Wednesday, 19 November 2014
Dear Healthy Person,
Congratulations. You are worth 16 of me.
You can go to work eight hours a day, five days a week.
I can work half an hour a day. In three, ten minute bursts.
You sleep eight hours and wake refreshed.
I need to sleep ten to twelve hours.
You can go out for dinner, on to a concert, and back to someone's place after for nightcaps.
I can meet a friend for a quick coffee.
If you do more, push yourself to your limits, you get tired. You need an early night, or an afternoon nap to recover.
If I push myself, my body shuts down and refuses to move. My mind shuts down and refuses to think. I need a week of early nights and afternoon naps to recover.
Back when I was you, Healthy Person, I used to think tired meant a lie-in on a Sunday morning, after a busy week at work, and a hectic Saturday shopping and cheering the kids' on at weekend sports. It meant a cup of tea, feet up and a snooze on the sofa at 4 o'clock, after a long weekend entertaining. It meant feeling like the wheels are falling off because the baby was up again at 11pm, and 2am, and 4am, and you haven't had an unbroken night's sleep since she started teething. It meant aching joints after a day gardening, or cycling, or mountaineering, that a long soak in a hot bath and a good sleep would soon cure.
Now I am a different me. A me with a chronic auto-immune and pain condition, that can't be cured, and can barely be managed. Part of the package is fatigue. And thanks to fatigue, I am a sixteenth of me.
This is what tired means now: getting out of bed and getting dressed; or having a shower and washing my hair; or reading for ten minutes; or emptying the dishwasher and putting the dishes away; or making coffee and breakfast. Four years ago I did all these things between getting up and going to work, as well as walking the dog, putting the rubbish out, making my lunch and putting a load of laundry on. In an hour and a half, I could achieve more, with no weariness, than I can now in a day and a half.
Fatigue doesn't mean I can't do anything.
But everything has to have downtime allocated. My day has to be measured out into short bursts of activity followed by long periods of rest or sleep.
If I have a shower in the morning, I rest an hour before doing the dishwasher.
If I spend an afternoon with my grandkids, I rest three days before meeting my best mate for coffee.
If I have a deadline for writing a short article, I start work on it at least a week before.
If I don't rest, my body does it for me. It collapses.
Sometimes I forget. I wake up in the morning and I feel fresh, energetic. I jump out of bed, grab my clothes, head for the shower. I sing in the shower and plan my day; all the household tasks I need to catch up on. An afternoon at the park with the grandkids. Make dinner for friends. By the time I'm drying myself, I am so tired I barely know which way round my knickers go.
This is the reality for people with chronic illnesses.
We are one-sixteenth of healthy people.
One sixteenth of the people we used to be.
One-sixteenth of the people we want to be.
So congratulations, dear healthy person.
I'd hug you, but I don't have the energy.
Wednesday, 5 November 2014
Trigeminal Neuralgia is an invisible condition.
One of the most difficult aspects of living with Trigeminal Neuralgia is that it cannot be seen by people. "Can someone really be in so much pain, but have no visible signs?”
Many people need evidence, something visible, something tangible, before they can truly believe that someone could possibly be living with such cruel and savage pain. After all, if it were really that bad, doctors would have found a cure by now. Wouldn’t they?
Sadly, it is that bad, and even more sadly, there really isn’t a cure.
When there is no understanding, it affects the patient so much.
They feel like they are not believed. They feel guilty because of their inability to live life as they should. They feel like failures, as they cannot live up to their own or other people’s expectations. They feel that they need to hide their pain from others. They feel more and more isolated with their pain. They become depressed. And it becomes even more difficult to deal with the pain.
This is not just related to Trigeminal Neuralgia.
There are many invisible conditions.
Can we tell if they have an invisible condition?
Can we tell if they are ill?
Can we tell if they are depressed?
Can we tell if they are grieving?
Can we tell if they are being bullied?
Can we tell if they are struggling financially?
Can we tell anything about a person simply by looking at their face?
Of course, we can’t tell any of those things just by looking at someone's face.
But we, as humans, tend to judge too readily.....even those of us who believe ourselves to be non-judgmental. We all do it.
We notice the grumpy looking shop assistant and think they could do with smiling a bit more. We don’t wonder why they are grumpy. We don’t really give a thought to what they may be going through. We possibly don’t even care.
We see a car pulling into the disabled parking space and notice the driver getting out and walking unaided into the supermarket and presume he isn’t disabled at all and shouldn’t be parking there. We don’t give a thought that by the time he has finished his shopping, he possibly will be struggling to walk from the checkout back to his car. We just think he was wrong to park in that disabled space.
We hear so much on television and newspapers about people fraudulently claiming disability benefits, that when our young, healthy looking neighbour hasn’t been working for six months, we presume they are lazy and work-shy. Do we even entertain the thought at all, that this healthy looking young man, may actually be suffering greatly in some way? Depression? Anxiety? Living with invisible pain like Trigeminal Neuralgia?
Perhaps we all need to take another look at those faces.
Perhaps we need to imagine a large question mark on their foreheads to remind ourselves that much of what goes on in life is actually invisible.
Nobody likes to be judged.
Perhaps a little more compassion and empathy could make everyone’s lives a little better.