I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ‘faking it’. No, not in the bedroom; my years of shrieking in faux pleasure to please someone are long gone since I met a man who knows what goes where (and cares if I experience joy). What I refer to is more the daily ‘faking it’ we do in living with a chronic illness. We fake feeling ‘well’ everyday of our lives.
I personally haven’t been around 'online' for a wee while. You might have noticed; you might not have. That’s fine. People come and go out of our lives all the time and especially in this digital age it’s sometimes even harder to keep on top of all the people in our real lives and in our phones. So I pre-empt this blog with that wee nugget so the people I love don’t feel any guilt for maybe not having noticed the fact that I’ve been struggling for quite a while now.
The main reason people haven’t noticed is because I’m a good actress. I know how to act happy and well because I’ve been doing it for so long. So long in fact that I often don’t know how not to ‘act’ and just ‘be’. The reason this has been playing on my mind lately is because it’s something I worry has slowly but surely assimilated itself into all areas of my life without my being fully aware of it.
This is a long winded way of telling you all I've been feeling blue for a while now. I've been finding life and everything in it borderline impossible to bear and I’ve become tired of hiding that from everyone.
I am the Queen of advocating that we should all be open and honest about our feelings, our illnesses, and speak without fear and without shame about our mental health. Advice I haven’t truly taken myself for quite a while now. The truth is I am feeling a bit crushed by constant and crippling anxiety. I've been unable to feel much of anything. I've been 'play-acting' my emotions. When the truth is that I am not sure what to feel and when. I perhaps portray what I *think* people want to see or what will help me navigate a situation. I paint on a smile when I need to and it fades as quickly as it comes. For a while there I couldn't remember when I last felt happy for more than a fleeting moment.
That, of course, has absolutely no bearing on the people around me. No one ‘makes’ someone depressed. There are aspects of behaviour that can of course exacerbate an already anxious persons' mood but none of that is applicable in my case. No one has done this to me. I haven’t even done it to myself; I’ve just maybe let it happen without interference.
So what to do? Please, please, don’t pity me. I've just been taking a little break from everything to get myself well. It’s hard to stop and take stock of what is making you unhappy and I’m doing that. I’m on medication to help my muddled head and reduce my anxiety and I’ll get there. I'm happier now than I have been in a while just admitting it all. It's good to speak up when you're able, so please do if you're struggling. It's so much more of an achievement than you might think.
So thank-you, and I love you, and I’ll see you soon xo
Thursday, 2 March 2017
It took me a good few weeks to stop weeping for my Mum aged 5 starting school. I would go beetroot-faced when asked a question in front of the class aged 10, and I’d laugh nervously like a borderline lunatic when a boy so much as looked at me, aged 15.
Most of that has dissipated these days, thankfully. Although I do still cling onto my Mum’s foot every time she attempts to leave my house, but like the majority of us, I’m a work in progress.
Those childhood nerves and inhibitions may have subsided gradually as I’ve aged and been opened up to more experiences and seen a little more of the world, but they seem to have been replaced with something almost even more intrusive;
This wasn’t something I was bothered by to a massive degree ‘pre-Crohn’s’. But it’s something I now often struggle to get a handle on. Unlike my Mothers’ ankle. It certainly wasn’t something I’d have considered to be an ‘issue’ either until I realised it was impacting my own life.
There is a big difference from saying you are an ‘anxious person’ to actually trying to make a dent in coping with it.
My anxiety manifests itself in many ways:
- I’ll overthink anything and everything.
- I’ll work myself up into a frenzy about the ‘what if’s’ of any given situation.
- I’ll put off doing things through nerves.
- I’ll stare at the phone until it stops ringing.
- I’ll talk and babble too much to fill what I’ve decided is an ‘awkward’ silence.
Anxiety is a common issue with those of us with chronic illness because we spend a lot of our time thinking about ‘it’. We have a lot of factors to… factor in to our life alongside the normal day to day activities that we all undertake. Whether the issue is with mobility, pain, bathroom worries or mental health issues; we all have our own fears and apprehensions surrounding our illness.
Of course getting stuck in our own heads is often dangerous and isolating, so step one in overcoming the worst of this is really in talking about our worries. When we do this we often find they are sorely unfounded and based on nothing more than our overactive imaginations. Not always, but often. When we decide how someone is feeling/thinking about us, we also insult them, and eliminate the chance of them proving us wrong. We push people away through using our own fears as a barrier. Look, I don’t have the answers on how to cope with this, I just want to share with you that you’re not alone in feeling like an insane person from time to time!
What works for me may not work for you, but talking is really important. Don’t be afraid to admit you are scared and nervous and that its overwhelming you. It so much more common than you think. People who love you and/or doctors can help to give you clarity on your feelings. Stop beating yourself up for something that is simply a factor of an ongoing illness. It’s not shameful to admit you are mentally struggling; quite the opposite in fact.
So the next time someone from Accounts doesn’t say ‘hi’ back to you in the morning at work, maybe don’t spend all day wondering what horrific atrocity you’ve committed against them and accept that maybe they just didn’t hear you.
That is the case isn’t it Linda? You just didn’t hear me? LINDA…?!?
Friday, 24 February 2017
I receive quite a lot of messages and emails from young people who have recently been diagnosed with IBD. It makes me happy and sad in equal measure; happy that they reaching out to talk to someone about their worries (albeit a decidedly unqualified person like me), and sad because they are struggling with something incredibly distressing on top of all the usual, more common yet challenging aspects of ‘growing up’. Some of them are just looking for reassurance and advice on how best to live with a chronic illness; some of them don’t want to live at all.
I do of course reply to these messages, as quickly as I can and with as much information as I can, but I often feel at a loss as to what to say to soothe a young man or woman who’s experiences perhaps mirror my own fears from several years earlier. I try to think about what I wanted to hear when I was diagnosed: what might have made the whole thing a little less scary, and I hit a frustrating brick wall.
I was lucky myself in the sense that I was (officially) diagnosed when I was in my mid-twenties. I certainly didn’t feel lucky of course; I was heartbroken, confused and devastated. I imagine it feels that way irrespective of your age mind you, we all have different tolerances and being told you are never getting better stings regardless of what stage in your life you are at.
So I suppose what I’m clumsily trying to express is that I feel at a loss at times to help those who are experiencing what I have. What I am.
Then I try to take a breath and remember that all I wanted to hear when I was first sick was that life would go on. I still do. Don’t get me wrong – I undoubtedly would not have thanked anyone for spouting that at me at the time of my diagnosis; I didn’t want life to go on if I’d have to carry this disease with me for the remainder of it. I didn’t believe it and I couldn’t accept it. But as I’ve grown alongside my illness (I’m now in my mid-thirties), I’ve found my outlook has changed along with my priorities. All I care about now is my own happiness and that of those around me. My illness is still a huge part of my life and always will be, one that can consume me from time to time, but those moments pass. Chronic illness is a slippery path whereby sometimes we wobble a little, sometimes we can’t get on an even keel, but nevertheless we never lie down to it; we don’t have that luxury.
But the truth is, our life does go on. We are incredibly lucky in that sense. We will have to make adaptions to those lives to make room for this illness, we don’t like that but it’s easier than trying to bat it away like a pesky wasp at a jam sandwich. We have to accept it and stop fighting its basic existence. Denial is fruitless and prolongs the period of time it takes to come to terms with having an incurable illness.
Don’t get me wrong here though, I’m not implying ANY of this is easy; sometimes I even have a little cry myself when I feel low – I often feel I’m back to square one with this and the frustration of that can be overwhelming. But if I’ve learnt anything since I was diagnosed it’s the importance of talking. Talk to your parents, your friends, your nurse, talk to me! Don’t push yourself into it – there’s no shame in that either; the last thing I wanted to do at first was talk about this with anyone, but eventually that changed and it became more of a comfort and camaraderie than a fear.
So please remember that you are not alone.
Things will get easier and you will learn to live with this. Like every challenge in life it feels monumental at first, but the more steps you take towards dealing with it the easier it becomes. I’m not in any way saying I love having a bowel disease – I hate it – but it has also taught me boundless things about my own body, its shown me a strength I never thought I could find and its brought me closer to the people I love. It’s made me value my own life, and allowed me an opportunity to help me help you to value yours.
So if you take anything from my ramblings let it be this: disease is hard and scary and intimidating, but your life is worth the challenge.
Tuesday, 21 February 2017
My blog turned 6 last week!
I know what you are thinking; blogs can’t have birthdays, they are not sentient beings, so why waste decent cake? I hear you! But this particular ‘birthday’ has felt worthy of celebration mainly because I’ve sadly neglected my blog lately. I’ve had a new job to focus on and the completion of a new book I’ve been working on since my first came out last year. Also I’ve been ill. Not front page news that last one I grant you; some might even say it’s what this blog is all about, and yes I appreciate that smarty-pants. But being ‘sick’ can often feel like a full time job in itself and it overwhelms anything and everything. It interferes in work, relationships, your state of mind. It demands attention.
But this blog was started as an outlet for me to express my fears, experiences and abject terror at having a chronic illness, and while it still is such a place to allow me to vent or share, it’s become somewhat more of a safe place where I can come to talk openly and without judgement (although my inbox may say otherwise). It has granted me the opportunity to help others simply but sharing my life with you and making cat jokes. So rather than spend this special occasion focusing on the more negative aspects of my illness I thought I’d celebrate this 6th birthday with a little bit about all the good stuff that’s happened in my life since this blog was ‘born’.
So here are my 6 happy things:
- I have written and had published a book on Crohn’s Disease which is doing well and getting great feedback.
- I have focused more on nurturing my relationships and this has been wonderful and reaped countless rewards. (No I’m not talking about the bedroom, get your heads out of the gutter).
- Although my health has been a consistent challenge and treatments have failed I haven’t had any further surgery which I take as a big win. *touches all of the wood*
- We got a giant dog! Who makes me incredibly happy, cares for me and makes me and laugh and cry at his cuteness every day.
- I changed jobs and it’s been an incredible boost to my mental health and stress levels.
- My amazing friend Lyndsay gave me a bike! So now I cycle to said new job and have much more time with my family (and longer lie ins) while getting a little daily exercise. Also my thighs could now quite easily crush a grown man’s head.
So it’s not been all bad since Crohnological Order began. I’m happy and alive and that’s a great start. I’ve been granted some wonderful opportunities since writing this diseased drivel and I want to continue to use what little voice I have to help others. SO thanks for sticking with me for the last 6 years and hopefully beyond! I love you! xox
Sunday, 15 January 2017
OK now that I've got your attention, I'd like to take a few minutes to talk to you about these so called 'click-bait' articles with eye-catching and inevitably misleading titles (of which the above is); and in particular how they can negatively impact on our health.
Now as you may have established by this point, the chances of you seeing me ‘TOTALLY NAKED’ and in a ‘SEX TAPE!!!’ are slim to none. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news so early in the blog but you’re the one who clicked, so more fool you! Besides, who even uses the word 'tape' anymore? Get with the program losers! What is this, 1992?!
Anyway, regardless of whether you clicked this link because there was a vain hope of seeing my melons, or because you were just intrigued as to whether I’d finally lost my mind; now that we are all here, let’s get to the matter in hand. Despite the fact that this title is undoubtedly false and deceptive it did its job in getting you to click on the preceding link, maybe to even to hang around and read the whole article. So in that sense it has been an effective tool. Effective yes, yet undoubtedly frustrating too, (in particular for those of you still vainly holding out for a peep at my wares).
NOT HAPPENING PLEASE MOVE ON WITH YOUR LIVES.
But while we can all laugh at the absurdity of this particular title, what of those articles with similarly attention grabbing titles, aimed for the most part at the more vulnerable and desperate among us? Those of us who are perhaps crying out for a 'solution', whatever it may be. Well, here we find my pet hate: the ‘health’ click-bait. In case any of you are still in the dark about what I mean by ‘click-bait’ please see this definition:
“(on the Internet) content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page”
These are those articles that draw us sickly individuals in with promised 'cures' and quick fixes, advice on someone’s ‘miracle cure’ or how someone else ‘cured themselves with tree bark’ or some other such nonsense. Once clicked on, these articles (usually a mere few barely decipherable sentences) inevitably lead us down the rabbit hole of terrible advertising and ineligible text, over-priced products and bad advertising. Maybe they will follow on where the article left off and attempt to sell us a product that promises to cure all of our ails. The one certainty is that they are definite time-wasters. They offer inane hope to those of us who perhaps have none, they lie and explain our conditions in a vague and unintelligible way, they grope in the dark for anything they can grab on to in order to gain an audiences favour. Just like your Mum.
In my humble opinion, any article that struggles of CORRECTLY SPELL the name of the condition it writes about, promises a ‘cure’ it can never prove, admonishes patients for a perceived lack of effort, undermines our suffering, or simply insults us in a roundabout way, is GARBAGE.
So my own advice would be to avoid these headlines and their preceding hogwash ‘journalism’ unless they come from a reputable source (or a QUALIFIED DOCTOR). And if you find yourself drawn in by an article promising you the world where your health is concerned (yes EVEN if it contains the promise of a bare naked chest), pull out immediately. As the Actress said to the Bishop.
Saturday, 31 December 2016
It’s time for one of those 'end of year' posts we bloggers love to write (and you dread to read)!
And what a year it's been.
I won’t even begin to go into the changes we’ve undergone with Brexit here and Trump over there, because I don’t want to projectile vomit all over the screen.
We've played a seemingly endless game of 'Who's Dead Today?' this year with almost everyone in the public-eye quaking in their boots at the mere sniff of a cough that they'll be 'next'. Of course for me the hardest of these 'celebrity' deaths was my beloved David Bowie. I genuinely sobbed when the news hit and felt the same grief I would for a loved one. It seemed so utterly confusing that I would mourn someone I've never met, but the depth of feeling I had for his music (and the shock of his unexpected death through illness) hit me more than I could have expected. I suppose with a sudden and unanticipated death such as his, it hit a lot of his fans in a similarly painful way. So many other deaths followed, that this year switching on the breakfast news each morning seemed like opening the world’s
most depressing advent calendar.
The next big setback in my year came when our beloved cat passed away. We knew he was poorly and would in time be heading to that giant Cat Scratcher in the sky, but his death was very sudden and still came as a big and heart-breaking shock. Our beautiful boy was so special and such an intrinsic part of our little family that his loss is still felt around the house. The loss of a pet can be surprisingly heart-breaking: when they are such a huge part of the family it takes a while to adjust to him not being home.
But for me certainly 2016 has not been all bad. And really as we know, it’s all about ME.
This year saw me quit my job of over 10 years to take on a new challenge closer to home and allow me more time for writing and working on book 2! Scary but incredibly exhilarating, and definitely the right decision.
This leads us on neatly to the next big emotional event in my 2016: The publication of my first book! GO YOUR CROHN WAY came out in May and was a whirlwind of anxiety and joy. It was a surprisingly emotional time for me for many reasons; because it was a reassurance I wasn't a terrible writer, because it was coming from a place where I could hopefully help others in a wider way, and because it was a painful part of my life being transformed into something positive. We had a wonderful book launch (The Crohn Way Soiree) which was one of the best night's of my life. Excluding that time a taxi appeared just as the heel on my stiletto broke. I've had such good feedback from patients and their families alike that's it's made my heart swell. It’s been well received so far, I’ve been on radio, in papers and a local MP has even put forward a motion to have it mentioned in Scottish Parliament! This is about the only level of fame I could tolerate without exploding into a ball of anxiety and feeling the need to wear makeup everyday/brush my mane so I’m pretty happy with that :)
I’m currently working on book two and it all seems pretty exciting and that I’ve found where I want to be in life which is incredibly comforting.
The year ended for me on a pretty low note as I’ve been advised my treatment is no longer effective and my body is fighting against it (again). So back to the diseased drawing board. I spent most of the lead up to Christmas in hospital and it was extremely disheartening, just the idea of being properly ‘sick’ again. Tests and procedures and hospital food; none of us want it. But I was lucky enough to get home for Christmas. Now just awaiting more of the same, scopes and tests until we know what may work for me where others haven’t. I’m trying my best to think positive about this as I know I’ll get there, just stuck in limbo at the minute.
2017 will hopefully be healthier for us all.
For me, this year despite many, MANY setbacks, I have achieved something I never thought I would, I’ve made a brave decision or two, I’m in love and loved and HAPPY. Good health will follow, and if not, I’ve got all the love I need to help me through it.
Your support, however small or large this year has meant the world to me!
I love you!
Happy New Year everyone! xox
Sunday, 11 December 2016
A few recent conversations with people I love and admire (and who also happen to be religious) got me thinking about faith and living with chronic illness. I should begin by mentioning that I am not religious myself. At all. I was raised Catholic, and I do still hold on to certain elements of my religious upbringing. Such as trying to treat people with kindness, treating those as you'd like to be treated yourself, and valuing and nurturing love. These are all aspects of my character I can attribute to both my wonderful parents and the bleeding into my life of Catholicism. If Jesus will pardon the pun.
But recently I've pondered how different my handling of my disease may have been had I continued down the path of that of a practicing Catholic. Because I don't feel a belief in any 'higher power' or am drawn to any form of organised religion, I wonder what that must feel like in comparison to my current lifestyle of taking each day as it comes. I suppose the element of my religious past I’ve held onto most would be feeling guilty for absolutely everything. This includes eating a delicious and/or expensive meal – I’ll feel guilty about the indulgence and the pain it’ll undoubtedly cause my purse and intestines. That’s fine I guess, a little guilt never hurt anyone and it certainly puts a halt on me doing anything that might actually warrant 25 Hail Mary’s and a Holy Communion afterwards.
I don’t want any of this to sound patronising or disrespectful in any way. I would never question why people I love/abject strangers feel a need or calling towards religion. It’s a choice; just not one I’d choose. In much the same way you wouldn’t question my undying love of Jon Hamm. DO NOT QUESTION MY UNDYING LOVE OF JON HAMM.
I blindly put my ‘faith’ in doctors. I have to. I don’t believe in a specific Higher Power, I don’t have an alternative. That’s my choice, of course. But for me it’s all I have. I’m often secretly envious of those with a strong faith in God/Aloe Vera/whatever. Not because I feel at a loss without something to believe in, but because I wonder how different life must be for those patients who do. Does having a deity of some sort to reach out to make pain and suffering easier to tolerate? I imagine it is a comfort; at least that’s what I’m led to believe from those around me. Any form of comfort with a chronic illness is a blessing. I take my comfort from my loved ones. I ‘believe’ in them, and in their ability to soothe my anxious mind. They are tangible, and real, and around. They forgive my occasional bad behaviour and understand it comes from pain and anxiety, they don’t expect a penance for it, and I return the understanding just as wholly.
With a chronic illness, and especially in talking so openly and publicly about it as I do, patients are often subjected to a seemingly endless ream of ‘miracle’ cures. I have a tendency to pooh-pooh these ‘cures’ in much the same way I do religion. Maybe without even realising how that may appear to those with a strong faith. I’m well aware that rubbing my every orifice with Aloe Vera may not necessarily go and in hand with attending mass. (Although, I’m still stoically of the belief that neither would ‘cure’ me). There is a difference e between a spam email trying to sell me dodgy diet pills and a caring friend/family member offering me comfort by sharing a belief they hold dear. I need to see that more often perhaps, instead of being so overtly dismissive.
I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything because I don’t believe in God, I just don’t ‘get it’. But then I don’t have to, just like you are totally allowed to believe in whatever the Hell you want too. If Jesus will pardon the pun. Again...