Tag Archives: brain disease

How Brain Disease Promised Me Quality Life Opportunities

How Brain Disease Promised Me Quality Life Opportunities text on a dark blue background. An image of blank wooden tiles with 4 spelling the world LIFE.
How Brain Disease Promised Me Quality Life Opportunities

I’ve been thinking alot about life recently. It’s been 5 years since I was diagnosed with a an atypical presentation of a rare brain disease; Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension or IIH. It’s also been 3 years since I was medically dismissed from my teaching career and I never dreamt back then that I’d still be mostly bedbound and so sick after 6 major surgeries.

But, how could I have known 5 years ago that this disease would have such unforgiving consequences for impact myself, let alone Joel and the boys? We never considered that this disease would mean reconsidering our dreams, hopes and plans for life together.

On the flipside, I’ve found silver linings amongst this shizz! I’ve found new ways to connect with the world, my family and my own wellbeing and built an even better relationship with Joel and the boys – who’d have thought that could happen! I’d never have been able to see myself not teaching but I’ve realised that I do have other talents and other roles to fill.

So in spite of my illness turning our world upside down and inside out, I’ve realised that my brain disease has oddly promised me new opportunities. I know that sounds crazy, even for a self confessed optimist, so let me explain my how I got to this conclusion.

How do you live your life?

  • Are you a dreamer –  living in a fantasy world with unrealistic ideals?
  • Are you a planner – always being organised and making lists?
  • Are you a doer – filling every waking moment and being very efficient?
  • Are you an optimist – being confident that there’s always a silver lining?
  • Are you a realist – able to accept and deal with the situation you’re in?
  • Are you an idealist – sure that happiness is a state of mind; despite the practicalities?
  • Are you impulsive – acting rashly and taking risks without thinking it through?
  • Are you a believer – having faith in what you do or trusting that your thing is truth?

I’ve always been an optimistic planner with an organised life. Everything had a place and everyone knew the systems. I knew was meant to teach aged 5. I taught my brother in the school holidays, when he’d much rather have played cars. I planned my life as a teacher and when I got there, I continued to live, walk and dream in teacher mode for 15 years.

Joel and I met at college and we took our time getting to know each other. I found his spontaneous nature intriguing as it was the total opposite to my pragmatism. But we had a shared sense of humour and moral standing and eventually became more than friends.

Girl with medium length, blond hair making a disgusted expression

I’d describe Joel as a realistic dreamer. He adapts to every situation and gets a job done but then he’ll fantasise over idealistic homes and awesome guitars. He dreams of not having to work ever again, so he can paint and play music all day and maybe study for fun!

One of the games he plays with the boys is ‘lottery dreams’ which is pretty self explanatory. They’ve eyed up many mansions, fast cars and had myriad wild dreams. I love that Joel has always encouraged them to delve into their imaginations as playing this game’s just not my bag. Well, it wasn’t!

But then I got brain disease and my thought process changed and as time went on I knew I had to reevaluate my life plan. I had to learn to be more impulsive and grab the opportunities to live on my rare better days. I had to learn to stop doing and even how to rest; in fact I’m still learning that. But I had to get real and accept this was my life.

Questioning My Purpose

 A photograph of blue sky and mountains in the background. In the foreground is a grassy hill with a signpost saying 'why' and a ?
Why Am I Here?

Accepting this life has been a huge deal! When I became ill I thought I’d be back in the classroom after a change of migraine meds. But that didn’t happen, I was left undiagnosed for months. When I was diagnosed, I was told treatment would be a long process but I thought I’d be back teaching after a few brain surgeries. Just like that, yep really!

I was angry about this disease for ages and had a side order of guilt and despair. Quality opportunities for me were as elusive as the hope of being pain free. I wasn’t clear what my role was anymore and all that I knew was fading; I had no idea where the end point was!

It took time to sink in that ‘long’ in this case meant marathon long; life changing long. It made me question my role and my sense of purpose was destroyed. It didn’t look anything like the life I’d planned and I had no backup option. I was a mum, wife and teacher. Brain disease had pulled the rug out from under me and messed up our lives.

Living In The Shadows

A single tall and spiky green Cactus Stem
The Grieving Process Cactus

I got lost in a desert of all consuming pain and hadn’t noticed the grieving process cactus spike I’d trodden on. I ways keeling over, dehydrated, unaware that I just had to wait for the cactus to bear fruit for the sweet syrupy nectar of a quality life. I coulhdn’t even feel that cactus back then. I could only see what I thought was the fix; surgery. Read my story here.

I was living in the shadows, in danger of letting this rare condition make a total eclipse of my life. The Black Dog was snarling and snapping at my heels every day so I needed to tighten the leash. I realised that I was being sucked into a vast black hole and I couldn’t hold on much longer. I felt like I’d been left to rot but knew I couldn’t let go of the edge.

I realised I had to weigh up the quality of life I had with one of taking risks and grasping all the opportunities I could. I wouldn’t let myself succumb to the darkness so my GP sorted urgent support from a counsellor. I felt like someone had my hands and wouldn’t let go!

The counsellor pointed out the cactus spike that was stuck in my shoe the whole time! I got hold of it and let myself start the grieving process for life pre brain disease. I let my inner mid-tantrum toddler out. I needed to be heard to began to accept the situation I was in.

The grief and anger I felt meant I was starting out on an equally long journey to heal my mental pain. Joel and the boys mattered too much for me to let go so I worked out the etchings of a plan with my first counsellor and slowly I began to rise.

A Determined Woman Will Always Rise

"And Still Like Dust I Rise" Maya Angelou quote on a sunset background with a silhouette of a tree and an African elephant with a man riding it, lifting its trunk.

As I began to resurface I knew I needed more to think about than watching TV and eating. I realised I had more resources than I thought and started to use those I knew I already had. Being Mummy, Wife, Teacher and Cook was enough to still feel needed. It was a start.

When my counselling sessions finished I was in a better place mentally but physically my health worsened. I joined online support groups and found myself helping others in similar situations. I made some genuine friends but I was putting too much energy into helping those who didn’t give anything back.

I guess my nature is to nurture and I enjoyed shining some light into their day. It was a distraction from my pain too but I caught myself checking my phone every 5 minutes as it was my only connection to the outside world. This wasn’t healthy and I lost sight of shining the light on myself. I needed something more than this but I was still lost.

Then one day I was reminded that I’d been going to silversmithing workshops for years before I was diagnosed. I’d loved every minute in that workshop and my toolbox was just sitting there waiting patiently. It was time for me to rise up for myself again.

Reconnecting With The World

They say creativity can transform lives. It’s known that well-being and self worth can be improved through music, craft and art. Creative therapy involves expression beyond words. However, I’d never considered myself to be creative until I picked up those pliers and the sheet of silver. I thought that this might be the perfect soul healer for me.

I taught myself to make beaded jewellery as I couldn’t safely work with the silversmith’s tools. It was a wonderful distraction from the pain and boredom. My friends wanted to support me and I started getting orders. Soon after, I realised this thing might have potential and opened my Etsy Shop ‘The Paprika Jewellery‘.

Paprika Jewellery & Accessories Logo with 3 handrawn red chilli peppers.
Paprika Jewellery & Accessories

Joel’s recently told me that although he was inspired by my focus he’d been concerned by inability to dream. He thought I’d struggle when the day came to retire. Ok, so I didn’t retire but I’m so glad he’d bought those silversmith workshops for me that birthday.

My first sale to someone I didn’t know was such a high. Really I had no idea how to run a business, but it was an epic distraction. I took it at my own pace and any sale was a bonus back then. I didn’t realise it at the time but I’d found a sense of purpose again.

As my self esteem improved I decided to start a blog to help me process everything that Brain Disease threw at us. I was embracing the grieving process now. My blog focussed on raising awareness of my story, IIH, and challenge the misconceptions of migraine.

People loved to hear about my journey and my blog engaged others affected by IIH. I was sporadic with my writing as it was such hard work for my brain. It still is but don’t tell anyone! Yet again I was helping others but I’d found my own sense of purpose this time.

I took a total break from everything in 2018, as I had 3 surgeries. I really needed that rest and I focused entirely on being with my family. By now I’d recognised the importance of my role as a wife and mother so I took this seriously. I realised how lucky I was to be at home every day so that when the kids and Joel came home, I could just listen to them.

If I was teaching I wouldn’t have had this opportunity so I embraced it. I’ve become the family facilitator. I’ve been able to support the kids learning and build a stronger family bond than I could have done in my old life. Now I celebrate the little things too.

Taking The Opportunities

Since recovering from my surgeries I’ve been building up my energy whilst learning to pace myself. But there’s so much I want to do right now so I’m practising matching the energy I have with the energy I need. I’m ready to grab every opportunity and achieve all I can.

I still spend most days in my bedroom as going downstairs is enough for a wipe out. I can use the opportunity to write, make jewellery and rest so I can make the most of the better days, doing what matters most; being with my family (maybe even going out) and seeing friends . I still crash afterwards but it’s worth it to be with those who matter most!

I’m focusing on my new jewellery collection and the relaunch of my shop at the moment. I’ve putting into practice the things I’ve learnt about business when I was resting. I’m excited to develop my vision of writing and creating jewellery from positive themes.

Yellow banner with a sunset image with silhouettes of trees in Sussex countryside. With Paprika Jewellery & Accessories written in the sky. Next to the image it says ‘Luxury Jewellery & Accessories from and for the souls, positivity for you now and hope for a vibrant future.
Making Jewellery and Accessories to share love, hope and positivity

The potential my writing has to empower women was a key factor in my decision to create gifts or treats which bring hope for the future. It’s a bigger task than I’d expected as I’m also giving my whole shop a makeover. I pushed myself at first but realised it was too much. So I’m practising balancing work and wellbeing to achieve my goals without overwhelm.

Whilst starting this new chapter, I was approached to write for Teva Pharmaceutical’s ‘Life Effects’ Patient support. It feels amazing to be sought out to blog alongside some amazing advocates, let alone getting paid for it (boom)! I’ll be writing a blog every 2 months for them but they my health comes first, it’s slap bang in the contract so I’ll pace myself!

My bio photograph for the Teva Pharmaceutical Life Effects Patient Support site in a instant photo style frame. I’m wearing red sunglasses with wavy hair pinned back, against a back drop of evergreen shrubbery.
My Life Effects Bio photo

When I wrote my Bio for the site I had a bit of an a-ha moment as I was reading it aloud to Joel. He stopped me and pulled me up where I’d written that I was an ‘aspiring’ writer. I want to write a book and see this opportunity to work towards that, but Joel made me recognise that I’m already a writer. Apparently a talented one at that according to Joel.

We discussed why I’d written that and I ended up unpacking a lot of the self doubt I’d been feeling since being offered the role. However I’ve now pitched my first blog idea, which went down with a 100% yes straight away 🙌. This will be my next blog and I’m so happy to be using my story to help others. Keep an eye out as I’m sure I’ll keep it on the down low.

As I’m always working towards something now, I have to plan my time carefully to prevent overdoing it. Flare ups happen and still hit from nowhere sometimes so I have to be flexible about what I do each day. As I work on both blogging and getting a business going again, I have to check in with myself so I don’t burn out from self inflicted expectations.

I’m so excited to see how my hard work for my shop pans out and to see where this writing journey takes me. Believe it or not, I’m actually daring to dream a little about both of these things. There it is, I got to the whole me dreaming bit at last! ✨

The Promise of Quality of Life

How Brain Disease Promised Me Quality Life Opportunities wording on a cream background. A lady with dark brown hair is asleep on a cream soft blanket with a cream puppy in her arms.
How Brain Disease Promised Me Quality Life Opportunities

A long and winding path has brought me here; to a place where I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded with live and support. A place where I am still achieving things even when I’m mostly bedbound, a place I never dreamed I would be.

The pre Brain Disease Laura would be proud of me now. I’m still focussed but I now dare to believe that there’s more out there for me. My surgeries have lifted the brain fog enough for me to kick daytime TVs backside and do something that matters. My optimistic view on life has helped me but finding so many silver linings along this journey has been my soul food!

Questioning my role has been liberating. If I was teaching I wouldn’t have discovered other talents and explored what I have to offer. I definitely wouldn’t have had the guts to pitch my heart to the world. I wouldn’t have discovered my naturally empathetic nature and I certainly wouldn’t have felt a need to offer positivity and light with those who need it.

A cobbled path through building at night. Lit with small fairy lights above and leading to well lit buildings at the end of the path.
The lights leading the way out of the shadows

In the lights that scatter the Brain Disease trail we’ve found morsels of glue which have reinforced my bond with the boys. Ok so maybe mixing teenagers and glue isn’t the best use of a metaphor but the relationship I have with them now is more important than I ever thought it would be. Their company is the biggest reward for getting through the pain!

I know Joel is proud of me for the effort I’ve put into my own wellbeing; which is a work in progress. His belief in my writing ability is empowering and I couldn’t run my business without his bucketfuls of support. He helps me dream and believe that I can. His trail of breadcrumbs led to my hope and determination so I could make it out of the shadows.

My perspective on life has changed completely due to IIH and has opened my eyes to the amazing opportunities out there for me. Although the positives can’t undo the abrasive nature of my pain or how it wears away on all four of us; it has shown that we can still live a quality life. So, directly because of brain disease I now rise, even stronger than before.

What has changed the way you look at the world?

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Chronic Illness Bloggers

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About Laura

Introduction

Laura is a former primary school teacher, blogger, poet and jeweller living in Sussex UK. She is a positive thinking, mum of 2 teenage boys and is happily married to Joel. Laura is an IIHer, chronic migraineur, patient advocate and mental health campaigner.

After developing a debilitating brain condition, IIH, in 2014; she sadly had to give up her 14½ year teaching career. Soon after being diagnosed, she turned her life long love of writing into this blog to document her journey with chronic illnesses. This evolved into raising awareness of disabilities, chronic illnesses and mental health.

Laura runs the Mission Migraine Twitter account, which raises awareness that migraine is much more than just a headache. Laura started her own business Paprika Jewellery & Accessories after starting to make jewellery as a distraction from the pain.

She writes poetry to explore her own mental health and well-being. Laura writes about positive thinking and living her best life, despite her conditions. She hopes to inspire others to find their own sense of purpose, whatever challenges they face. Continue reading About Laura

5 Last Chance Opportunities To Show Unconditional Love

5 Last Chance Opportunities To Show Unconditional Love5 Last Chance Opportunities To Show Unconditional Love

I’ve been thinking about all the things I wish I’d said or done and didn’t get the chance. I imagine most of us have have experienced this. So I’m going to talk about last chance central, unconditional love and how you can still have a loving relationship with chronic illnesses. I’ll be sharing 5 opportunities I believe we should take to show limitless love.

**WARNING This blog contains possible triggers surrounding death and loss of loved ones. So although this blog is mostly about love if you feel uncomfortable whilst reading this, please stop and if necessary, speak to a professional.

This blog is based on my own experiences. I am not a doctor and all thoughts are my own, other than attributed quotes. If you need medical advice speak to a professional.

Bucket Lists

Before we start talking last chances and unconditional love, I need to get my thoughts on  Bucket lists off of my chest and I need to ask you this:

If You Had Only 24 hours left to live, What Would You Do?

I’m asking, because there’s myriad possible answers so choosing one becomes, well, tricky! I guess Space would be a mission 😜. I guess this is how bucket lists became a thing, but I’m not one for that kind of idiot box cheese.

two green pails on ground
Photo by hitesh choudhary on Pexels.com

I mean, why write a list of things you want to do before you __⌛, when you could just get up off your arse and do them?  In my opinion, the idea’s been hijacked by social media disease and become another thing you have to have!

Don’t sit around thinking and planning, get on and do the things you dream of because one day you may no longer have a choice. If you have the chance to do what you dream of every day, then go for it. But chuck that icky bucket!

** Of course when someone is diagnosed with a terminal or degenerative illness, they should grab that bucket and do everything they can. 

Chronic Illnesses and Last Chance Decisions

Having a chronic illness can change your viewpoint and may need you to adapt your lifestyle, meaning you may miss opportunities. I think this has the potential to create a shift in your decision making.

You might:

  • Grieve for what could have been or
  • Choose to take a different path and make the best out of the situation
  • Feel held back from taking chances
  • Be left in a position you’d never imagined could be you.
  • Change what you thought of as or
  • Feel that unconditional love has reached its limits
  • Become dependent for support with money, travel or childcare
  • have your partner or child become your carer
  • Feel too sick and weak and remain where you are
  • Might take opportunities, even when you feel worse after doing

When you’ve been given medical clearance, be kind to yourself,  showing unconditional love to yourself before you give it to your loved ones. Please don’t let those countless opportunities pass you by just because you have an illness.

My Own Last Chances

These are the stories of last chances I wish that I’d taken had I known it. **This may be distressing reading.

As a Mummy I’ve felt the loss of my baby born unresponsive and whisked away from me. On the ward, the cot by my bed lay empty. Joel and I were told he was having a 4 hour fit. Not knowing if he’d make it or have brain damage, I feared I wouldn’t get the chance to hold my boy alive. We’re very lucky as he pulled through at the last minute. He’s more than fine now, but this still haunts me. It’s the worst last chance I ever had to imagine.

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My lovely Nana

As a granddaughter I’m sad that my husband never met my Nana. She got sick not long after Joel and I started seeing each other. Sadly she died 2 weeks later, so I never got the chance. If the odds had been stacked a little differently, she would have welcomed him with loving arms and adored our boys. She’d have been an awesome Great-Nana.

As a daughter in law I’ve wished many times that my boys had been able to meet their Grandad. Nearly 14 years on I still regret that distance mattered. That 5-6 hours in a car was so far for us then, so he only got to hold Eldest once. How I’ve wish he could see how immense both our boys are and that we’d see him fill with love and pride. He’d have got to play his pranks on them and taken them on many spontaneous adventures, I’m sure.

As a wife with an incurable brain disease, I’ve seen my husband’s face as I go down for brain surgery. Surgery with a likelihood that it’s fine, but no mistaking the less than 1 in 10,000 chance of a stroke or worse. I see that last forlorn glance as our eyes meet when I leave the ward. Then I see the relief when they wheel me back.

Unconditional love
Relief That I’m Safe After Surgery

Last Chance Decisions

When I was first diagnosed I knew one thing was never going to change. I knew that Joel was always going to be there for me as I knew our love was unconditional. I knew how strong our relationship was from when we nearly lost Youngest.

As my condition got worse, I realised that I was grieving for the last chances to live the old Laura’s life. I gave up for a while and it got messy at times, but Joel put mine and the boys needs first, much more than I could have comprehended at the time.

I can’t even contemplate what he’s been through when I was so ill. I began to realise how many opportunities had been taken away. I pushed my body but I soon learned I needed to listen to my body.

Balancing Needs and Wants

When I finally realised I needed to create balance we could begin to understand our new normal, but still be The McKees. I still wanted to do more but I couldn’t ignore the needs of my family. As I can’t plan for how I’m going to feel,

On a better day we make the most of it but then spending days in bed to recover. We take it day by day and grab every opportunity we can. I’ve realised that we can only control what’s happening, right now!

Living for Now

missed opportunityThere’s myriad opportunities to take a chance every day. I wonder how many we miss and how many might be seen as successes, or if it’s as Thomas Edison said..

I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Imagine all those missed opportunities because we think there’s more time. Time to grab chances for us or to show kindness to others. We never know a situation, so little thing we do, may make their day.

Affirmations encourage us to grasp opportunities as they arise. It helps us live for the moment and grasp last chances experiences. One such as ‘I let go of fear and guilt’ help me restrain the little guilt demons that haunt me!

When it comes to the future, if I use the ‘I am courageous’ affirmation, I know that everything is going to be okay. If I say ‘I surround myself with positive people’ I know Joel will be there for me if I need him.

I’d love you to experience the freedom and comfort these cards bring, so you can grab the set of positive affirmations that I’ve made for you. They’re only available until March 31st and I’ve put the link at the end of this blog post.

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Free affirmations printable download

Taking a Chance on Me

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Joel and I in 1998 in my last year at Uni

Joel finished his degree a year before me and that left him having a huge decision to make. He had to base it on the 7-8 months we’d had. Thankfully Joel decided to stay in Canterbury working in a supermarket for the year.

I didn’t realise how much commitment he was making at the time and I wonder what would have happened if hadn’t taken that gamble on us. We moved to Sussex and our level of commitment stepped up a notch when we bought our first flat. 

One day we were talking about the future and he just said ‘shall we get married then?’ I seriously thought he was joking but he wasn’t, so I agreed. It wasn’t planned so that there was just a thought in Joel’s mind and he ran with it was part of the magic.

We married in August 2003 and still balance each other perfectly. He has encouraged me to take more chances and I’ve helped him be more focused and plan more.

Unconditional love

Unconditional love is a powerful term, meaning love and affection without limitations; when you’d do anything for that person no matter what. This is usually between parent and child and is the sentiment behind marriage vows; a promise to love no matter what.

Unconditional love is something you have to work at and develops over time, rather than the ideal of love at first sight – sorry romanticals. You shouldn’t ever feel like you’ve failed if a relationship doesn’t work and is never a reason to stay in an unhealthy relationship.

“It is a minute-by-minute decision by both parties to remain committed to each other… Love is expressed by a person’s actions… [and] best expressed when a person chooses to put another’s needs above her own.”

Everyday Health Article

5 Last Chance Opportunities to show unconditional love

These points are based on my experience of 21 years of very few arguments, raising 2 boys who usually handle disagreements with respect and empathy and 15 years as a Teacher. We take opportunities to show unconditional love. These are my own opinions and ideas. * However, If you feel you need relationship support, please seek professional advice.

  1. Never go to bed on an argument. If an argument is over something small, take 5 and consider whether it’s worth wasting time. It could take just one of you to back down first, especially if you’re the parent.  You may feel wronged but apologising for how you reacted is likely to dissolve the tension. If it’s more serious with your partner, you may not feel ready to make up but be honest and say ‘I’m not ready to talk about this tonight.’ Try to plan time to talk properly in the morning. Then say good night. If it’s with your child/ren, tell them you love them but you don’t like what they’ve done. This needs to be made age appropriate but try to make as little drama as possible and say goodnight as usual. You can reinforce it in the morning. When you talk about it, be specific and don’t attack. Try this structure: ‘I didn’t like it when (action) because it made me feel (_). It was because (obstacle) I’d prefer it if (ideal solution). Teach your kids this too so you can all make up quicker!
  2. Good relationships are built on trust and loyalty
    Trust and Respect

    Build your relationship on trust, honesty and respect. In any relationship you learn how to deal with conflict. This TED article (although about the workplace, it has six great tips). Positive language and actions are important to acknowledge. Reward positive actions with a note or a little treat for adults as well as kids. If you show you’re noticing the small stuff, it makes the big stuff easier and you’ll build layers of trust. Be aware of how you bring up issues within the family. It’s vital that any problems are addressed quickly and honestly. Use the structure in #1 regularly so it becomes normal. Embrace vulnerability so hearing what others say becomes much easier. Creating an environment where listening is valued is so important for building respect. When you know that what you say matters, you will become more confident and positive. When you become positive, you will inspire positivity. The cycle of positivity, reward, positivity begins!

  3. Put their needs above yours. When you decide to share your life with another human, you’re making a commitment to meet their needs. You’re there to grow together in any form of relationship. As adults our emotional and physical needs can be met too by cooking a nice meal or taking them on a surprise holiday! The point is, is that you think about your partner, so my fellow bed livers, we can meet our partner’s and children’s needs from our sick beds by asking about their day. If you’ve got a busy life, don’t let this get lost in life noise, don’t take your relationship for granted. We’re all different so some of us need extra support to do this, but if you meet their needs they’re more likely to reciprocate. It may be something to discuss in your relationship.  If one person in the relationship becomes dependant due to illness or disability then this can create strain, but you can still meet your partners needs, you just need to think it through. If you have young carers, meeting their needs can be a worry, but be reassured that you can still do this. If you want some tips, read more here.
  4. Be Affectionate with each other. With children it’s easy, they’re usually pretty affectionate unless their teenagers, although we still give ours a kiss goodnight. (boom, down with their street cred😜). It’s really important to make the effort in our adult relationships because “forms of physical affection…were strongly related to the…satisfaction the participant felt with the relationship and the partner.”     Psychology Today We’ve found that establishing affection at any transition, such as waking up or getting home, we’ve become more affectionate and it deepens our connection (yes still, after 21 years). Those hugs and kisses build positivity and happiness. Although some find public affection difficult, I think it’s important in a relationship; especially around your teenage children! We’ve always loved to hold hands in public (although trickier in a wheelchair). “Affection produces feelings of intimacy, security, significance, and respect in a relationship.” Everyday Health
  5. Show them how much you love them.

They say that actions speak louder than actionsandwordswords! So show you how much you love them by getting creative. Whatever works for your kids: show your love by slipping a note in their lunchbox, sitting playing Lego for hours, leaving notes on the fridge and snuggling in front of a movie. With your partner, focus on them regularly to keep a healthy relationship: giving a foot rub, sending texts during the day, writing poems or creating art from photographs!or organising a date night. And don’t forget to always listen to them! Make what you do romantic and do it at least once a week. Just don’t be repetitive. Or creepy. Or boring. Or immature. Or creepy….

In conclusion

In my opinion, if you wait to do the things you love, you may just miss that chance. Bucket lists and waiting for another day may mean that you missed your chance. If you ever missed that opportunity to show your love and something happened, well….

If you’re reading this with a chronic illness, then this can be even tougher for you to think about. I’ve tried both waiting and pushing through, but in the end I’m up for taking a chance.

Someone took a chance on me and we’ve built conditional love for each other and our boys, of course. But we’ve had many tough times and we’ve been lucky enough to make it through. I hope someone has or will take a chance on you.

I make sure my children know how much I love them every day. I make sure to kiss my husband every time he leaves the house and when he gets home.

Don’t wait to do anything, show you love your someone at every opportunity and don’t sweat the small stuff. We never know what’s about to happen…

Affirmations for a better you
Positive Affirmations for a Better You

You can help yourself achieve the things you want to do today using Affirmations. I’ve mentioned these above.  I’ve created a set of Printable Affirmations that would for setting the tone for a good day Grab a copy of this when you sign up to my occasionally regular newsletter today!  You still have until the 31st March to get your free printable. 

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I make sure my children know how much I love them everyday. I make sure to kiss my husband every time he leaves to go to work and as soon as he gets home.

My point is – Don’t wait to do anything, show you love someone at every opportunity and don’t sweat the small stuff. We never know what’s about to happen! So, if you start living for now, today, then what would you choose as the first thing you’d do?

Chronic Illness Bloggers

Continue reading 5 Last Chance Opportunities To Show Unconditional Love

How to stay sane when stuck in bed with chronic illness or recovering from surgery. An insider’s guide

Staying level headed with debilitating pain. 

Those of you that already follow my story know I’m no stranger to surgery. I’ve  had my 3rd brain stent surgery for IIH (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension ) on 15th November. I was aiming to get downstairs on Saturday and I made it. It’s so important to have goals to keep you motivated. I had a family day yesterday too!

But I’m going to be spending this week in bed again recovering, as expected. My pain levels are high today and I had a bad night’s sleep, but I don’t regret it. Days with family are what keep you going . My condition is extremely debilitating but I’m not seeking sympathy; I share my experiences to raise awareness!

Please note: if you have questions about IIH, any chronic illness or mental health concerns; please speak to a trained health professional. These tips are about self care and any advice I share is based on my own experiences.

I shared this selfie on social media, 10 days after surgery. It was youngest’s 13th birthday and I was in bed, fed up that I couldn’t celebrate. The response to this post has been amazing. I received lots of supportive messages and my husband, Joel, was asked at work how I stay sane and positive when I’m stuck in bed for weeks – struggling to get to my en-suite bathroom at times.

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So here’s my guide to staying sane as a chronic and invisible illness warrior! 

  • Don’t fight the pain! I used to be determined not to give in to the pain and I’d push myself to do too much too soon, making my recovery take longer. Now, I try to listen to my body and have retrained my brain to know that it’s okay to rest, This has taken years of making mistakes, until being taught to recognise and change patterns in my behaviour by my coach, Josie (details below).
  • Ask friends and family to tell you when you’re looking tired. It’s easy to miss signs that you’re flagging, but don’t shy away from asking those close to you to say if you look like you need to rest. If someone tells me I look rough I’m not offended, I just realise that I do hurt a lot and may need that pain relief!

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  • Remember your condition doesn’t only affect you. A delicate ecosystem occurs for most familes when someone has a chronic illlness. This means any change has an effect on family life. If you’re the one in constant pain, then your contribution to family life is probably limited. For example, I usually do online grocery shopping and am usually the mediator. Plan for those times when you can’t make your usual contribution. Try asking a friend to pop to the shops or do some jobs around the house, so your partner doesn’t have to do everything!
  • Give yourself time to recover. I always seem to forget how tough living with daily high level pain is or how hard recovery from surgery is. So I tend to think I’ll cope better than I actually can. Now I set myself goals and break these down into smaller steps. E.g restarting your physio or getting dressed before venturing downstairs. Whatever goals/steps you take need to be all about you! This is the time to practice self care! Maybe keep a pain diary or notes after surgery, so you can look back at what has worked for you in the past,

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  • Be honest about having visitors. Let’s be honest, the novelty of surgery soon wears off and friends might get bored with your chronic illness. You’ll probably stop getting as many flowers and cards, but hopefully your friends will still support you as much as ever. For me, receiving a text cheers me up, but having visitors (when you can) is vital! You’ll get a mental boost and it breaks up the bedroom boredom. But, if you’re in too much pain; be brave and postpone. True friends will understand and if they don’t, then you don’t need them!
  • Keep a gratitude journal. I spend time every day reflecting on what I’m thankful for. I write 3 positive things in my diary every night or the following morning, This can be anything and it’s the little things that count when you’re recovering from surgery or a bad flare. Washing my hair, managing to eat a proper meal, having a snuggle with Joel or a giggle with my boys mean so much to me in that acute pain phase. I’d suggest starting getting into this routine before surgery. It’s also really nice to share these with friends or family!
  • Meditate. I can’t explain how much meditation helps keeps me calm in hospital and in the following weeks. I download my favourite meditations (in case there’s no WiFi) on my phone and take my headphones to block out the horrible noises on a ward. They also help me sleep between hourly obs through the night! I also use techniques I’ve learnt to visualise my happy place to lie still during a procedure or anaesthetic. You can read my tips for meditation here.
  • Use affirmations to visualise positivity. Ok, so I know the word meditation may have scared you off, but stay with me! Using affirmations has been the key to staying sane through 3 brain and spine surgeries this year! I also use affirmations cards from TheYesMum  (@theyesmummum on Instagram) daily.

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My coach Josie, from Worry Freedom created personalised affirmations to help manage my worries, which are mainly about how surgery impacts my family. She turned each concern into a positive affirmation, such as ‘I am proud that my boys have built resilience’. I record these as voice memos on my phone and listen to them before, during and after my stay in hospital. They’ve helped me to stop worrying about everyone else and concentrate on my one job – healing.

  • Ask family to spend time with you in your bedroom. When you’re always in bed, it can get very lonely. So, whether it’s snuggling with Joel watching TV, having a chat about the day or watching a film with everyone on the bed; having my family come to me is so important. For example, we ate youngest’s birthday meal in my bedroom, so that I could still be a part of his special day.
  • Entertainment. I’ve always been against TVs in bedrooms (personal choice), but after my first surgery Joel set one up in my bedroom so I could watch my favourite comfort movies. It’s stayed! I rely on my iPad so when we realised this was going to be our new normal, Joel set up Apple TV so I have lots of choice. I’ve also have audible and Spotify so I can listen to gentle music or spoken word on the days when I can’t open my eyes.
  • Bonus Tip – When you’re doing better, but still stuck in bed or the house I think you need a hobby. Many chronic illness warriors craft and this helped me not to feel so lost when I’d been diagnosed. I’d taken silversmithing classes before falling ill, so I began making beaded and up-cycled creations. Now I run my own online business with an Etsy shop. I’m closed whilst I recover, but I’ll be posting more about this as I prepare for reopening. You can see what I make on my social media pages too. ⬇️

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So these are my top 10 tips for managing to stay positive, or at least rational when can’t do anything. But hey, we’re all different and these are just what works for me, If you’ve got the money to invest in working with a coach, do it! It’s all about finding solutions and a good coach can change your outlook! I had counselling after diagnosis, when I was still grieving for the life I’d had. If you’re struggling please talk to your GP/Doctor straight away!

Are you recovering from major surgery? Do you have a chronic illnesses? I’d love to hear about what you’ve tried if you’re housebound or bed-bound. What tips do you have to keep rational and level-headed? 

Chronic Illness Bloggers

Life as a bed-bound workaholic. #chronicillness

Stopping work due to ill health usually leads to a feeling of loss and purpose. For workaholics, giving up a career just adds to the grief of a previous life. If you’re also mostly bed bound; it’s almost impossible to give in.

On being a workaholic 

Design

I’d wanted to teach from age 5 and I loved it from the moment I stepped in the classroom. I was a workaholic, working nights and weekends, to try to make a difference.

Teaching is so much more than a job, you never stop thinking about some aspect and with you take on many roles.

Design

When I had my boys I worked part time, but was still working a 40-50 hour week. A workaholic is compelled to keep working and creates a life that’s out of balance. Read more here. Being a mum always came first, but I always felt the need to be doing something. Just a workaholic in another role; feeling like I couldn’t do either role justice. In hindsight; I know I gave both roles everything I could.

Becoming Bed-Bound

If you’ve read my story, you’ll know I had to stop teaching when I became ill. When we came to the mutual decision that I should be medically dismissed, I knew it was best for everyone. However, I struggled with the reality of having to bow out, from my bed, with no farewell, after the 14+ years I’d dedicated to my profession. I still wish I’d done more, but I’m proud of all that I achieved and that I had some influence on so many little lives.

We realised that becoming bedbound had a silver lining. I could now just enjoy the most important job I had and put everything I could into motherhood, without throwing life out of balance! We love that I’m more present and less stressed. Now I love hearing the key in the lock, anticipating my boys coming to see me.

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However, as a workaholic, even a bed-bound one with brain disease, I still needed to be DOING something. So I began making jewellery and soon discovered Conscious Crafties Marketplace The site was set up to give those with chronic illness, disabilites or their carers a sense of purpose again. You’ll find this statement on the site’s homepage.

‘A community of talented artists and crafters who are living a purposeful life by changing the way humanity perceives those living with Chronic Illness, Disabilities or Carers of those affected’

This amazing community has helped me connect with others who understand what we’re going through. I’ve made many true friends and am living a purposeful life. But, I’m a busy minded person and so volunteered to help Karen (the founder) run the site. Everyone tells me I do too much, but I thrive on helping others and love organising things. But I was juggling all of this and more, from bed, and it was beginning to impact on our family time, so something had to change!

Breaking Free

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Making the best of family time

I needed to break some of the bad habits I’ve developed over years of being a workaholic. But I have the best motivation; to bring balance in to my life. I’ve looked at my behaviour patterns and found I was spending far too much time on social media. I’m now slowly re-training my brain to know that it’s okay to rest!

Josie from Worry Free told me that ‘My JOB is to heal. By giving me a role/job of healing and rest, I have that all important role we crave and am now a resting workaholic! Such a simple idea, but so effective; I’m already breaking bad habits,  doing less and achieving more. Ultimately I’ll have more quality time to spend with my family.

 

Chronic Illness Bloggers

#IIH life in the slow lane!

I’m finally posting an update after my 2nd surgery, nearly a year on, so thanks for your patience while I’ve been in the slow lane! I’ve been on a rollercoaster journey with my IIH (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension) over the last year.

WHAT’S BEEN HAPPENING?

In June 2017 I had my second skull surgery and 4 weeks ago I had the same operation on the left. They have removed the C1 vertebrae mass on both sides to make space for the jugular vein that was squashed; preventing blood draining from my brain. I use a plumbing analogy to explain this. If you think of the veins as the pipes, you’d remove the blockage at the top first, because if you remove the top blockage beforehand, you’ll just create a bigger blockage below. This is how my surgeons work, slowly and methodically to ensure that all surgeries are exacting.

The surgeries have been difficult for us all. I’m not scared of surgery, but I worry about how my boys and Joel will handle the added pressure. This time, I’ve asked for help from the wonderful Josie Brocksom of Worry Free who gave me strategies to help me deal with my concerns and trust that Joel would be able to cope with the additional pressure, which of course he has. She has also taught me that it’s ok to rest, so this time I have let myself stay in the slow lane so that I can heal!

I’m lucky enough to be covered by private healthcare. One of the biggest perks is having a private room of course, but I love the food too! Yes, really! I’ve been waiting to show you this photo of the yummy lunch I had the day after my surgery last year. Just look how good that was! I just had to order the same this year too!

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Before I continue, I wanted to address a question Joel and I get asked so often:

HOW DO WE KEEP SO POSITIVE?

As with everything in life, we have some choice. Of course, I have no control over how the IIH affects me, apart from my pain relief. However, I do have control over how I manage to stop my high pain levels, from affecting my mood. Myself, Joel and my boys also choose how much we let IIH affect our own lives and time together.

I’ve been able to share over 20 years with my best friend. Joel is affected by IIH just as much as I am. However, amongst experiencing all my of pain, constant worry and looking after us; he works incredibly hard in a tough job. He is also an advocate for carers through the Family Matters team across the whole of Lloyds Banking Group! He keeps me going and picks me up when I fall. He makes me laugh til it hurts and ensures that the children have emotional, physical and comical needs met. I couldn’t ask for anything more and I know I’m lucky to have him by my side at every step.

I can’t say all is peachy, as of course it’s not: I still cry, get frustrated and have meltdowns-I’m only human! Joel and the boys keep me fighting this disease and get on every day. We’re open with each other and share our experiences with others who just get it.. We also have the opportunity to raise awareness of how to stay positive when chronic illness affects a family, and we are both very proud to do this!

THE SURGERY

When the wizard has (my ENT specialist surgeon) removed part of the C1 vertebrae, he gets as close to the nerve as possible; without it being dangerous. This is only done for the few like me, by the team in Cambridge. They’ve developed procedures to reduce unwanted side effects and they explain everything so well. They are now developing other studies and sharing their findings with the medical world.

I was only in overnight both times and have a drain in which helps to limit the chance of having unwanted side effects. These are shoulder weakness, trouble swallowing and a hoarse voice. It’s too gross to show, but here are my post op selfies!

2016-feeling warm and puffy!

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2017-Looking amazing on oxygen all night due to low SATs

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The operations have both been successful. The scans show that the jugular vein is no longer under pressure and the blood can flow freely through the veins there now.

NEXT STEPS:

During my pre-op testing (ct venoplasty/venogram), my neuro radiologist found arachnoid granulations pushing on my stent and narrowing the flow of blood. These are normal lesions found in the venous channels that allow the CSF to flow into the venous channels. These are rarely found in the transverse sinus, however, and unfortunately they are growing around and through the stent in the left side. This explains why I started to go down hill again a few months after last year’s surgery, so I will need a procedure to stretch the stent and push the granulation back.

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Unfortunately, I also need a stent in the right transverse sinus, so I have been referred back to the neuro radiologist following our check up in Cambridge yesterday. It’s good to know that we are moving forward surgically and it means that I can focus on my goal of reducing the morphine even more. The transverse sinus is part of the venous system in the brain and allows the blood to drain from the back of the head. If you’d like to know more, I have a reference to this medical article here.

Last year’s surgery was such a success that I was able to travel abroad, have a 40th birthday party and generally spend more time with my family. This is my priority and as I was able to reduce the dose of morphine I take in the morning a few months ago, I now need to get back on track with that as I come out of the other side.

I’ve big plans with my family this year and although I always suffer, it’s so important that I try and enjoy my life as much as I can. I don’t know how much I will recover from this disease. This means making the most of life NOW! This is why we decided to visit the Imperial war museum yesterday on our trip to Cambridge. This was only my second trip out of my bedroom since surgery. Although I only managed half the visit in the museum and the other half lying down in the car, I’m amazed that I was able to do tbis and even though I’m exhausted today, I’m still finishing this blog!

As it’s only a month post op, I can’t say much has changed; although I haven’t passed out since, which was happening weekly beforehand. But, I feel like I’m turning the corner now and have every faith that symptoms will continue inproving quickly, as soon. I had such a positive response from last year’s surgery,  I feel positive that I will continue making baby steps towards achieve my goal to reduce my meds and increase time with my loved ones. So, I’m still in the slow lane, but I’m happy here for now whilst I carry out my job of healing, and continuing to rest!

Please check out my social media accounts and stores if you’re inspired:

http://www.facebook.com/Tearsofstrength

http://www.twitter.com/happyiihgirl

http://www.instagram.com/paprikajewellery2

http://www.pinterest.co.uk/PaprikaJeweller

SHOPS:

http://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/ThePaprikaJewellery

 

Chronic Illness Bloggers

IIH and skull surgery: part 2 #IIH #brainandspine

Skull Surgery

It sounds much worse than it will be. This is the next step in of my treatment plan. I have Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) and this is my journey,

To prepare for surgery; I’m resting; well, resting as well as anyone with needtodoitis can! I am on strict instruction to allow my body to be in the best condition possible, for my surgery on Thursday (15th June 2017). I’m also owning up now, to not fully understanding the recommended medical document, at the end of this blog. 👀

Firstly, if you are new to my blog or need a recap please read this post,, written after my first skull operation; a Styloidectomy. (I just re-read it; I’d forgotten some of this-yikes)!! Please be aware that there’s a surgery scar in case you’re squeamish.

Background

In January 2016; I had a Styloidectomy; the removal of the bone behind your ear; called the Styloid Process (red area on the diagram). My right Styloid process was removed by The Wizard; my ear and skull surgeon and one of the magical team I’m under in Cambridge. I have constricted veins in my head, mainly the jugular vein; affecting blood flow from my brain; leading to a build up of pressure in my skull. Following that op, I was able to have a two way conversation again; after two years of complete brain fog. Everyone noticed a difference, but I was still in 24/7 pain and unable to walk unaided. My memory was still poor and I still struggle with words,

img_7354At the time, we thought that the next step was to have a stent placed here. Due to being one of the patients to have these procedures; immediately after the trial group; I have to be prepared for rules changes. I had stent surgery of the left transverse sinus in September 2016, whilst they waited for their paper to be published. This is now available and they are  the first team in the world to use these methods, for this rare brain condition. You can find out more about all of this, in the ABOUT/BIO drop down menu: what is IIH?  

I’m lucky enough to benefit from what they have learnt in the trial. They found that placing a stent in the jugular vein, after removing the Styloid processs; was less effective than expected. But, once a stent is in place it can’t be moved; so patients often had the mastoid process removed, to relieve some of the pressure on the vein.

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Mastoidectomy

This led the team to the conclusion that it would be more effective to perform a mastoidectomy before stenting here. This would make room for the jugular vein to take the stent more precisely and possibly mean that stenting wouldn’t be necessary. I’ve highlighted both the Styloid and Mastoid process, in the diagram above.

I have only found articles about mastoidectomys for other conditions; as both of the surgeries used; aren’t new procedures. What the Cambridge team have done, is to think outside the box and are use tested surgeries in new ways; helping IIH patients with restricted venous outflow. I am referencing one of the clearest (and least scary) articles, to try and explain the procedure; although this is for other conditions.

This procedure is usually performed when a patient has: had infections that have caused hearing loss, tumours or for patients being fitted with a cochlear implant. The mastoid cells and process form part of the temporal bone. A mastoidectomy traditionally removes an area of mastoid cells; which which has a honeycomb structure, due to bone being formed around air pockets. However, the mastoid process is below this area; highlighted in the first diagram. This bone is denser and  connected to the C1 vertebrae, therefore attached to the top of the spine. This video explains the anatomy of the C1 vertebrae. Cervical Spine anatomy

There are many veins, nerves and muscles attached to the C1 vertebrae, which is essentially a pivot; allowing us to extend our neck and nod. The mastoid process is the outer part of the skull; attached to the occipital area and provides attachment for many muscles. Thankfully, I have complete faith in The Wizard and he’s assured me, that if anything; he’s conservative with how much bone he removes. He will drill the bone just enough; to make room for my jugular vein to work more efficiently.

Risks and Further surgery

It’s a similar surgery to the styloiectomy and has the same risks: which aren’t life threatening. There’s a possibility of having a weak shoulder/arm or a hoarse voice  following surgery. Despite the serious nature of the operation; I will be only be kept in overnight; unless there are complications. I will have a drain in overnight; used to   try and prevent side effects. In the future, I may need a stent here; it’s been the plan since the start, after all; but we have to focus on one step at a time. If you wish to know more about the anatomy and a typical mastoidectomy; please read this article

I’m sure I will be back very soon with some amusing anecdotes from our little adventure. Thanks again for stopping by; please don’t hesitate to ask questions. Remember though, that this team are the only team in the world treating patients like myself in this way; so I may not know, or be able to find the answer.

 

Chronic Illness Bloggers

Chronically ill at Christmas…I knew this would happen! 

I knew it was coming. The punishing pain. Not just the 24/7 pain that I have had to learn to live with; the pain where my own voice hurts. No this is the punishing pain; the cactus needle that pierces my eyes and the vice that traps my head, whilst my brain builds up like a pressure cooker. In fact, that doesn’t even describe this pain that overwhelms everything.


The punishing pain is aggressive and non-responsive. It can’t be beaten with painkillers and opioids are a joke. Sleep is near impossible, my teeth chatter and my soul whimpers. My whole body aches, from pre-empting the pain. As I write this at 3am, as a diversion tactic, I question the acupressure and breathing techniques, I used discretely in the restaurant! I tried to divert the collateral damage, but it’s too much for my body and every wasted attempt is spat back in my face!

But, I knew this was coming, so time to be strong!

I have done the worst thing and the best thing that a severe pain sufferer can do;  I went out with my family for a meal. I laughed and joked with everyone. I’m sure the number of jovial insults thrown about will be brought up in future conversations and this followed 5 days of managing to spend a few hours downstairs for Christmas festivities, including going to my friend’s annual Christmas Eve get together; where I do get to lie down and get looked after by everyone.

So, I knew this was coming!


The sensible thing would have been to bow out when I woke in horrendous pain. However, I chose to push through it when I knew I should rest, because I love life and love my family and friends. Now (at 3am) I have to stop worrying about what tomorrow will bring. I will rest, but I won’t stop living. The consequence of this is that I know the pain that will punish me.

However, there are many positives from pushing through the pain. My boys both said how proud they were of me coming downstairs for 5 days in a row! (Only for a few hours, but still). Zeke said how lovely it was to be all together for the meal. I wasn’t lonely, left in my bed, whilst everyone else was having a good time. I got to sit next to my husband to eat for once. I have also been able to enjoy everyone’s faces as they opened their presents; I’ve curled up in front of the open fire; eaten delicious festive meals cooked by my husband and watched Christmas films; snuggled up with my boys, well Luca anyway.

I have been smiling, pretending; but of course, I knew this was coming. This is something we are still learning to accept. I can’t live life from bed; I have to love the life I have and be part of the memories we make. We all knew this was coming.

Now, I’m paying the price with painsomnia. It’s the next day and I hurt  too much to sleep, I managed a few hours though.

With chronic illness comes many choices, mainly how we pace ourselves. So this week I’ve made the choice to join in jwith Christmas as much as I can, even if it’s meant lie-ins til 3pm. I could have used my spoons more wisely, but this is my life now; not just an illness excursion! I can’t get this time back, so I chose to pretend to myself that the punishing pain would hibernate, but deep down I knew…..

I knew it was coming.