what sufferers are living with on a daily basis.

Thank you for reading, thank you for baring with me and thank you for your continued support.

Have a lovely weekend.

#hairlesshannah