Monday, 29 November 2010

Obligations and Festivity

I've been heartened by how well received my honesty has been within this blog. I think I am about to find my honesty being rather less appreciated in this post though!

Firstly, let me deal with the first part of the title. Obligation.

One of the areas I've had to refine and improve since I got ill was my likelihood to try to do things out of obligation. This isn't to say that I wasn't already trying to remove obligations from my life before I got sick but it has recently become vital that I take it all a few steps further.

Now let's introduce festivity. I've always been seen as a bit of a grinch when it comes to pre-defined celebrations. Without wanting to roll around in self-pity or sound like I've just settled down on the sofa with Oprah, it's probably related to childhood. Life was scary and miserable most of the time but, because it was Christmas Day or my birthday, I suddenly had to 'be happy'. Naturally, I mostly failed at that ;) I hate that expectation being attached to how I feel or act.

I've also never been a huge believer in Christmas cards (i'm not religious) or Mother's Day etc. To me and my grinch personality, it seems obvious that we shouldn't need specific days to tell people they are important to us or that we are thinking about them. I therefore tend to avoid sending them and discourage others from sending them to me. Somehow, birthdays are slightly different for me as I've always felt it's important to acknowledge that individual day of significance. So, my rules are both grinchy and inconsistent.

It's that time of year when others are starting to ask for addresses to be exchanged and, although I have no problem with people knowing my address, I'm struggling a bit with the concept of exchanging cards with everyone. The obligatory "it's nearly December, better write out some cards" just doesn't sit right with me.

And thus my dilemma. I'm aware this makes me sound like a joyless curmudgeon who sees Scrooge as a role model. I'm also aware that people are being amazingly considerate and sweet in adding me to their lists. I honestly don't want to offend anyone or remove the pleasure they get from 'giving'. Maybe I should just swallow my principles and join in the customary practice but then I'll end up feeling restentful. I'm not sure I can think of a perfect solution to this personal dilemma.

So, now you all know I'm a grinch. In spite of that, I still seem to care enough to identify it as a potential problem. Now, dear readers, this is where you come in. I'm really keen to hear the views of others on this and any advice you wish to dispense will be gratefully received (even if I don't end up following it!). Because alienating everyone I know each November and then starting all over again in January doesn't seem like a smart strategy somehow, lol.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sensitivity and Purpose

Sensitivity and Purpose. Strange title for a blog post, right? Sounds like a Jane Austen novel ;)

The reason for the strange title is that I want to address two different areas in this one post. Before I do though, I want to thank you all for the comments left after my previous post. It's not always easy sharing the innermost elements of ourselves and I was really touched and inspired to continue by the kind and thoughtful comments you left. Thank you.

So, sensitivity first. I was going to post a long description of the concept of 'highly sensitive' people but I don't think I can do any better than has already been said HERE so please read that first.

All done? Interesting, isn't it? Even though I've always been kinda proud of being sensitive, I've also always felt it was a bit of a burden verging on a character weakness. The truth of the matter is that I've been told more often that I'm "too sensitive" than it being made as a compliment. I now think that is just as dumb as all the times I was told as a child that I "think too much". Now I've read more on the subject of highly sensitive people though, I'm proud to be amongst that group. I should clarify though, this doesn't make me Ghandi. Not by a long shot. I still have moments of insensitivity, of being blunt to the point of unententionally hurting others, of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, of misjudging the acceptability of my warped humour and of not thinking through my words or deeds.

Aside from those lapses though, being sensitive has lots of positives. Some people are very good in a crisis as they instantly see what practical steps should be taken. Those people are usually invaluable as a friend as they roll their sleeves up and clean up the mess. I'm not really like that. I always think more about the emotional side of a situation. How must the person feel? How can I reach out and show them I am aware of those emotions? How can I be of support? That sometimes leads to the male trait of trying to fix them even if they haven't asked for it but nobody is perfect, haha.

Another positive can be my heightened awareness of 'vibes'. I seem to able to sense unhappiness in others, sense when they need a kind word or an outlet to talk, sense when there is danger in the air etc. Being on alert all the time like this is tiring though.

I'm still working out all the finer details of this sensitivity lark but so far I'm leaning towards accepting and embracing this part of me. It's who I am, for better or worse.

Now, let's move onto purpose!

I'm not someone who is passive. If I do something, I do it almost obsessively and put my whole being into it. Otherwise I just don't bother. So, when I got ill and started to research what might be wrong with me, I knew I wanted to find a way of making a difference somehow. Of fighting for the cause. Especially as ME/CFS sufferers are treated so appallingly by society and the medical establishment (by and large anyway - not always).

I thought about turning my anger and frustration into doing advocacy work but it just isn't me. I have the utmost respect for all the warriors out there who are fighting hard for a fairer deal for ME/CFS patients but it isn't where my strengths lie. My search for 'purpose' therefore continued.

As I've mentioned previously, one of the most significant things to happen to me lately is to gain an appreciation of the benefits of pacing using a heart rate monitor. I am forever grateful to the lady who brought it to my attention and I now embrace the concept wholeheartedly. In the absence of finding a cure, I strongly believe this is the number one way to live alongside being ill. This led me to think about the diffference this knowledge could make to others who are having their activities cutailed by illness. If such a simple technique could free us from either pushing too hard and causing a worsening of conditions or being too afraid to do anything and wasting away it would be priceless.

And so, the 'Pacing with a Heart Rate Monitor' group was born. It's early days still and it will grow slowly but my aim is to create a central information point where the latest research and real-life experiences can be easily accessible.

Click here to join the group on Facebook

Having found a purpose is amazingly beneficial. In my own small way, I can offer some value to the 'community'. Along with providing all the information, I can provide support, encouragement and understanding to others who join the group. I'm very excited about the potential attached to it.

Of course, all this excitement and activity comes with a cost for me. I think I probably have been over-stimulated and over-active in setting this up and being so enthusiastic about it. This weekend my girlfriend's parents came to visit and I was really looking forward to seeing them as they are such amazingly kind and warm people. They have also had their own challenges recently and I wanted to let them know I supported them. Alas, I was too sick to get out of bed and spend time with them. My headaches have returned with a vengeance and my light sensitivity is back so I'm back to staying in the dark and wearing sunglasses indoors. If you read this, Judy and Rob, I'm really sorry I couldn't spend some time with you.

I'll find the balance though, I'm sure, between having a purpose, supporting others and listening to my own needs.

take care everyone :)


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Gifts of Illness

For this post I want to focus on the unexpected gifts I have received as a result of becoming ill and having everything turned upside down. To clarify, I think it's important to continue to find things we can be grateful for in life but this is something quite different. What I refer to here are positive things that have happened purely as a result of dealing with being unwell.

I had a very traumatic childhood and lived amongst some quite horrific day-to-day events. I had to witness things that no child should be subjected to and I was forced to give up the normal care-free childhood and grow up too quickly. And yet, although I wouldn't in a million years want to repeat those experiences, I have always been aware that they brought their own unexpected gifts. I gained a level of maturity and sensitivity much earlier than my peers, I came to appreciate the immense importance of a home environment that is secure and full of love. I realised the damage alcohol abuse can cause and therefore greatly reduced my likelihood of ever having a drinking problem. And I developed a hatred of violence that made me someone who didn't see my fists as ways of resolving anything.

In the same way, getting sick recently has allowed me to receive positive insights that will also hopefully stay with me throughout my life. I have gained an appreciation of the simple pleasures that can lift my spirits. None of those things are related to how much money I have, what type of car I own or whether I have the latest gadgets or designer clothes. My cat wrapping her big bushy tail around me when I'm in pain or feeling down. The sound of raindrops on the window. Being able to walk across the room without being breathless. There are countless other examples but what links them all is that they are essentially free and often taken for granted.

This also extends to my body. The old truism "at least you have your health" really cannot be argued with. I know that now, although I never did before. Now that all those 'automatic' functions we all take for granted have gone haywire in my body I can finally appreciate what a wonderful instrument the human body truly is. For years it served me well, even if I taxed it with various toxins or unhealthy additions. Just think about it for a minute - our temperature, heart beat, breathing, energy supply, brain function, blood flow ... they all just 'work' ... until they don't. Never again will I be so dismissive of good health.

And then there are others in my life. I have always been very comfortable being in my own company, sometimes too much so, and I've been very cautious about allowing people into my world or offering my friendship. I've also always been a little too aware of how I might portray myself to others. Now, my dignity is hanging by a thread. Thankfully, I can still carry out all my 'personal care' needs but it's touch and go sometimes. And so, I am starting to discover the joy of surrounding myself with people who accept me for me. People who don't need me to impress or entertain them. This is also allowing me to develop more compassion for humanity. I have been quite hard and cynical over the years, probably as a result of what I learnt about how unreliable and selfish people could be when I was a child. Now I am beginning to appreciate the beauty in certain individuals much more and to give them, and myself, more of a break. The standards I've set for myself and those around me have always been far too high and now I can be much more forgiving.

The other side of that though is that I have an acceptance that there are people who have been in my life who will naturally drift out of it now I'm not able to partake in socialising etc. I was sad about that at first but now I'm accepting and calm about it. There will also be people who I come to realise are not helpful to my wellbeing now that I have so little energy to spare. Another gift of getting ill is that I no longer feel the need to try to work out and solve everyone's problems for them. I used to do that even if they never asked or wanted me to!

Finally, I have been given the gift of just being who I am. It's ironic that I worked on trying to uncover the real me for years without success and now that I've been struck down the real me has come to the fore naturally. I realise this may all sound rather 'new age' but I don't care. I'll end with a gift that all of us have but don't take advantage of ... the joy of doing and thinking nothing. Sometimes I have no choice but to just disconnect from any type of activity and remove all thoughts. Those periods of staring into space with a glazed expression and a slack jaw are wonderful - try it ;)

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend....

Another bout of struggling to accept my fate at present.

Although I still like the heart rate monitor concept that I discussed in my previous post, it has done a wickedly wonderful job of highlighting my current limitations. I've found that my heart rate goes above my threshold just by standing up and goes through the roof I dare to walk around. I knew I was struggling but a part of me probably thought I was being over-cautious and could start to do a bit more. Seems I actually need to do less.

I think I am effectively going to have to turn the upper floor of the house into a bedsit to limit the journeys I made up and down the stairs. I still refuse to give up on going down to the ground floor in the evenings to have dinner with my girlfriend and watch a movie or whatever. Isolating myself up here is beneficial in many ways but the thought of being trapped here all day and night is pretty scary. However, it does make sense that I bring into my current living area all the things I might need during the day as exhausting myself to fetch a ricecake from the kitchen hardly seems sensible! It also forces me to think some pretty distressing thoughts about the future. What if the stairs become too much altogether? Move to a bungalow? Get a stairlift? Hopefully it won't come to that. Hopefully.

I find that how I manage to cope with being ill is extremely variable. At times I am calm and accepting, other times I get in a panic and other times I get very down and lose some hope for the future. It's not pleasant for me but I'm also very conscious of how difficult it must be for my girlfriend. She is very susceptible to anxiety and our whole future has been marked with a huge question mark. On the surface I think she is coping but I do wonder how much she protects me from, by giving the impression of managing.

I'm aware of the energy I spend trying to balance my needs with hers but sometimes it's simply impossible to do so. I'm also struggling with how much to discuss the subject with her. For me, this is my whole life and I do need to vocalise what I'm feeling. However, I also want her to not be constantly bombarded with my challenges. Also, she has said she isn't really ready to join me in talking about it all at length as she is worried how she will cope. I understand that and I understand that working on auto-pilot gets her through the day-to-day stuff so it's a tricky balancing act between asking her to join me in my world of boring and constant illness and trying to paper over the subject to give her a break from it.

I'm in contact with some great people who have had to deal with chronic illness for a lot longer than I have and they tell me I am dealing with things well and that my moods going up and down is to be expected. That's good to hear but I'm pretty hard on myself and often find I'm rebuking myself for not managing better. I know I have to be kinder to myself throughout this situation and it's something I continue to work on.

Off to listen to Hank Williams now - yep, that's how much I have the blues, haha.

take care,


Friday, 12 November 2010

A Corner Turned

Quite a lot has happened since my last update. Well, in relative terms - my life is hardly swimming with activity these days!

I realised that I was still doing that 'headless chicken' thing of devouring everything I can find in terms of a possible cure. I was so keen to beat this illness that I lost sight of reality a little. I thought I'd come up with the perfect combination of supplements and be back to normal in no time. I guess it's understandable that I thought like that but it's not very helpful. So, I'm done with searching for now. I'm sticking with what I still think is a good range of supplements to support me whilst my body heals.

In a very timely manner, a lady on the Vimeo group I mentioned posted an intriguing video about working within our aerobic thresholds. As we try to 'push through' the fatigue and weakness to get things done, we call upon energy we don't have. That leads to episodic relapses that leave us feeling worse. It's why exercise can be downright dangerous for people with M.E. and why I get really angry when I hear people with the condition being told to 'roll up their sleeves' to overcome the symptoms. The symptoms are there for a reason; to protect us from organ/tissue damage.

So, the concept is that, by using a heart rate monitor that alerts us when we are reaching our aerobic threshold, we can avoid over-exertion and thus avoid relapses or periods of feeling a lot worse than we did. Conversely, it should result in me being able to do more. I'll learn what my limits are and what I can achieve without my heart rate getting too high. It won't be easy as my heart rate heads over 100 when I stand up but with patience and common sense it should free me from either being afraid to do anything or doing something that knocks me backwards.

I think I mentioned previously that I had joined an online community of people who are dealing with very similar challenges. That really has been the biggest boost I've had in ages. I decided that I wasn't going to join a local support group as, rightly or wrongly, I felt it might end up dragging me down further. It's so easy for me to be negative or feel sorry for myself nowadays and I was worried I'd get involved with a group where there was lots of whinging and not much in the way of proactivity. That's probably very unfair to all the local support groups out there but it was how I felt.

Anyway, I'm glad I took a bit of time to find somewhere online that I could get involved. It's strange but I already feel closer to some people I've interacted with in that place than I do to certain people that I've known in the flesh for many years. I guess that is partly because we have shared experiences and therefore understand each other and partly because most of those who were in my life previously have carried on with life and we've lost touch.

Another positive is that I have been awarded Disability Living Allowance. I felt strange about applying for this, partly because I don't really want to be tagged as disabled and partly because I always said I'd never claim benefits. However, I have to be realistic as I am now unable to do the smallest things. I completed the form honestly so I have nothing to hide or live up to. I'm spending a fortune on medications (you can get relatively little via NHS prescription) and various gadgets and amenities to be able to function in my home so some money coming in will definitely help with all that.

I've moved into a top-floor room now (house has 3 floors) and that has been a wise move. It removes me from all the activity that takes place on the ground floor and means I can choose when I'm able to take part in things rather than just always 'being there'. I'm doing a few things to make the room more comfortable and functional and I think it'll do me the world of good to have this quiet space as noise is actually painful to me now at times.

Sleep isn't so good unfortunately. Although I was a zombie at the beginning of my illness I did get loads and loads of sleep and that helped protect my body from damage. I think I still need 11 or 12 hours of sleep or complete non-activity each day but sleep isn't forthcoming. I have an appointment with my GP soon so that's top of my list to discuss with him.

I think that's enough for now.

Take care,


Friday, 5 November 2010

Shake Me & I Rattle

As promised, I'm finally getting around to setting out the pills and potions I currently take.

Unfortunately, the nature of the illness is such that there is no cure and all we are really doing with medications is symptom management. Furthermore, what works for one person seems not to for the next person. It's a very inexact science! With that in mind, I need to state for anyone reading who also has M.E. that trial and error is usually necessary. Also, because I have become ill fairly recently, I am still experimenting to see what works.

So, let's do a quick run-through:

Ascorbic Acid (soluble Vitamin C) -1000mg - This is how I try to start every day. With a glass of effervescent orange-flavoured Vit C. This is no hardship as I enjoy the taste and the fizzing sensation. The benefits of this are too long to list but most important for my particular needs are that Vitamin C is great at scavenging free-radicals and providing immune support. Bear in mind that we never absorb all of the Vitamin C we take in supplemented form. I think it's up to around 20% we absorb and the rest is urinated. All the more reason to also get Vitamin C from food sources.

BioCare Multivitamin - A word of warning on multivitamins. They aren't all the same. Some are really poorly balanced with too much of a certain element or not enough of another. I like the BioCare range as it seems to have the right balance.

Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide) 500mg - Multi-faceted benefits attached to this including blood sugar control, mitochondrial support and a calming effect.

Vitamin D 500ui - Best source is sunshine but being housebound puts paid to that option. Deficiency is very common in the UK and has been shown to be present in various diseases.

Flaxseed Oil 2000mg - We've all heard plenty of the benefits of Omega 3 oils. Whether it be brain food or joint care, Omega 3 can help. Personally, I avoid the fish oils as they are more prone to being loaded with metals (unless you spend a lot on ultra-pure capsules) and I don't like fishy burps much! Flaxseed oil suits me better.

Chromium 200ug - I had a scare with my blood sugar levels and started taking this to assist. My last test showed a decrease so I think it's having an impact.

Co-Enzyme Q10 100mg - Assists in mitochondria (and thus energy supply) and is a powerful anti-oxidant (those pesky free-radicals again). Also seems to provide some support for the gut and has anti-ageing properties - a wonderful drug! It's not a cheap option and be wary of the more budget brands as absorbtion might not be very good. I use Doctor's Best brand.

Milk Thistle 5600mg - When we take a lot of pills our livers have to work extra hard to detox. Milk thistle is supposedly a good help to your liver in this respect. It's also been heralded for helping digestion and reducing Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

L-Carnitine 1000mg - I must admit, I don't always remember to take these as I have run out of room in my pill dispenser! It's an amino acid most commonly found in red meat but few of us eat enough red meat to correct a deficiency. Like many of the other supplements I take, it has been shown to support mitochondrial function.

GABA 1000mg - Another that I don't always remember to take. It has been shown to raise levels of a neurotransmitter that brings about a more relaxed state and can help sleep. I have to say that I haven't seen any benefit from this so far and I probably wont buy more when my stock is depleted. Mind you, me and sleep are hardly friends and I'll be seeking out some dedicated sleep meds from my doctor in due course.

Magnesium Oil - My new favourite. As I've mentioned before, the benefits of magnesium are many. For me, I'm finding it is helping slightly with my muscle spasms and even seems to reduce the severity of my headaches a little. A good way to tell if you are deficient is to spray some onto your skin and see if you get a strange tingling sensation. Epsom Salts are good for bathtime too!

Finally, I try to use a plant sterol spread (Benecol in my case) to keep my cholestorol under control.

So that's my basic list of supplements at present. I am sure the list will change in due course as I will discontinue certain elements or introduce new ones. If anyone has any comments on what's included or suggestions for trying something new please get in touch!

Take care,


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

This and That

There is no central theme to this post. It's more of a hodge-podge collection of everything significant that has happened lately.

Some good news to begin. My fasting glucose levels were normal this time so it seems I am out of the woods, for the time being, with regard to diabetes. That's a relief as it would just have been one more health problem to manage!

I'm currently weighing up how best to manage the whole doctor-patient relationship with my GP. I think I'm still minded to keep control of my treatment plan but I am also acknowledging that I can be a little 'full-on' and hard-headed sometimes and no doctor likes a patient who tries to tell them their job! I've worked through the whole 300+ pages of the NHS NICE guidelines and now have a better idea of what I can and can't ask for. Realistically it is just going to be about symptom management rather than anything that will allow me to return to a normal life but I've already accepted that's how things are now.

One thing I'm wanting to ask him is whether he'd sanction Modafinil/Modalert on prescription. It seems to scare a lot of doctors as it can be equated with amphetamines (speed) but it works in a completely different way and doesn't seem to have the risks of raising heart rates or encouraging dependence. I think it has been used 'off-label' for M.E. patients but not widely. Anybody out there had any experiences of this drug?

Another decision i'm chewing over is whether to get a wheelchair. I have a feeling it would make a huge difference to my quality of life as I could get out and about again but I'm constrained by being too worried about the reactions of others. I know I should get over that and I'll try to - it's just that I don't have the energy or inclination to deal with other people's bullshit. There are still so many cases of people with disabled badges on their vehicles being abused for 'being perfectly fine' or people being told they are only using a wheelchair due to being unhealthy or lazy. I mean, I can walk - it's not that I've lost the ability ... but more than a few steps and my heart rate is racing, my muscles are going into spasm and I feel like I'm going to faint. A wheelchair would mean I could try to start doing normal stuff again and have the occasional day out or whatever. I think I will ask for an Occupational Therapist from the local council to come out and assess ways my everyday life could be made easier.

Oh, and I have a new favourite thing. Magnesium. I never realised how beneficial it could be for so many things. I'm now using a magnesium-oil spray on my skin and I have a big sack of Epsom Salts lined up for baths. I'm already seeing benefits in terms of headaches and muscle pain etc. There's apparently a great book called The Magnesium Miracle that gives a lot of detail of the various benefits of the mineral but I haven't got around to checking that out. All I know is that it seems to be having a positive impact so far.

Finally, I'm immensely relieved to have found a support group that I have such a good feeling about. It has been set up by the production company behind the "What about ME?" documentary and group members post their individual stories, and subsequent updates, in the form of videos. I've really struggled with the isolation this illness has caused and with the fact that, with the best will in the world, most people don't understand what life has become for me. Now I have a place where I feel understood and accepted and that's worth such a lot. I might even start posting video updates here instead of writing, haha.

The group can be found here: Vimeo

That's enough for now, I think. Thanks for listening to my ramblings - take care!