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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

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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

Why I’m done with online support groups for chronic illness! #chronicillness #chronicblogs

If you follow my blog you’ll know that I’ve been very active in a variety of support groups since becoming chronically ill in 2014.

So why the change of heart?

In nearly every group I’ve joined, there’s been a culture of drama and/or negativity. I love to support others, but my health was suffering by getting too involved and I realised that I was done with being an active group member. I have left most groups, so I want to explore online support groups and share my experiences.

What is a support group? 

  • A face to face or online community open to anyone, but often focused on specific topics i.e. mental health or pain conditions
  • Led by a professional facilitator, such as a nurse or counsellor, or by group members/founders
  • A comfortable space where individuals come together to share their stories, experiences, feelings, coping strategies and information.
  • A way to help reduce isolation and loneliness by realising that there are others dealing with similar situations.
  • A bridge between medical support and self-help

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Why I joined online support groups

Rewind to when I first fell ill. I was isolated and lonely as friends began disappearing from my life. I was struggling to understand my illness and my mental health was suffering. When I joined an online support group, I realised I wasn’t the only one with my diagnosis, which helped my mental state. However, the negativity in the group exacerbated worries about my future. I decided this wasn’t the group for me.

So, I joined an open group called Mission Migraine. It was full of amazing women and had a positive vibe, yet we all supported each other. What I loved most, was the we shared our own stories to raise awareness and challenge misconceptions.  I was proud of what we were doing, so I started the Twitter account @migrainemission to continue raising awareness. Sadly, the Facebook group is no longer running.

Finding the right fit

I knew that Migraine wasn’t the full picture, so I explored a variety of groups to help me understand what was happening. I connected with other people with similar symptoms to my own, in well led groups. I was able to access information to help me research possible causes of my symptoms. In one group, I read about a consultant in Cambridge, specialising in Pulsatille Tinnitus. This was a pivotal moment in my journey! If you don’t know my story, then you can read it here.

DesignWhen I was initially diagnosed with a rare brain disease, Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH), I joined IIH support groups, which helped me find information and reassurance. Soon I became overwhelmed by the number of Facebook groups I was in, so had to decide which of these were right for me. I left those that weren’t. I’d found more friends who totally understood my pain!

When it no longer does what it says on the tin

In most groups I joined, I’d encourage positivity and try to raise confidence levels. I’d post inspirational quotes, share knowledge and helped other’s learn to celebrate the smallest achievements. Helping others gave me a sense of purpose and achievement.

But I couldn’t get away from the drama.

Design

Members of support groups are vulnerable, with many suffering with unrelenting pain, crippling anxiety, financial or family worries. This creates a breeding ground for negativity and arguments. If this disruptive behaviour isn’t dealt with effectively, then the group is no longer able to support it’s members and is not fit for purpose.

As an empath, I’m susceptible to getting  too involved. I gave so much, but my physical and mental health were suffering. What I was getting out of these groups now? I’d had enough of group politics and feeling responsible for near strangers. I worried I’d lose friendships, but when I did leave I was flooded with relief. And of course, my true friends have stuck by me.

Would you benefit from an online support group? 

I may find a group that’s right for me again one day, but next time I’ll do my research first. Here’s a list created from personal experience and research. (See below)

Pros

  1. Gaining self-worth or a sense of purpose
  2. Feeling less lonely or isolated, especially for those who may not have access to face-to-face support groups
  3. Getting support in times of stress, depression or anxiety
  4. Being anonymous allows you to vent or discuss feelings openly and honestly
  5. Staying motivated to manage your physical illness or mental health
  6. Gaining control of or feeling hopeful for the future
  7. Raising awareness of invisible illnesses, disabilities or a specific disease
  8. Getting practical feedback about treatment options, benefits or worker’s rights
  9. Feeling empowered by supporting others or working successfully in a team
  10. Accessible when it suits you, even in your PJs, leading to more participation

Cons

  1. Peer to peer groups are probably be run by unqualified members, who are also unwell – vulnerable people supporting other vulnerable people
  2. Increased negativity due to constantly discussing aspects of your illness or disability
  3. Interference on posts with unhelpful comments or incorrect information
  4. Written communication means that inference or tone can be easily misjudged
  5. Participation online may compound isolation from other friends or family
  6. A lack of control over medical advice, quality of information or criticism of health care services/professionals
  7. Reinforcement of negative emotions and negative remarks to other participants
  8. Disruptive group members may dominate the conversation, cause tension or create interpersonal conflicts
  9. Comparisons of whose condition or experience is worse
  10. Possible use the environment to prey on vulnerable members

Design

What is needed to create a good social support network? 

  • Those running the group must be very clear about what support is available and when.
  • Clear rules covering: disruptive behaviour, sharing medical advice and discussing medical professionals.
  • Conflict needs to be handled professionally.
  • A positive environment, that’s nurtured and monitored so that people feel listened to and that other members will show empathy and be supportive.

Do online support groups work? 

The disadvantages of online support groups are discussed by authors and healthcare professionals. Concerns about the quality of information, criticism of health care services/professionals and reinforcement of negative behaviours are certainly valid. However, this study. of online groups for those with physical illnesses, found that concerns about the risks of online support groups are not always justified.

In my opinion, there is increased risk in online peer-to-peer support groups, as those facilitating the group may be vulnerable due to their own physical or mental illness. This may make it more challenging to nurture a positive and safe space.

When looking for online support, it’s recommended that you ask questions before joining a group to find the right fit for you. If you don’t feel comfortable or safe in a group, put your own health first and take action. Online support groups aren’t for everyone, but remember that they aren’t the only option.

Finding my own way

I have my own network of friends online. We give mutual support through physical and mental illness. I also work 1:1 with a trained professional, via online video conferencing, to support my mental health. I wouldn’t have all of this support, without having been in the groups. I also have an amazing network of friends and family, who have shown that they’ll stick by me through thick and thin. I know how lucky I am to have that and I’m the happiest I’ve been in 4 years of chronic illness. I don’t know about the future, but for now; I’m done with online support groups.

Chronic Illness BloggersReferences

Pain Doctor-Finding help online

Mayo Clinic guide to support groups 

Mental Health America-Finding online support groups

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 

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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.

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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

Self care: Are chronic illness warriors good at looking after themselves?

Are you a chronic illness warrior?

By that, I mean, are you the kind of person who:

  • Is an advocate for or is a fundraiser for a charity supporting your illness
  • Works or runs a business, even if it makes your symptoms worse
  • Has lists of things to do or achieve because you want everything done now
  • Is there for your friends who need support even on your worst days
  • Struggles to accept help-even not taking a medicine that helps your symptoms
  • Says ‘I’m fine’ when friends/family ask how you are, even when you feel awful
  • Has to be busy doing things that aren’t important; rather than prioritising
  • Doesn’t plan in any time to rest or even just sit still; let alone meditate

If you answered yes to some of these then read on:

We certainly need advocates for all chronic illnesses and doing most of these things likely makes you an inspiration to others. However, where do you come in your list of priorities? Your choice to raise awareness for others with chronic illnesses is awesome, but if you don’t make yourself a priority; you’re no good to anyone else.

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The bullet points above are the opposite behaviours to those in this diagram. I could have added many more examples, but I based it mostly on my own behaviours. In this blog post I’ll discuss my experiences, my understanding of ‘self care’ and the steps I’ve taken to try and put myself first.

Until last year I don’t think I’d really heard the term ‘self care’, now it’s fairly prevalent. I didn’t practice self care and I admit that I still revert to old behaviours occasionally. When I fell ill, my self worth plummeted and when I had to leave my teaching career; I fully lost any sense of purpose. I love helping others and raising awareness. Once I even raised money for 2 charities in the same month!

After 3 years of everyone saying that I was putting too much pressure on myself; I began to realise my self care was pretty nonexistent. Considering the severity of my symptoms; I knew this wasnt good. I was making my symptoms worse and my mental health was suffering too. You can read about a day in my life here.

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About a year ago, I joined a closed Facebook group at the recommendation of a friend. This was for women who ran their own businesses; started by an amazing lady who is a coach and hypnotherapist. This is Josie’s website. She sets a theme most weeks and then does a live session discussing aspects of that theme, such as; what we do to have fun or about asking for support.

She ran a course for us to choose one thing we wanted to achieve in 2017. I started, thinking this would be about my jewellery business. However, I soon realised that everything seemed to be pointing towards choosing ‘being kind to myself’. This was the first time I truly contemplated the cost of my actions. I suddenly saw that by being kind to others, pushing myself with my business and trying to prove I was still independent; was not only bad for my health, but was affecting my self worth.

So, I set my 2017 goal as ‘being kind to myself’, which you can read about here. I underpinned this with the steps I needed to take to reach this goal and even thought about who I needed to help me achieve this. I set up a Pinterest board with related quotes and some feedback from customers. I don’t set New Year’s resolutions, but having this structured goal, was much easier for me to follow. I wrote my goals out and kept the image in my favourites on my iPhone, so I could refer to it often.

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  • I started a diary and only wrote 2 activities a day, so that if a friend was visiting, I only wrote one activity for my business/blog/supporting others.
  • It took a while to add rest times as standard, as I already meditated. I lost my way a few months ago though, so now I write in time for meditation every day.
  • I let my friends support me and a rota of lovelies now put up the positives post in our Conscious Crafties (CC) support group. It’s one thing less on my to do list, but I still write my positives on it, so keep the positive interaction with others,
  • I’ve continued to build on my Pinterest board throughout the year although I needed a bit of a boost about a month ago, but am now back on track.
  • The step I’ve found most difficult is resting on bad days, let alone making this the time to focus on my achievements and ways to continue my self care,

About a month ago, I realised I needed a boost to get me back on track for my goal. I still benefit massively from Josie’s group but I joined in with a group I’d been added to; run by the Anne-Louise. You can find out more about her here. She’d just started a 26 day challenge about improving self worth. This was exactly what I needed, at exactly the right time. I even received a free support call a few weeks ago. This call and the 26 day challenge has kickstarted me back into thinking about self care.

I have now added these elements to my self care regime:

  • setting aside regular time to engage in positive interactions with my husband Joel, my boys and my friends.
  • starting a journal to record the gems of knowledge from the amazing ladies who run these groups, who are generous enough to share their message.
  • writing a ‘self care’ to do list as I process what has been said.
  • writing at least 3 positives each day in my journal, so that I can reflect on my day and revisit my achievements and good feelings on those bad health days.
  • using affirmations to increase my self worth. These are short, positive, statements that you repeat out loud to yourself or write down repeatedly. For example: ‘I’ve got this’ or ‘I am beautiful’. This is still quite new to me and at first I could only say them in my head. The aim is to say them in the mirror.
  • doing my physio exercises every day that I can. I’m adding in gentle yoga and Pilates techniques I already know, to improve my core and help me lose weight.

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I haven’t updated you since my last operation, but it has given me some relief from most of my symptoms. I’ve managed to do more and have reduced my oramorph. Sadly, It’s been harder than I hoped to get over the school holidays  (I knew I was doing a lot, but accepted there would be consequences). Frustratingly, I’m now a week in to a chest infection, but instead of waiting it out, I spoke to my GP when I first experienced symptoms; so this work I’ve been doing is sinking in, finally!

The results from my operation give me hope and I’m starting to plan for a future of less pain. I’m considering carefully how to merge Paprika Jewellery & Accessories  and my passion for helping others. I have lots of ideas depending on how my health improves. I still have lots to learn about self care, but I know my priority must be looking after myself, so that I can give the best of myself to those I want to help.

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Are you a chronic illness warrior? If so I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Are you able to ask for support?  Can you prioritise self care above all the amazing things you do?  Do you engage in positive interactions with others?

What could you do to address the balance between being a chronic illness warrior and practicing self care?

 
Chronic Illness Bloggers

Normals illness vs Chronic illness. What happens when Carers get ill?

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Continue reading Normals illness vs Chronic illness. What happens when Carers get ill?

Reflecting on the year and setting goals for 2017 #spoonielife


So it’s the season when we start to look back at the year. I can honestly say that this has been the craziest roller coaster year of our lives. The highs have been unusual in their nature and have come tinged with massive low points. The lows have been monumental and the bits in between have been filled with laughter, love and gratitude.

You may remember that I don’t set New Year’s resolutions. Last year my aim was to try and come off of morphine in 2016.   I can and I will being the motivational words I intended to use to remind me of my goal. I have tried so, so hard all year and particularly after both my operations, and we all hoped each operation would help me get my life back a little. Ucfortunately that is not the case and I am on the same dose of morphine and still incredibly debilitated; most of my time spent in bed.  There is a little improvement but I have only had occasional days of not needing to use oramorph. I continue to wish this more than anything but have to be grateful of the improvements that have happened after each operation. This sampling of less pain has helped me to achieve more with my business and I am learning every day and feel incredibly proud of what I have still been able to achieve!

Health update:
I know many of you want to know how things are since I had my last operation in September! Sorry it’s been so long, but I have been giving the stents time to do their thing before updating you. Briefly, since my operation in September; I can now manage to go out of the house without needing oramorph just for the car journey. Therefore, I have made some progress towards my 2016 goal to cut out morphine. However, I have had to try and learn that I just need to accept that this is the situation I’m in and take the awful stuff so that I can live some sort of life as I’m never pain free! My cognitive function is much improved with many of my loved ones saying how much better my ability to communicate is and that I look a bit better. I have noticed that I feel more like me agai, which is an amazing feeling and although I still forget everything; I can have a proper conversation with my husband, I have an appointment in January to have a ct scan and cerebral venogram repeated to see what improvements there have been with the blood flow and the pressure measurements. I will update you more thoroughly then.


The Highs:

  • Finally managing to have 2 of the surgeries I need and noticing some small improvements with my cognitive function and tolerance to being in the outside world afterwards.
  • Being able to see my son perform his duet in his end of term play. (He was Romeo)!
  • My business growing well but still just about manageable.
  • Having the confidence to begin to sell my poetry and it becoming one of my best sellers; new lines being planned for 2017!
  • Getting a stairlift so that I don’t have to go through labour pain (or worse) just to get up/downstairs.
  • Completing my first ever craft fair.
  • Having a big joint party for my husband and my eldest; where I was able to actually listen to them play all together!
  • Making home improvements; I now have ramps to access the front and back of the house and creating a day room, so that I can spend more time downstairs.
  • Learning new business skills and joining a FB group to help me grow in confidence.
  • Losing some of the weight gained whilst bedridden and developing hypothyroidism.

The Lows

  • Having 2 serious operations; having a piece of skull removed and having brain stents in a operation with a very high risk of stroke; very scary decisions.
  • Being diagnosed with 2 new conditions: hypothyroidism and neutropenia.
  • Getting a stairlift (at age 38-now 39) was a massive thing to admit a need for.
  • Putting on lots of weight due to being mostly bed bound for 4 months.
  • Being dismissed from my job and realising I’m unlikely to get back in to teaching.
  • Our son diagnosed with migraine (huge guilt with this one).
  • Fighting to overturn my neurosurgeon’s decision that a stent would not help me.
  • Having certain friends and family members misunderstand that the operations will ‘fix’ me. IIH has no cure. I may get to a better place, but I will always have this condition. This is frustrating but I’m very lucky that this is only a handful of people.

The in-betweens

  • Having an amazing family that will always be by my side and are my reason for fighting. My 3 boys mean more than I can even try to express
  • Amazing friends that help us, are always there for us and understand!
  • Deciding to have monthly cream teas; including an amazing one at a castle for my birthday!
  • Belly laughs with my family (even though it causes great pain)
  • Difficulty finding new carers but I think we’ve finally found the right people.
  • Becoming officially self-employed.

My goal for 2017!

I recently joined a fantastic Facebook group where we are encouraged to go live. I have managed to in the group and after great feedback will be trying this out on my Facebook page; Paprika Jewellery and Accessories in the new year. I thought the group would help me to build my business but I quickly discovered that I actually need to build on myself..

So all of my highs, lows and in-between have come together and made me focus on my goal for 2017; I WILL BE KIND TO MYSELF. I have listed out the steps to do this and have listened to my friends, my husband and myself and realised that this is what needs to be my priority, I will post about this and the journey I’ve been on to get to this point in the new year. So, this just leaves me to say that I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I will see you in 2017 where I will be doing this!