Saturday, 17 June 2017

Ache News

Eight years ago today I was in hospital on one of my increasingly common ‘investigatory’ stays.  I was incredibly ill, confused, and afraid and certainly without the first clue what Crohn’s Disease was.
I would eventually be diagnosed with the disease approximately 2 months later, followed by my first surgery in the Jan of the following year. To say it was a trying time is to put it milder than an IBD patient’s curry.

I’d been advised I had arthritis in the early part of this same year and was barely getting to grips with that when this new pain began to strike. So loooong story short, within 12 months I found myself with two life-changing chronic illnesses, unsure of my future and facing severe surgery. 

The reason I recall this grim year is a little because it’s been on my mind lately due to feeling distinctly below par, but for the larger part because I’ve been trying to recall how I felt at that time, which let’s face it, wasn’t great. Lately there have been countless articles and ‘celebrity’ statements on IBD strewn across the internet and beyond like disused wet wipes. These articles I refer to make comment on the ways in which patients can ‘cure’ their disease, through means of juice diets, special healing crystals, ‘unconventional’ medicine, veganism, thinking positively, preaching to the Great Lord Zuuuuzo, and COMING OFF MEDICATION, amongst others. 

OK, so some of those may be slight exaggerations for comedic purposes, but in all honesty after reading some of these dumpster-worthy think pieces you’d be hard pressed to establish which ones. I’m not about to slate any one person/publication in particular as it’s not massively helpful and still directs more views towards these outlets they sorely don’t deserve.

All I will say is that it’s very important we as patients/loved ones of patients/just decent interested human beings are selective and careful in what we accept as fact where it comes to IBD, and any chronic illness for that matter. When I hark back to my own state of mind as a freshly diagnosed patient I worry so much about those men and women in the same boat as my own eight years ago. They will be encountering these same articles, (some of which have even been publicised by leading Crohn’s charities), and feeling hopeful there are simple fixes to their condition. There aren’t. IBD is a complex, incurable disease.

Now without that meaning to sound incredibly grim, sometimes we can’t always sugar-coat facts. We shouldn’t. We should never go into any life-changing event with our eyes and ears wide open. Of course I am only too well aware that being diagnosed with any illness is terrifying, whatever age you are or stage in your life you are at. When I got sick I was in a secure and loving relationship; but I still assumed my partner would leave me, because I felt almost instantaneously worthless. That is long since passed, and my attitude to my illness has changed beyond all recognition, but from time to time I still want to scream and cry with frustration that this sickness will never leave.

I don’t want to preach that patients shouldn’t have hope in times of uncertainty and fear; we all should. But we have to be careful about where we take our information from. When we are in states of frustration and vulnerability we shouldn’t have to filter our knowledge to suit – but sadly we do. 

We need to ensure we take information on our illness from reputable sources; stick to our doctors, consultants, medical experts. If you do venture further afield, then stick to articles and blogs with a good following, who focus on aspects of mental-health, relationships and ways to adapt to the illness.

The most important point to remember is if you encounter writing which advises a certain way of life/diet to ‘cure’ you, consider it an instant red flag. If it were curable you wouldn’t need to hear it from a Z-list celebrity in your spam folder. 


Thursday, 25 May 2017

It's a Kind of Magic 

A few days ago, a horrific attack happened in Manchester. I don’t need to describe the events again as I’m sure you have all read about it in painful detail, and really, I don’t want to; it’s so greatly unpleasant and upsetting. Our threat level in the UK is currently ‘critical’ and although I know those are cold hard facts that I know to be true, it still feels as if we are watching this all unfold in a sort of live action movie. 

It’s almost too impossible to comprehend the level of depravity and evil some people are capable of, and practically on our own doorstep. 

What does come out of these tragedies is the resolute power of the human spirit. Its always so heartening to see people go above and beyond to help others in situations such as these, where really we act without thought for occasions we could never have prepared for. The way humans act when under extreme pressure, or in abject danger is almost overwhelming in its beauty sometimes. 

When these moments happen I wonder if I am a good person. I wonder what I would do if faced with someone in pain or in a situation where I had to act now or run. Of course I would like to think should a situation such as this arise I’d do everything and anything I could to help another person, but we never quite know do we? I wonder if I could be selfless and put the needs of others before my own. Its what I’ve been brought up to believe should be the case, despite years of adulthood being advised we should 'look after number one'.

Well looking after number one hasn’t gotten us very far thus far. Presidents' aside perhaps. 

Not to say I don’t care for myself as best I can, when I can, because I do and it's important to do so. But the idea that we should put ourselves first at every available opportunity grates on me. It's a common attitude and one which serves to alienate.

There are so many people in my life I care for; I love. I can’t even bear thinking about how it would feel if one of them was taken from me suddenly and without warning. It is the definition of incomprehensible.

Therefore I think I know deep down the way I'd act if faced with sudden tragedy - with bravery. Its what I aspire to at least. 

It's easy to write off our behaviour when we aren’t called upon to be ‘heroes’. We can shrug off the responsibility or guilt at feeling helpless as we perhaps are not in a physical position to help. 'I wasn't there, what can I do?' Etc. It’s easy to do/think such a thing. We all do it – make excuses to ourselves and others as to why we can’t help. 

But we can help one another. Every day. In even the teeniest of ways. 

We can simply treat one another with kindness and without judgment. 

We can utilise patience where normally we would act with frustration. 

We can complement one another where normally we may internalise jealousy. 

We can help one another by listening and being a physical and comforting presence instead of making others feel pressured and uncomfortable. 

We can do all those things with barely any effort at all because they are all within us. 

We don’t have to save lives to make a difference to someone’s life. 

(Unless of course you are currently performing a life-saving operation then please stop reading this and continue with your important work). 

We can make someone feel great just by being kind to them. That fact alone is so simple yet so effective it genuinely reduces me to happy tears. So when things are painful and hard in any area of our lives, let’s try and reach out to one another with kindness and compassion; it won’t solve any of the worlds greater problems, but it might just make life a little happier for those of us still lucky enough to be around. 

Love always, K ❤️


 

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Every-Body's Gotta Learn Sometimes


Something said to me in passing recently got me thinking about the general ‘outrage’ experienced almost daily in living with chronic illness.

 

Personally I’d say I’m a bit of an old hand at this ‘illness’ lark, so I’ve experienced my fair share of insensitive, thoughtless or just plain mean, comments linked to my condition.

 

The most recent of these was uttered by someone I am friendly with and who I respect and even like as a human being.

 

(Names withheld to protect identities/avoid them being chased down the street with flaming torches)

 

This person commented on my weight, and joked that I’m ‘lucky not to be unable to absorb food’. As if my incurable illness is some sort of fad diet that I use on occasions when I want to look Oscar ready.

My gut (pun always intended, don’t you know me at all?!) reaction here was of annoyance. Not outrage, just annoyance and frustration. I feebly tried to convey that it’s not something I consider to be ‘lucky’ to have, and that I am seriously ill. I mentioned that I would love to be able to enjoy food and be a steady healthy weight, but that all of that just came out sounding a little bitter and whiny. Perhaps because the original comment was not intended as a slight on me or my illness, but jokey ‘banter’ implying nothing more than that the joker would like to be a little slimmer. Was I overreacting? I’m sure both of us have different viewpoints on that because we both entered into the conversation with our own (wildly different) expectations.

 

Problem here though is that comments thrown out in jest often have ripples which cause much more damage than any original intention.

 

When sweeping comments are made it often serves to alienate people in one fluid motion. For example how did this particular person know I was happy with my weight? (For the record I’m not; I’d much rather be a little heavier, I’ve been this weight since I was 12 years old – it’s not ideal for a 33 year old woman). My weight also serves as a constant reminder that my health hasn’t improved. If I’m not putting any weight on I’m still not getting the nutrients and vitamins I need to help me reach my ultimate goal of NOT DYING.

 

In the early days of living with chronic illness I found myself in a state of constant simmering rage. I was angry at being stuck with this disease and all its off-shoots, and the smallest of insensitive comments would send  my mood stratospheric. Not good for my stress levels and certainly not good for my health in the short or long term. Nowadays I feel a little mellower. Don’t get me wrong I still feel that sharp desire to behead someone who mocks my afflictions, but that’s natural isn’t it?! That wholesome urge to kill ignorant strangers? ISNT IT??

 

I digress. My point here is that it’s important in amongst the slew of unkind and ignorant comments we hear, to listen for the ones where we can educate. It’s imperative we take stock and put out own health at the top of the conversational pecking order; is it really that vital that we bubble with rage at a colleague who says something we deem inappropriate for example? Can we respond in a way that doesn’t involve knives? All of these questions I try to consider now when someone says something that makes me feel vulnerable or frustrated in living with this illness.

 

The simple fact is people will always upset and frustrate us. We all do it to one another on a daily basis. But intention plays a huge part – we should always stunt ourselves from flying into a rage by taking a few seconds to question whether whatever was said was done out of malice, or cruelty. Was it ‘just a joke’ (albeit one at our expense) and do we really want to waste already lacking energy in diving headfirst into an argument about it?

 

Now when someone says something I find offensive I try to call it out. I tell someone if they’ve upset me, and I make sure I come from a place of love and education when I do it. I don’t tolerate what I don’t deem an acceptable way to discuss my condition. I try to face rudeness head on by meeting it with logic and not just unbridled emotion. It seems to be working for me because I haven’t murdered anyone in at least a month. A new personal best.

 

Ignorance is an opportunity for education, so I try my best to put my rage on the backburner and take it.

But if someone slams the door in my Mum’s face in a shopping centre, you better believe I WILL KILL AGAIN.


Saturday, 29 April 2017

Ari You Gonna Be My Girl?

In a few days my friend Ari is coming all the way from Argentina to holiday in Scotland (and see me). She’ll be staying with my partner and I for lots of the trip and we will even go away on a little mini holiday of our own in the middle. This will be the first time we’ve ‘met’ face to face after talking on the internet for maybe 3 or 4 years.

We chat EVERYDAY.

That’s rare in this day and age (and certainly for me) probably because I don’t feel that interesting or engaging most of the time. Yet this friendship is easy, fun and loving. It puts me at ease and there are no judgements on either side. She just makes me laugh and feel precious and our bond feels effortless. I can’t wait to meet my darling Ari in real life (and prove to everyone she isn’t a 45 year old man from Croydon).

Although I feel I know Ari very well and am not in any way nervous about meeting her, I’ve been thinking about how bold a move it is for her to fly halfway across the world for the sake of a friendship (and vegetarian haggis obvs). Friendships often get harder to make as we age so that’s one of many reasons why this one is so important to me. It came into my life at just the right time and now feels like it (she) has always been there.

I’m in my 30’s now.

So as these things do, many of my childhood and teenage friendships have dissipated over time; wrapped themselves up in quite a neat and healthy bow. Without meaning to sound harsh, some friendships just serve a purpose at a certain time and struggle to survive beyond their particular environment. 
Work relationships for example: once a close colleague leaves, or you move on it can be a tricky tightrope to walk in terms of whether or not you should maintain what may essentially have been kinship over a water-cooler and not much more. Thank-fully I’ve made a few AMAZING friends through work in my own life and I can’t see those relationships ever fading. I think the feeling is mutual on both sides and that’s comforting (and pressure free).

As most people with chronic illness will understand, maintaining relationships can be hard, and often disappointing. When people we love prove themselves to be flaky or uninterested in what is essentially a massive part of our lives it can be a bitter pill to swallow. And we already have enough of them to ingest.

Friends who love us will make an attempt to understand what we are going through, they will check in with us regularly and make us laugh, or simply give us a shoulder to cry on when we need it. With us returning the favour of course. Friendships when you are sick should still be a two-way street; we don’t become patients rather than people, but they may just need some adaption.


When anything changes in life we try our best to accept, adapt and move on, and the same goes for pals. We become adaptable. Adaptipals if you will. You won’t? No problem, I still love you, pals. xo


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much a chronic illness can change a person. Typically this phenomenon isn’t unique to a diagnosis of illness of course; a person can ‘change’ for countless reasons. But one of the most substantial is a sudden and drastic alteration to our life. An unexpected shock. A bombshell.

Of course not all diagnoses of illness follow this ‘bombshell’ route – many of us are eventually diagnosed with something after a long and protracted period of sickness. Symptoms build and we experience all the ups and downs and confusion that goes alongside being continually ill, rather than just waking up one morning and finding ourselves ‘diseased’.

It might not seem much of a revelation to talk about a person changing due to illness. It’s not. Being told you have an illness which is incurable and/or will be a continual struggle for the remainder of your life has a huge mental and physical impact on a person.
The bright side of this process of change is that said change doesn’t have to be negative. That’s something I certainly found difficult to grasp for a long time after my own diagnosis; I focused solely on what and whom I’d lost, what I could no longer do and what this illness had done to strip away from who I used to be. It made me sad, frustrated, despondent and so, so angry.

Anger is powerful.

It can be a cause for action, a good catalyst to spur us into productive fight – we use our anger at the injustices of the world to fight back against governments, against unfair laws, against sexism, racism, bigotry of any kind. So undoubtedly anger is not always a bad thing. For someone like myself who has routinely hated confrontation I’ve tried to appreciate that anger is something that cannot (and shouldn’t) be contained forever. It has to have an outlet, and that choice of outlet should be one of our choosing which doesn’t cause damage to you, others or your own heart.

What I mean by that is I’ve been on the receiving end of anger which hasn’t been funnelled in a safe way – where it comes out as spat-out obscenities you’ll regret later, where it comes out through hasty and stupid choices, or through a clenched fist. None of these scenarios end well, and they certainly don’t lend to us being well.

Anger for me is a part of life.

I’m angry a lot and I wish I weren’t. I have a lot not to be angry about – I have a job I enjoy, I get to write, I have a loving family and friends, and I have a partner who without whom I’d surely turn to dust.

But I am angry because I have a chronic illness that causes me to spend my life in pain. I have learned (as best as anyone can) to live and adapt to it, but my condition is ever changing and unpredictable. I’m angry because I am someone who now struggles massively with anxiety and suffers from depression. That may all have come to my door with or without Crohn’s, but nevertheless it’s here and it’s the ‘thing’ I’m angry at.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling some form of anger at being ‘sick’, but like every aspect of this illness what matters now is how I cope with it. How I choose to act and how I live despite it. I hope that that is without bitterness and resentment, because as much as I wish I wasn’t a permanent patient, I am grateful for whom I have ‘changed’ into throughout my sickly-life.

My heart is full of love and lust for life. I want to live life to the full and I get angry and frustrated when it feels like that life is being stunted or shortened. But as I can’t use my anger to paint banners and march to Parliament to rid myself (and all of you) of this illness, I can use it to remind myself that simply feeling it means I’m alive. If that isn’t something to fight for I don’t know what is.


Sunday, 9 April 2017

Back On The Pain Gang 

Like many, many people with an incurable illness I suffer from chronic pain. 

Pain is not often the crux of my writing because I tend to favour focusing on talking about things I feel I have some semblance of control over; like my relationships, my mental health and my attitude towards my illness. 

Pain is a whole other topic that I don't usually discuss in detail for many reasons; namely because I know a lot of people who are new to this disease read my ramblings and I don't want to terrify them, I don't like upsetting my loved ones, and I like to not think about pain when I can. Often it's none of those things and I simply can't deal with anything but my pain. 

Pain is often nigh on impossible to quantify. It's also incredibly difficult to explain to someone on the outside of your own car-crash carcass. 

My partner asked me earlier if I was OK when I truly wasn't and I said "Fine... actually no just in excruciating pain" which made him laugh - not because he finds my misfortune amusing, (he's not Christian Grey), but it was a hollow laugh where he acknowledged a bit of relief at me finally catching myself and being honest. 

The reason the "I'm fine" often comes into play is because it's easier. Not in the long term I grant you, but in the short omg-i-think-im-dying term. It's exhausting being in pain and the last thing we generally want to do is talk about it. 

My hair hurts today. My teeth hurt. How do you explain that to someone who doesn't experience pain on a regular if not daily basis? They think you are overreacting. They don't have anything to compare it to so they work backwards from their own experience and assume you must be exaggerating. We see you disbelieve us. We see you pity us. And we resent it. 

We are forced to talk about pain, namely describe it, a lot. We have to do it to help our doctors solve any medical mysteries, to get the pain relief we need, to express why we are unable to do something/someone.  

We have to tell if it's 'dull', 'stabbing', 'sharp', 'persistent' and various other words used to describe Law & Order. I don't really know what the majority of these words mean in relation to what I feel but I have to use something; it seems screaming incoherently and performing an elaborate death rattle gets you ejected from the ward and I can't risk that happening again. 

The problem with talking about pain when you’re ‘in’ it, is that it allows room for little else other than feeling it. It can be genuinely difficult to even form a coherent sentence when you are experiencing it. I suppose that’s why doctors have developed these charts; the ‘how many out of 10’ and the ilk, for speed and accuracy in treating us. But those charts don’t apply when you are talking to people outside of the doctor’s surgery. 

Pain is subjective and can be all encompassing. Tolerances of pain differ from person to person and can even change over time. When someone is chronically ill pain is a daily occurrence and something we don't always wish to wax lyrical about. That's why we try to adapt our lives around it. Sometimes that's not always possible but on good days, good moments, it is. 

We might not tell you we're in pain sometimes and that's OK. It's our choice and it might just be our way of distracting ourselves; so please be patient and don't expect miracles from us. Don’t let us see that we are frustrating you if we are. I know that may seem selfish but we honestly won’t have the energy to get into any form of debate with you, from brokering a trade deal between countries to forgetting to take the bin out, it’s all impossible.  

Give us a bit of time to feel ‘normal' again once the worst is over and don’t make us feel that we should apologise for it. Even though I’m 99.9% sure we will later anyway. 

Just be kind to us, it really is that simple.


Friday, 31 March 2017

A Little Bump and Kind


I don’t have daughters. I don’t have children at all for that matter. I have a huge dog, a cat and am soon to have another little kitten brought into our fur-filled household. All of this aside, I do have friends with beautiful babies who are blossoming into incredible little people before my eyes. I don’t doubt that perhaps one day I’ll desire a family of my own; I’m in a committed long term relationship and it’s the ‘done thing’ after all; but for now I’m happy as I am. We’re happy as we are. If that changes, then so be it, but for now; my womb my business.

It is odd the interest in your reproductive organs that grows as we age. I haven’t been ‘blessed’ with a child. I haven’t ‘realised’ it’s what I want yet. I’ll ‘never know until I do it’. It’s common to be left feeling patronised and like a borderline oddity when everyone around you seems to understand what you want and need better than you do.

Childless women are just that for a myriad of different reasons. Some of us are not in secure relationships, some of us are unable to conceive, some of our partners have issues with fertility, and some of us simply don’t want to have a child. I know that is an alien concept to so, so many women. I know that from 99% of the conversations I have with mothers. Thank-fully, my own close friends who have families are much more accepting of what I choose to do with my vagina, and that’s great. They understand that children are not for everyone and that many of us can still (incredibly) lead happy and fulfilled lives without disrupting our sleep patterns and tearing our genitals to shreds.

That said I do feel a strange kinship with my friends who have children. Although it’s not necessarily something I want for my own future, the love I feel for their spawn often takes me by surprise. It helps me understand the unconditional nature of a mothers love in a small way.

I feel the same pull from the young women who message me about their illness. Some to talk about a diagnosis or some just to let me know they appreciate having someone else speak up about IBD/mental health. I feel a responsibility to the girls and young women who follow my blog to be respectful of their choices. Their fears are universal and have been felt by all of us to some degree. I don’t have a ‘fear’ of starting a family I should clarify; I just don’t want to. That doesn’t mean I don’t deserve the same respect as a mother receives. My choices shouldn’t be dismissed or belittled for not conforming to some sort of perceived ideal, and this serves to remind me how important it is that we, as adult women; aunts, friends, mothers; listen and respect the choices of our ‘daughters’.

When we talk to one another we should try harder to listen, truly listen, to what is said (and often what is unsaid) before judging. We all do it, I’m not claiming to be as pure as the driven snow here, but I do think it’s now more important than ever we help young women to grow accepting of themselves and one another. Life is hard and growing up even harder, throw into the mix the possibility of a chronic/mental illness and it can be difficult to see past the next few hours within the day let alone make choices that will affect the rest of our lives. 

So my ‘motherly’ advice (from a certified non-mother) is to simply be kind to your kind.

Today is National Kindness Day (apparently), so what better day to start! xo