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Confessions of a Bed-bound Mum Surviving Without Energy

Woman in grey vest and pink trouser sitting in a white bed with a laptop open. Bottom third in green saying Confessions of a bed-bound Mum
Confessions of a Bed-bound Mum Surviving Without Energy

What I need to confess

I often get asked how I cope with constant pain and Joel is asked daily how on earth I keep so positive. I even ask myself how I do this whole Mum act whilst being stuck in bed 85% of the time. So I’ve decided it might be time to confess that…

  1. I’ve been rejected and accepted for living in bed
  2. I’m not always positive and productive because I’m always in bed
  3. Stuck in bed with no energy, I honestly don’t cope
  4. It’s humorous how some of my ‘stuck in bed’ care is curious
  5. I realise my support network helps me survive being stuck in bed
Woman with black curly hair laying in a fetal position. She looks sad or hurt and has pulled the cream sheet up under her
Photo by Paula Lavrador

Just in case you thought I’d gone all Negative Nelly on you here, I haven’t, This post is about surviving!

But there is contemplaining in this post. I’m owning the hidden side of the warrior: the thin skinned; dirt dishing; ranting foot-stomping anti-hero. I’m owning up to my inner 5 year old, throwing her toys out the pram!

I hide my negative side, but if I’m being open about living with chronic illnesses, then I have to admit I’m not always positive and that, my friends, is okay. I need to learn to say to myself that it’s okay not to be okay, too!

Being rejected and accepted 

If you knew me before I became the brain diseased Laura, then please know that I probably don’t mean you as I have a cathartic moment here (unless it is you). Then you have a choice to make – contact me or fly away for good! Harsh I know, but…

When I first fell ill and could drive, make my own lunch and put my kids to bed; most people stuck around. But when I was so ill I couldn’t get out of bed, things changed. Some have shown where their priorities are, so if you’re waiting for me to contact you, then bad news – I won’t be. I’m too stuck in bed, in pain to do that! 

I don’t miss anyone that chose to leave my life, as such, but their selfish actions still play on my mind. What hurts most are the life event friends (marriage, babies etc.), those I thought of as close friends who no longer want to be there for me. It sucks to admit that, but I have to use my energy on my friends that get it.

I love the friends that stuck around when this disease started eating away at the Laura I was (I’m mostly all there now); the friends who’ve never doubted me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate them accepting me as I am. Thank you to those of you who don’t bat an eyelid when I cancel plans; for sitting on my bed with your legs up, getting your own drink, listening when I ramble on and telling me off for doing anything, like that’s normal. You keep me going on the dark days.

For my full story read this: Learning To Live One Day At A Time – My story so far

*Disclaimer – this will not be as good as The People v OJ Simpson  – True Crime Story

I’m not always positive and productive

Bert smiling in his pinstriped suit, hat and white gloves, adjusting his blue bow tie. He's smiling at Mary Poppins who is dressed in pink with a pink hat and also smiling.

I wake each day hoping to do so much, but I just don’t have boundless energy. I do feel like I’m betraying you by even hinting at negativity when I push for positive energy so much. But, let’s be honest, no one can be positive every second of the day; unless they’re ‘Cor Blimey’ Bert or Mary Poppins.

However, life as a bed-bound mum is pretty shocking really. I try not to think about it in the grand scheme of things, so I fill my day with distractions. But despite knowing when enough is enough, I struggle to act on what my body is telling me. I’m in constant pain, whether in bed or seeing friends; so despite being so ill I’ll push on.

Genuinely I often feel uncertain, not knowing how I’m going to feel each day. Sometimes I can’t even guesstimate my pain level on waking, as it can change in minutes. I plan my day ahead but I’ve learnt to adapt plans. However, this is when I can be unproductive and it can result in one of these things happening:

  • I force myself through the day, thinking it will pass
  • I keep busy but end up not finishing anything in my planner
  • I forget about the one thing that does need doing
  • I don’t meditate or give my mind some space
  • I don’t move much – no bed yoga or even my physiotherapy exercises
  • I rest all day and let go or I just get really bored
  • My body decides to sleep all day, so I get nothing done
Red misted forest background with a quote by Albert Camus saying 'A Guilty Conscience Needs To Confess. A Work Of Art Is A Confession'.
Guilt for no reason is hiding anger at oneself

I find it frustrating and have so much time to think, stuck in bed day after day. I do have a Guilt Goblin that chips away at my self belief. The trail of red mist lingers with a sour taste of culpability. My self anger can last for days, but Joel’s my knight in shining armour who kicks that spurious fiend back to the Goblin Gaol and curbs the self sabotage.

I feel a little dishonest about only just opening up about how dark some of my days are. I’ve not tried to hide it, but my naturally positive outlook means I bury the negativity. I know the only person putting pressure on me is me, so now I need to find balance by permitting myself to let that anger out to break the goblin’s curse.

With no energy, I honestly don’t cope 

I admit that I feel drained and rough around the edges but I have some control so I can cope. I’m scared that If I allow myself to feel negative, there would be a BOGOF deal on. I’d end up with a double negative and they don’t do nobody no good!🙈

The problems which arise for those of us with chronic illness come with fat globs of failure and guilt. It can be overwhelming even though these feelings aren’t validated. I can use up more energy fighting the dark days; instead of saving it for better ones.

So I’ve realised that if I let myself rant, I can save my mind from splintering. My safety net is in the power of words and if I put my energy into going full James Joyce mode, letting my thoughts flow on to the page, I may make some brain space. I admit  it’s exhausting to let buried guilt free but I have to, before it poisons my future self.

To be able to cope with it all alone is too much and it isn’t fair to transfer all the pressure on to Joel. So even though it’s hard to do, accepting help has allowed us all to use our energy wisely. I can focus on being a mum and we can focus on family life.

A woman sitting criss legged on a bed in a dark room. It has one window with a blind down.
Confessions of a Bed-bound Mum Surviving Without Energy

Some of my care is pretty curious

Joel and the boys are still my main carers, even though they’re unpaid – shh! They still manage to make me laugh every day, often about my own care needs! Doing that constantly is too much to ask, so I have two Carers that help me on weekdays.

Helen and Sam are both very different characters on top of knowing my needs, we  have a good giggle most days too. They do pretty standard physical care, such as making sure I wash and eat. But they also have to cheer up a lonely, bed bound 41 year old who lives in the dark, the literal dark and sometimes the dark filled mind! 

Helen’s a gentle soul and brings an air of calm with her. She seems to have the ability to make me say and do sillines and I think I make her laugh most days! Sam’s a more recent addition to the team. She gets everything done, despite her clumsy limbs and we giggle our way through most days. She’s also owns being weird and I love that!

I’ve let you in on some of the darker sides of being a bed bound mum, so now I’m up for sharing what goes on beyond the scenes, why all of my Carers need to be on it with me and maybe have a little bit of crazy about them too… in a good way! 😜

  • They have to make sure I’m safe, especially using the walker around my room as I get over confident thinking I can do it, but I don’t always see the collapse coming or Sam falling over it herself, when she brings the extra kooky. There’s a need for me to have constant reminders not to bend over to pick up everything I drop. If I had £1 for everything I dropped each day… I’d have to um… give it to everyone that picks it up for me I guess. Then there’s my lifeline, the bane of my life. It makes me feel soooooo old, but I have had to use it once, when I fell in the shower. My boys and a carer, who’s moved on now, were here but there was a  problem as none of them responded! They all thought the noise was something other than my lifeline – a phone message or a dial tone!!
  • Doing the laundry is always a big job of washing, drying, folding etc, but I’m quite particular and my funny ways get muddled up when 3 or 4 people are doing the same job. I want some clothes rolled; my towels must never go out on the washing line; I have a specific drawer system and I like my clothes hung in a certain order. And that’s me not even me being picky! The funniest thing is that Sam often puts my clothes away inside out. I don’t really mind but one day I mentioned it to Helen. When she left, I saw that she’d put the sheet on my bed inside out and thought I wouldn’t notice – as if! As Joel puts it, he doesn’t give a shizz (sort of), but he knows how much it bothers me as a weirdo! 
  • Any carers that work for me have to know how to make me a smoothie – it’s the law! They have to understand the love for coconut anything and avocados in everything. They have to know how to use maca, baobab and cacao powder and the joys of mornings and spirulina (they stain everything green!) They have to have the patience to clean my bamboo straws and make the occasional smoothie bowl. Then they have to remember every ingredient they’ve used so I can put it into my weight loss app. I’m not fussy or anything, I just don’t have an appetite and lots of deficiencies. They have to remind me to eat 3 or 4 times! 
  • I’m used to a room full of chatter and do like a natter. I don’t mind alone time, but I just need a little bit of life to break the boredom of living in one room all the time. However, they only have a short amount of time here so they have to get used to having to tell me to shut up 3 or 4 times and have often been found backing out the door while I keep talking.  Then they have to make it out as fast as they can before I start calling down the stairs at them! They also have to try and follow my crazy brain and plot twists before reminding me what my point was or whether to just go with it! 
  • Then there’s the wheelchair – the fun of fitting it in a small car and putting it together without trapping the seat belt in the wheel (so many times 🙈). If we get to that point, it’s not as simple as it seems, then we have to make sure that we’ve parked where I can actually use it or not. Sam’s been a carer all her life but my boys do a better job driving!! 😂 Firstly she parked right next to scaffolding which made the path too narrow. Then she nearly toppled me out down the curb with no attempt to reverse. I shrieked in time and she managed to bump me over the metal ramps instead. When we arrived at the tearoom, she parked up and we ended up playing musical wheelchairs as we found out it was booked up. When we tried to get away we were already in hysterics as a couple had watched the full show from their outside table. He ended up rushing to help when my wheels got lost in traction over the cobbles and went into wheelspin. We ended up going back and driving to an alternative!
  • Then there’s the alternative remedies, Mindfulness and meditation. They bring me a herbal tea when they get here, but not if I’m meditating – then they have to leave me be for a bit longer. They have to understand bed yoga in case they walk in and I’m doing some strange movement. They have to get used to my essential oil diffuser and the coconut oil that goes on my body hair and  in smoothies. And then, only then, do they get to embrace the world of the miraculous Migracap as demonstrated below- an ice hat to help with the pain.
Laura sat in the car, wearing a brown coat. A black Migracap (hat with ice packs at all pressure points) on her head with a very pale face.
Me in pain in a Migracap.

I’m sure there’s more, but the main thing is that I’m surviving and they support they give me enable me to be a good mum. 

Read more about what I get to up to in my days here:

A day in the life 

I realise my support network helps me survive

Mix the combination of Joel and my boys with Sam and Helen and I have the perfect mix. I haven’t always had it easy with finding the right carers, but Sue who owns the caree agency is a very good friend and we’re all happy, she even comes in sometimes. I’m so lucky to be able to call my carers friends.

I can confide in both Helen and Sam and that is a crucial part of my care, especially on the darker and more painful days. Also, I’m still youngish so I need to be able to be friends with the people rummaging through my knicker drawer!

The vital role my friends and family play in my support network is crucial. I’ve spoken a lot about my friends in the past and how important their role is. Nothing has changed. Those friends that made the choice to stick by me are the people who keep my spirits lifted. 

I can’t talk about my support network without mentioning my Dad. He’d stay over when Joel was away from work, until recently. The boys have now taken on this responsibility. He still takes Youngest to swimming lessons and will be there for music lessons, engineering club and anything else pick ups, at the drop of the hat.

With all this support, I know someone will be there for me, whatever, whenever and wherever I need. The role each person that stands with and by me my through my journey is what helps me to do more than survive with this rare disease. I thrive!

The most important thing anyone in my jigsaw of support can do is to make sure I preserve energy for mum duties. They will all tell me off for talking too much and if my pottymouth alter ego is allowed out to play, well… I think I may have a sense of humour. I think that answers the how I cope question. You have to find the funny! 

Lastly…

It feels good to admit that I’m not always positive. I imagine you’d guessed, but if I didn’t feel safe from the support I get, then I wouldn’t be able to admit it and own it – well nearly. Getting better at understanding my lack of energy is an on-going study, but I’m learning that if I stop comparing myself it helps. This all helps me cope.

The support I have is undeniably what helps me be a great mum.. bed-bound or not. Those Friends, family members and Carers that form my support network are like the special shells that whisper in my ear at the end of every day that I did it. That I survived even without boundless energy and that my kids did even more than that!

What helps you cope with chronic pain or illness?

Chronic Illness Bloggers Continue reading Confessions of a Bed-bound Mum Surviving Without Energy

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5 Secrets for a Strong Relationship with Teenage Carers

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5 Secrets for a Strong Relationship with Teenage Carers

Young Carers

According to the ONS (Office for National Statistics), there are 149,000 young carers aged between 15 and 19 – about twice as many as in the 10-to-14 age range. [There are about 23,000 children under 9 who are carers].

There are about 50,000 Young Carers looking after someone with a Mental Health Condition in the UK. There are thought to be 3 in 5 Carers who have depression themselves, due to their role.

I aim to share the secrets that have guided our journey. They’re intended for younger families, caring for any family member, but are aimed at those with a teenage/young carer. I’m even sharing some free printables for you at the end of this post.

This advice is based on my experienced teacher viewpoint, but mostly that of a bed bound mum of 2 teenagers, who happen to be my Carers. It’s been tough, but we’re stronger than ever, as a family and individually, because we’ve worked at it!

My family

As the teen years approached our family, I feared the worst; especially as I was now chronically ill with a debilitating brain disease. How wrong could I be? I absolutely love it. We’ve just adapted our parenting style by listening and responding to each other.

With strong foundations, that Joel and I had worked hard to build together, it wasn’t hard to tweak our interactions. As our boys grow into young men, at 13 and 15 and 6ft+, we’ve found we actually enjoy spending time together – I know, crazy right?

I’m incredibly proud of both of them for all that they achieve. Their teachers recognise their awesomeness and they amaze me with what they achieve, both in and out of school. That they’re able to do so well, with so much else to deal with, is exceptional.

But I’m not delusional! I know not everyone has this and our life isn’t perfect either (erm – teenagers and brain disease involved). However, we’re a happy and loving family with amazing relationships. They are my motivation to keep positive every day!

If you want to find out more, read My story so far

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The McKee’s mucking about Christmas 2018

Parenting Styles

The secrets I want to share with you can be implemented into your family with just a little work. We are have our own parenting styles and there’s no right way. So it’s normal to go through phases of feeling like we’ve sussed it and others like we’ve fluffed it!

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So even if you’re a nailed it with some to spare parent; a doing your best, fair and square parent; a making a mess, laid out bare parent; a higgledy piggledy, up in the air parent; a tearing out your hair parent or a feeling guilty you’re not there parent, these secrets could work for you.

 

What Does Caring Involve For Me

I have a PA (carer) every weekday lunchtime, from an agency providing consistent care. These are some of the things I need help with:

  • Waking up after sleeping all morning,
  • Make me lunch, normally a smoothie as nausea stops me enjoying food
  • Making sure I have accessible water
  • Helping me to get dressed as needed and getting out my clothes each day
  • Picking anything up I drop as I can’t bend down
  • Do chores I can’t such as laundry, emptying bins and making beds
  • Preparing meals or freezing food for another day
  • Organising my medications
  • Enabling me to be more involved with the boys e.g. supporting us bake cakes
  • If I’m well enough taking us out for a cuppa or to the shops

I have a great relationship with my carers and we always have a giggle. I need laughter in my day and they bring it! They’re also always there to listen.

The Impact Caring Can Have

Being a young carer can have a big impact on the things that are important to growing up

  • It can affect a young person’s health, social life and self-confidence.
  • Many young carers struggle to juggle their education and caring which can cause pressure and stress.
  • In a survey, 39% said that nobody in their school was aware of their caring role.
  • 26% have been bullied at school because of their caring role.
  • 1 in 20 miss school because of their caring role.
But young people can learn lots of useful skills by being a young carer.

Carers Trust – Young Carers

When we realised what life was going to be like, Joel and I didn’t want the boys lives overshadowed by caring. We’re lucky enough to have PAs, so the boys don’t miss school, but it can be hard to make school aware of everything they carry with them.

Worry and anxiety have affected their mental well-being and both boys have had to learn how to cope with complex feelings. Life as a young carer is tough as we can see in these quotes.

Carers UK’s annual survey (2015) with over 5,000 carers across the UK revealed that 84% of carers feel more stressed, 78% feel more anxious and 55% reported that they suffered from depression as a result of their caring role, which was higher than findings in 2014.3

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 I’ll discuss how we manage teenage mental health in my 5 secrets below.

Being My Carer Every Day

The boys bring me breakfast and dinner make sure I have water and snacks every day. They know how to support me physically and sort anything Clumsy McClumsypants here drops or spills; like the glass of water in (yes IN) my bedside table this morning.

They need to know what to do if I press my life line and what to say to the Lifeline care team. They’d have to stop playing Xbox and may need to support or help me up if I fell. They may need to help calm me down if I was having a panic attack.

The boys have had to get used to another new cleaner being in their personal space and form bonds with my PAs. They’ve been carers for 4 years now, so are used to it, but there’s still restrictions, such as having to be quiet each morning while I sleep.

They told me the other day that their friends have to do more chores than them. My response was to ask if their friends have to make sure the house is secure and answer a doorbell every time theory mum drops something. I said I was clumsy, didn’t I?

Building a Team

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How many kids would go to their parent and tell them they don’t do as many chores as their mates? This is just one example of how we’ve worked hard to build a family dynamic based on trust, honesty, empathy and care.

We’ve all had to learn coping skills and adapt as time goes on. The stress shows at home mostly, so it’s been important to use the same strategies around their behaviour. This has led to the strong relationship we have now.

As they’ve grown up and I’ve become a little bit more stable and aware, we’ve trusted them with more responsibility. We’ve just managed two nights with Joel went away for work. My Dad (who’s always stayed before) was just down the road if needed.

They wanted to cook tea unsupervised and probably not the tidying up afterward. They have to put the hens to bed, safely away from any foxy loxies and check Jasper Cat is in for the night. I had to be trust they would put the house to bed securely too.

They amazed me with how they coped with all this responsibility. There was no time to think about having house parties or sneaking out the house to meet up with a friend! (not that we’d know anything about ever doing that).

The way Joel and I choose to do this at the beginning, has shaped how we’ve handled the cards we’ve been dealt. Everyone chooses their own path, so I’m not making any comparisons. this is just my experience. Everyone’s path is unique, so follow yours.

But use my 5 secrets to help steer you. Firstly I just need to make it clear that we sought medical advice and were referred to social services for care and support. I’m not a health Care professional, so please ask for help if you need it.

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5 Secrets for a Strong Relationship with Young Carers
  1. Asking for help is the first step. Talk to your GP.  Talk to school. Ask your kids how they’d like the help. You might need family therapy so do try it, if offered. If support given is not right for you, ask for an alternative. The skills we learnt, recognised and have since reinforced; have shaped our family’s daily lives. We learnt how to talk about our feelings, whilst being respectful. and to speak honestly, without breaking trust. I recommend organising a named teacher or pastoral care and make sure to keep them in the loop. This is individual to your needs, but be prepared to fight for this, as support is in high demand. Mental well-being for you all is key.
  2. Let them be angry with the illness. Structure ways for your children to release this, safely. Help them understand that it’s the illness that’s changed everything. The whole family will grieve for life before chronic illness, so explore ways to cope with that. We used diaries, art therapy, music and a good old shout and swear session (oooh, controversial). We’ve found that music is a lifeline for every carer in the family. Being able to lose yourself in a distraction is a lifeline for carers and you!
  3. Develop open dialogue with the Young Carers in your life and find ways that allow them to discuss what they’re feeling and experiencing without fear of backlash. The silver lining of being a bed bound mum, is having time for my boys to talk to me about their day or about something worrying them as soon as they get home.
  4. Find time for everyone to set one goal at the start of each day. You could introduce Affirmations to reinforce positive thinking. See the end of the post for more details and free printables, available til 31st March 2019. Set a time to discuss at least 1 positive from their day. Create a regular time to air issues and reinforce positives.
  5. Give yourself rewards! A really important part of feeling able to succeed, is by rewarding positive language and behaviour. The rewards can be for anything, big or small. Rewards can be verbal praise, but making time for a family reward is important to reinforce positive thinking. For example, you could go out for lunch, bake a cake together or watch a movie in bed. Let them choose most of the time, but it has to be agreed by everyone. The point is to reward the whole family regularly.

To adapt these for younger children

  1. Involve school as soon as possible, both the class teacher and headteacher should know. School may offer extra support, which can be invaluable. Play and Art therapy is in short supply, so if you’re concerned speak to your GP!
  2. Talk to them about what’s happening in a way they’ll understand. Help them express their feelings using puppets, library books and roleplay (Drs/patient).
  3. Tell them why you’re going to hospital/in pain etc. They may know more than you expect, so let them lead. My rule is that if they’re asking about it, then they’re ready for answers. Just be prepared for a ‘why, but why’ session!
  4. Ask them what they want to do that day on the way to school, you may even find out more than asking at the end of the day! Start a positives jar by everyone writing (for them if needed) ONE positive from their day. Set a regular time, to open the jar and read some. My favourite pulling out ‘cuddling with my Mummy’ on a bad day.
  5. Make time for rewards, they don’t have to cost anything, just do things as a family.

A last word and some links!

I want to help others have positive experiences, even on tough days. So I’m sharing these secrets for you. Families are unique, though, so there’s no one size fits all. Take what you want from my 5 secrets, but remember these things are key:

Ask for help! Young Carers may have to do more at home than their friends, so schools should provide support and make allowances.

Make sure everyone truly understands and enable your kids to express how they feel. Create a safe environment and look out for signs that you may need to step in.

A great team relies on good communication which is honest, loyal and respectful, so be a good role model. Recognise small wins! Celebrate at least one good thing from your day.

If the life you want for your family seems a long way off or you’d like some reassurance you’re doing okay, then I hope this post has helped. Please ask me questions in the comments and tell me how you make life positive for young carers and your family.

Resources 

Carers Trust -Support for Young Carers

Young Minds – Looking After Yourself aa a Young Carer

NHS – Young Carers Rights

Carer Gateway – Advice for Parents & Teachers of Young Carers

Carers UK – Hidden Depression

Chronic Illness Bloggers

Sign up for New & Exclusives – Help for Young Carers

Do you want to be the first to know what’s coming and get your hands on exclusive deals? I’ve created a set of Printable Affirmations that would be perfect for setting the tone for a good day for Young Carers, as mentioned in Secret number 4 above. Grab a copy of this when you sign up to my occasionally regular newsletter today!

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Click Here To Sign Up Today

✋ Hey there! You could really help me out. Just one minute of your time to press that share button helps me so much! You’ll literally make me do a bed-bound happy dance. Now there’s an image for you!

The Impact of Positive Mindset on Taking the Old into the New #NYE2018 #positivemindset #poetry

Here’s my take on using positive mindset strategies to let go of the old in anticipation of the wonderful opportunities ahead. More importantly, I talk about the importance of spending time in the now!

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I hope you can make 2019 the year that you learn to be present and mindful of taking each day at a time. Please enjoy my poem and then spend a little time reading it again to recognise where you could take on 1 New way of looking at a part of your life next year!

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Follow me @Strength Of Tears on Instagram

Or @Strength Of Tears on Facebook

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Chronic Illness Bloggers

My Not So Secret Poetry Diary – A Date with Anxiety #copingwithanxiety #poeminspiration #mentalhealthblogs #chronicblogger

My Date with Anxiety

It’s been a tough ten days in my chronic illness warrior body, so I wanted to share with you some of the things I’ve been feeling – eek, it’s time to get real peeps!

I’m going to reflect briefly on what’s been happening to my body and mind each day. But hey, remember this is me writing so, even though I’ll be totally honest, I’ll make sure there’s a positive to everything! This is the story of my Date with Anxiety.

I keep a diary (not a journal) and use it to pace my daily activities. Randomly through the year I write little notes of my strengths and personalised affirmations. Then in the evening I write 3 positives from that day.

Friday 7th December

I couldn’t sleep last night, it’s been disrupted all week, but this was next level. The pain was intense and relentless and I couldn’t understand why. A friend visited me yesterday, which had made my day. She never stays too long and spotted when I was flagging. I hadn’t napped either so I expected knock on effects, but why was it SO bad?

At 3:30am my heart started racing and I was breathless and dizzy – losing control. This panic attack came out of nowhere!. I got up to use the en-suite and collapsed, but my amazing husband Joel woke immediately and rushed to my side. Then he hugged me tight, that hug that let’s me know I’m not alone!

I ended up taking a strong dose of diazepam, but I still didn’t get much sleep and when my carer arrived at lunchtime I was stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted. She took such good care of me and was extra gentle, seeing me so poorly. I recognised at the end of the day that I’m a very lucky lady to have such wonderful souls looking after me!

Saturday 8th December

Hardly any sleep again last night! The meditation and breathing techniques I normally use didn’t help and the day was littered with panic attacks, feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I was on full anxiety alert. Thankfully Joel was amazing with me through it all again and encouraged me to go downstairs for a change of scene.

Before going down I had a shower which was an accomplishment in itself. I still had panic rush up on me again and I just wanted to run away! But Joel guided me through it all, holding my hand I calmed down. Eventually, drained and emotional, I managed a 10 minute nap watching TV, on Saturday evening and finally got some relief.

I’ve not had a flare like this in years!

Sunday 9th December

I’ve managed to sleep much better at last, but I feel battered and bruised from the state of alert my body’s been in the last few days. I know my brain has had the acute stress response or fight or flight. This is exhausting as despite having a large toolkit for dealing with stress, I’ve struggled to access these strategies whilst in a state!

I’m being kind to myself today and have prioritised getting downstairs to be around my boys, so that they can make me laugh and help me heal. The mental bruises take just as long, if not longer than physical to heal, but I’m slowly building myself back up.

This link explains what might happen during a panic attack.

Monday 10th December

I’m still feeling fragile today, but at last my body has decided to catch up on some of the lost sleep. I’ve cat-napped all day, with a little break at lunchtime when my carer arrived. I have no idea what we were talking about but we were cackling away! Joel was working downstairs (a little cushion for me – knowing he’s around even if he’s busy) and commented on the cackling as soon as he did pop upstairs!

Now that I’m trying to process my feelings, I was brave and decided to write a poem about the feelings I experienced. It’s important to reflect on any kind of anxiety attack however you do it, but sweeping it under the carpet won’t help you in the future!

Tuesday 11th December

I finished the poem this morning when I woke up early. Most of my poems are at least started when I’m either not getting to sleep or waking early. This was an early morning finish! I love creating the poem on a lovely background, using stock photography, which is perfect for sharing on social media. I loved the reaction this poem received!

I also chose to explain a little about what I’d been exploring when I wrote this poem. However, I’m not yet used to being so open about my own mental health whilst I’m still fragile. But I’m committed to raising awareness and always think about the fact that what I write might help just one person!

I talk about my anxiety levels rising as the lack of sleep and increased pain added up. But although I’m drained, I do have a strong mental health toolkit – full of strategies that I practice regularly. I know how to use these help build myself back up. Knowing that I’m my only priority in this instance is key to bouncing back!

Well, I thought that I’d got my groove back as the week went on but I’ve struggled again the last few nights, especially last night when I managed about 90 minutes all night. Thankfully I dozed all morning, catching up a bit on all that lost sleep from pain. However, I’ve managed to keep the anxiety in a box by using my toolkit. See below…

No mental health blog is complete without a few top tips.

If you or someone you know suffers a panic attack, try these tips!

  • Exercise

Exercise is one of the quickest way to deal with the raised stress levels that come with a panic attack. My physical illness stops me from going for a run (think flight…), but I can do some bed yoga, even though I take it even more carefully than normal! Some good stretches and shoulder rolls are a great way to shake it off!

  • Talking through the experience

A panic attack is our body’s way of telling us we’re in danger. It’s unlikely you’re in any danger, but tight chests and trouble breathing are all primal reactions to danger. This can trick the mind, almost like a tripwire. So rationalise and talk your physical feelings through with someone. The more you practice, the sooner you’ll interrupt the signals between the brain and the body and if you do this when you’re not in the acute stage, the quicker your training will kick in when you do feel anxious or panicky.

  • Laugh, Smile and spend time with your loved ones!

What can make the stress disappear more than having fun with your friends and family. Make time for each other, put down your phones and other technology and talk. You’ll notice how often I talk about being with Joel and my boys. They make me laugh out loud every day and the feeling is mutual. It’s one of the strongest things we have as a team and we are definitely the reason for all of us usually coping so well!

  • Relaxation and Mindfulness

I talk about meditation and mindfulness in most of my blogs because they are the easiest ways to relax. You can train your brain to take it slowly and/or meditate daily so it calms and controls your breathing. Then you automatically have these skills to help you relax during an anxiety attack. Body Scan Guided Meditations are ideal (search YouTube) and I are some of the easiest meditations to start with. You may find that something else relaxes you, such as taking time to be present or sitting in nature.

I hope that this sneak peek into my world has helped give you an insight into panic attacks and how they can come about. I have let you in to these thoughts because I believe that mental health is as debilitating as physical health can be. They are also often intertwined and life can be tough and lonely if you keep it all inside. I feel very strongly that sharing my experiences is vital to ending the stigma that surrounds mental health. I only discuss this to raise awareness, I’m not seeking sympathy!

If there’s one thing you have learnt from my Date with Anxiety or one thing that you can take away to help yourself or your loved ones, then please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

**AND if you’re not affected directly, then please remember that you never know what someone is going through, so please take the time to listen and talk to each other!

I’ve referenced these websites and blogs whilst writing this post:

Anxiety and Panic Attacks- Mind.org

6 ways to switch off the fight or flight response

Understanding the stress response

How the flight or fight response works

Chronic Illness Bloggers

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. ⬇️

Paprika Jewellery & Accessories

Paprika on Facebook

Paprika on Instagram

Paprika on Pinterestl

Paprika on Twitter

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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

Wisdom a #poem about #chronicpain and #wisdom

  

Wisdom
“The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement; the quality of being wise.”

Sageness
Clary Sage burning, to ward off the ache,

Inadvertently bringing clarity.

The thought process trickling through my mind

Of pain bringing wisdom, I’m shocked to find. 
Perception 

Questioning every decision ever made,

Was it herniated by my torture?

Persistant pain driving my every thought,

How can my views be good for anyone? 
Understanding

As pain subsides slightly, sound sense returns.

Compassion for others; not there before. 

Opening worlds of communication, 

Aiding others pure talk; healing for all.
Insight

My world’s been cruelly unzipped by this strain.

I’ve been tormented by it; laboured through.

Pain that I can’t explain in these few words.

But my world is opened; I now can see. 
Acumen

True friends stand tall; show loyalty and love 

I’ve accrued incredible friends: that know! 

Positive support; through mutual respect.

I’ve gained TIME with my family. MY HEART.
Wisdom

Experience of pain; I want to end. 

Knowledge is power; this one is to share.

Good Judgement; loyalty and truth from friends.

Being wise; only gather positive vibes.
Wisdom

“The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement; the quality of being wise.”

By Laura McKee

   

Day 24 #MHAMBC #MHAM How have I become a fighter? 

  

My life has changed dramatically since I’ve become chronically ill with migraines and even more so since having daily ‘off the scale’ headaches with Intracranial hypertension. I have had no choice but to learn how to fight; otherwise I would have completely been defeated, within days of level 8/9 pain. Instead, after days of level 8/9 pain and a family to take care of and a husband to keep our strong relationship going; I found out that I was stronger than I ever thought I could be and that feeling has since grown and grown. 

Friends cannot believe what I will push myself to do, for my children especially; for instance, I made myself attend my son’s school summer fair last weekend-this was a HUGE deal, just for an hour! There were fire engines blasting their sirens, a compere shouting through the PA system and hoards of people. Now, that would be a challenge with a hangover let alone what I’m going through. However, my youngest was singing and that alone made me turn up. Secondly, I have had a headache at a 6+ EVERY DAY for 18 months! I can’t just keep sitting at home and missing all their performances, assemblies, awards and meetings with teachers. Let alone not seeing my own friends and trying to have some kind of life of my own. I can’t go to everything that my children do and that is hard. I’ve missed orchestra performances and assemblies and the tour of the secondary school because there are, of course, days when I just cannot get out of bed. But if I can, I will conquer the pain with the help of oral morphine and Valium, the phonophobia with gig earplugs, photophobia with tinted or sunglasses, nausea and dizziness with anti-sickness/dizziness drugs and sea-bands and the fact that I can’t walk in a straight line with a wheelchair! And go to their events! I do it for my boys because they are only this age for such a short time and that is the biggest thing that makes me fight every day!  I will always be their Mummy and I will always take care of my boys, despite any pain level, nausea or dizziness! 

 

The Migraine and Headache awareness month blogging challenge is organised by The American Headache and Migraine Association

The guilt of being a chronically ill mum…

I am 37 and mum to 2 awesome boys; Zeke who is 11 and Luca who’s 9. They have lived with a mum who has suffered with migraines for more years that they’ve been alive than not, so they’re used to mum going off to a darkened room and having to be quiet. My migraines really started to become a problem when Zeke first started school and Luca was in pre-school; even though I’ve since realised I’ve had them since I was a teenager. At first they would only occur once every few months so didn’t have much impact on family life.

I was a primary school teacher but worked 0.5 fte so I was around half the week; but a teacher’s hours are long and I was still working a 40 hour week, mainly in the evenings and at weekends. This meant that I was trying to juggle being a great mum (top priority always), maintain a healthy relationship with my husband and still manage to be the outstanding teacher I was before I had children. It was a difficult balance and then it got even harder; migraines decided to join the party!

 

I have never been one to rest, I am an early bird and I would always be up early, planning the day; getting on with planning schoolwork; doing things with the kids; planning excursions etc. I didn’t really ever sit down. My job is one that has you on your feet constantly and a long lunch break is 20 minutes. So when these attacks started becoming more frequent; I would rest for a bit; take some ibuprofen and try to carry on. It didn’t really work, nor did OTC migraine abortives so I ended up at the doctors. Nothing really came of it until I had the dental filling that triggered the facial pain where my story really starts. Please see relevant post about being diagnosed with chronic migraines and IIH.

Well, you can imagine that I wasn’t very good at stopping, so I was off work but still did the school and pre-school run, despite offers of help from friends. I even remember taking myself to the dentist which was a long drive; that ended in tears and Joel had to come to the rescue as I couldn’t get myself home again! I tried my hardest not to let it affect the time with my children and I would rest when they were in childcare and at school. However, when I went back to work, it was the weekends that became a problem, I didn’t let the migraines affect me in the time at work or with my kids and I suffered ‘let-down’ migraines; a common post-stress trigger caused migraine. Weekends, which should have have been family time, but also really importantly, time with my husband; became me ‘being ill again’! It started to impact on mine and Joel’s relationship as he always felt that it was my work that got in the way of our weekends. In hindsight, we have now decided that I probably won’t ever get back to being able to teach in the same way again. Despite being diagnosed with IH and having the chance to be operated on to fix these horrendous headaches; we believe that I’m always going to be susceptible to migraines and this past 18 months has taught us to relish our family and put that first always. I have plenty of other ideas of what I want to do though which would not have come about without this illness and I can always supply teach.


Well, although our relationship was being tested, we’d already been through hell and back when Luca was born and we nearly lost him, so we know our marriage is pretty solid. We talked about how the migraines were affecting us and somehow managed to get through it. I would battle through, Joel would say his piece and we seemed to manage somehow!

Then Jan 2014 happened and this thing became constant. Zeke was 9 and Luca was 8! Hang on a minute- rewind 5 paragraphs and you can see the age difference! What a huge amount of time that is in their little lives. And that is what I worry about most about being a chronically ill mum. The guilt I feel for being a poorly mummy is tremendous! Is this what they are going to remember most from their childhood? When people ask them as adults, are they going to say; “we used to go kayaking, camping and to festivals with daddy but mummy was too poorly to come out. We used to go to stay at grandma’s every holiday because mummy was to ill to look after us on her own”? It was this attitude that started to appear in late 2014 when Joel came home and told me that the boys had said that they were sad that I never went out with them anymore. This is when I relented and agreed to a wheelchair! I hate the wheelchair but it does mean I can get out with the family on better days. Joel tries to get me out at least once a week and the boys love pushing me, although I worry for the public’s safety sometimes!

We have thought long and hard about the impact on their mental health. We are just as aware of how this life is affecting them, as it us and we both chat to them about how it makes them feel. We have registered them as young carers and Zeke even tried a youth group but it was a bit of a disaster, as the next youngest was 14 and the others spent their time; swearing, wrestling and locking themselves in the toilets! We decided it probably wasn’t for him. We will see if any of their respite activities in the summer holidays are worthwhile though. We have also had meetings with the boys teachers and the school’s inclusion officer. These meetings have been really useful and it was in the first of these meetings that we agreed to give the boys their own personal, lockable diaries that we aren’t allowed to look at. One of the boys is also receiving a short course of counselling just to help him learn to express his feelings about it all. We are encouraging this by making sure they know that they can be cross with the illness and we have even had a shout and swear session, where we got out some aggression at the space in front of us known as ‘the illness’! I never thought I’d encourage my 9 year old to swear and it was quite shocking hearing it but he didn’t drop the ‘c’ bomb so we’re cool! They’re old enough to know the words and to know when and where it’s appropriate to use them! Joel often encourages shouting sessions in the car on the way to and from school too, just so they can get it out before they have to be quiet when they get in!

This half term Joel took the boys camping to a relatively local site with a group of friends. I felt terribly left out and wanted to join in packing to go, even though just finding the picnic plates wore me out! I can’t even get up and down the stairs, let alone in and out of a tent, without falling over! I felt guilty that I couldn’t help and guilty that I wasn’t going, even though I knew without a shadow of a doubt that there was no way I could do it.


Well, I did go to visit for a few hours on Tuesday and, with a dose of oramorph, anti-sick pills, anti-dizzy pills and diazepam, it meant that I could stay for a couple of hours. Joel had a massive work out pushing my wheelchair round to the toilet block and back and then I got told that my colour was changing and it was time to go! Joel and a few friends now seem to know before me when I’ve had enough! Hahaha.

When I got home to the peace and quiet, I relished it. I missed them of course, but, for 2 solid days my head pain stayed at a 5 and only jumped to a 6 when I had a couple of phone calls. It really made me realise how much just having the kids at home; their music; chatter; spats; discussions and even having chats with Joel, impact on my pain levels!

 

Well, it was nice to have a 48 hour break but I missed them so much and I am so so happy to have them home again. I don’t care if they’re a bit noisy and they need me to still be mum and tell them off sometimes, even if makes my head worse. I would sacrifice anything to make sure my kids grow up knowing that their mum loves them more than anything and if that means listening to their cello or violin practice even though it ramps up my headache, then I would. I will get myself out of bed everyday that I possibly can: for them! Basically, I will ignore my evil migraine gremlin at every minute that I possibly can. I will wear my ear plugs and sit outside the hall to go and see their shows; I will take oramorph and pop to the toy shop and I will do everything I can to make life as normal as possible!

So, life as a chronically ill person is tough. You spend your nights awake because it hurts too much to sleep; you often sleep in the daytime;  you hurt like no one can actually describe, so I’m not going to even try; you have trouble retaining any information; you have trouble focusing; you have difficulty doing simple tasks, such as making a cup of tea; you don’t socialise much anymore and being around more than one other person is tough. You think that is hard? Try doing all of that and being a mum too! I could just let Joel do all the work; he’s a great dad and has control of the situation, but we’re a team and I would feel guilty doing that. I want them to remember that, even though I was so unwell for such a long time in their short lives, I was still the boss; I backed up everything Joel said; what I said went and that we still had fun together as a family (even if it was just watching a film altogether in bed)!  I might have it tough but I still have it great, because I’m lucky enough to have TWO amazing children that know how to behave and have great personalities and fantastic senses of humour and I am married to my best friend who I get to share all of this with and who looks after me, without even a blink of the eye! And for that I am an incredibly grateful chronically ill mum!