Sunday, 26 October 2014

I Feel Pity, Oh So Pity..

In being a ‘professional’ sick person, you will encounter people’s pity on a regular basis. It will mainly be well meant of course; a head tilt and pitiful glance from a nurse caring for you, a fellow patient watching as you violently throw up your cold toast, or a doctor looking at your back end and shaking his head disdainfully. These particular looks may even come from those closest to you. It will feel very strange. Especially if you happen to be someone who prides themselves on staying ‘normal’ in the face of a distinctly abnormal illness. It can feel as though you are being treated as a second class citizen. You are not. At least not by 99% of these people.

What can appear as pity may just be consideration and hurt at having to watch you suffer. Let’s be honest, we could all use a bit of consideration from time to time. Chiefly when you are feeling awful all day, every day. Inflammatory bowel disease and all chronic illnesses are hard work. They are challenging, discouraging and physically and mentally exhausting. And that’s just the good bits! LOL OMG TEEHEE!

But what of those without a long term illness? Do we as patients pity them? I suppose it would be easy to feel pity for the majority of those ‘well’ people, after having been through the health-mill. Without having been at death’s door they may never fully be able to appreciate the simpler things in life! How it feels to truly appreciate a hot bath, or a day off, an extra hour in bed or simply be able to get through the day without 45 toilet trips.

I know I for one, have a new found respect for the healthcare system since I became ill. I hadn’t realised just how much we take doctors and nurses for granted and how (literally) life-or-death their jobs can be on a daily basis. I’ve cried on nurses’ shoulders and they’ve listened while I’ve wallowed in misery, their jobs are so, so much more than merely attending to cannulas and giving bed baths. People seem to forget how much they tend to patients emotional needs as well as physical. That’s why is OK if they give me a glance that says they perhaps pity me. I’m their patient.

It’s also tolerable if my Mum tilts her head and says how sorry she is for me, because it’s done out of love.  Sometimes it’s important to choose your battles. Before you get irate at someone’s glance in what you perceive to be the wrong direction, take a moment to decide if there is anything more than genuine care behind it. You’ll usually find the people who ‘pity’ you want nothing more than for you to be well.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Ten Pin Bowel-ing

There is a certain, fairly unattractive attitude that can rear it's head from time to time in living with a chronic illness. It applies to both patients and those around then alike. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but it can be dangerously catching. Patients of chronic illness may find themselves becoming increasingly frustrated with friends/family/colleagues who complain of ailments which can appear decidedly trifling. 

When you are (perhaps, barely) coming with an array of horrendous symptoms and feeling like you've been run over by a 10 storey bus OVER and OVER and OVER... It's hard to sympathise when the person by your side has a sniffle and is complaining as though they have mere moments left to live. It can be hard to bite your tongue when all around you, people are suffering from seemingly nothing more than acute cases of hypochondria. 

But what to do for the best when encountering these people? Grin through gritted teeth and sympathise, or tell them straight that you feel they are acting like toddlers and to get over it? Neither is a particularly pleasurable option, let's be honest. Pretending you feel for them generally makes them feel slightly justified in their whining, but does nothing but cause frustration and a bubbling rage inside your already decidedly burny-burny guts. On the other hand, getting vocal on how selfish and dramatic you feel they are being can lead to massive rifts in relationships and perhaps finding those people who were once your biggest supporters drifting off into the friendship ether. 

For me personally, I tend to go for my own form of option 1. I really wish I didn't but I find it abhorrent listening to people complain of something which amounts to nothing. Not that I WANT people to be ill of course because I absolutely do not! It's just that I've found my sympathy for people suffering from chronic illness much more acute and intense since I became ill myself, but this has, in turn lead to my tolerance for bullshit falling rapidly. If someone is genuinely ill and trying their best to make a life for themselves DESPITE sickness; I have nothing but admiration, respect (and if required, cuddles) for them. But it just makes bile rise in my throat when I hear phrases like; "Ah I had a dicky tummy last night after a curry so I feel your pain" or "I've got swollen glands this week, my throat feels like cut glass so I can't eat either" (*commence internal screaming*)

I tend to take, and again I wish I didn't, these types of comments as a personal insult. They always seem like such a disappointing lack of understanding. A total failure to grasp the complexities and serious nature of my illness. But are they? Or is it just human nature? Is it not in our make-up to compare and contrast? Share our experiences, however different they may appear? I know when I tell stories about my youth and how I could, for example, drink 5 men under the table, I may be bending the truth very slightly. [it was only 1 man and he may have slid under the table after slipping on a rogue salted peanut]. So perhaps people think I am applying the same exaggeration rules to my own condition? I certainly know patients like myself who do. I've encountered enough of them in hospital for a start. 

Either way it's not easy trying to walk the conversational tightrope between feigning compassion and punching someone square across the jaw. It's important to remember we are all intrinsically the same. We all want that little bit of attention and some see illness as a way to garner some much needed care. There's nothing really wrong with it, which is why I always feel disappointed in myself for taking things so personally. I want to be able to treat someone with flu with the same kindness and understanding as someone who has a life-threatening illness. But really I can't. And I won't. Why not continue on my crusade to weed out that drain on modern society: hypochondria? I feel it's almost part of my life's calling. I will don my cape and gold boots (I wouldn't really to wear a cape and gold boots but I would look AWESOME), and gently reassure those with "the worst headache in history" that they need to take 2 paracetamol and get on with their lives. People may call me a hero, but I'm really just a regular girl. I'm not into dramatics...

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Final Colon

A few nights ago I was in the grip of a particularly nasty migraine. Much like my Crohn's symptoms, I've had headaches going back as far as I can remember; at least pre-puberty, pre-training bra, but had always just assumed it was another hereditary complaint I would just have to put up with. However the increasingly regularity of these 'headaches' has eventually led me to get checked out properly, and now I know it's migraines I can act accordingly. Seems simple I suppose, but when you are faced with a myriad of health complaints you start to rate them in order of importance, and once a month-3 to 4 day-headaches, weren't high on my personal list. 

Anyway back to the night in question. In the grip of this particular migraine, I couldn't open my eyes or so much as hear even my own voice without feeling like someone was drilling into my skull. The pain had me sobbing and vomiting uncontrollably and I felt like I wanted to die. 
Yes, I wanted to die. 
I'm well aware that now, in the cold light of day, and migraine-free, that all sounds very dramatic and painfully over the top, but it's also pretty terrifying to look at my situation objectively and realise what relentless and excruciating pain can do to a ordinarily sane mind. 

Let me make one thing perfectly clear before I continue: I do not want to die. I've got a good and generally very happy life. I love, and am loved. I couldn't now imagine wanting to end my life. Plus I only have TWO cats for goodness sake; there's so much more to come. 
But in that few hours I couldn't see beyond the pain. I envisioned stabbing myself with a kitchen knife because it might somehow release the pressure on my head, I considered (and almost followed through with) slamming my head into the headboard in a vain attempt to knock myself out. Then I berated myself because I wasn't even brave enough to do anything at all and cried to my partner and buried my head back into a pillow. 

It's not a wholly isolated incident of course. For those of you living with pain, you will no doubt appreciate that these depressing episodes can be hauntingly familiar. Pain is subjective and overwhelming. Much like a disappointing lover it can leave as quickly as it comes. It's instantly forgettable. 
I normally wouldn't write on my experiences because I tend to prefer to focus on the positives, and on how to come out the other end of pain and misery. But this time I wanted to remember. I wanted to remember exactly how hopeless I felt so that I can perhaps act more quickly in future instead of waiting until things are uncontrollable. I wanted to change things a piece at a time. Only through realising how devastating an affect, (although temporarily), pain has on my mind as well as my body, I can start to work on avoiding these scary thoughts in future. Perhaps focus on how to get out of the situation practically, without lobbing half of my skull off or pulling my intestines out like a magician with a handkerchief. That can only be positive. 

I hope if you ever feel hopeless too, you can cling on to who you were before, and who you will be after, because pain is temporary. 
Ending your life isn't.