Taking ownership

Today’s WEGO Health Challenge is: “Write about a time your health condition forced you to grow up and take the training wheels off (so to speak).”

If I had been asked this a few years ago I most likely would have cited the time I realised that my physiotherapist had got things wrong and I decided to keep doing the physio’ exercises regardless of what she said. But now, only one thing stands out as a complete life-changer, and that was losing my family.

Pain of confusing loss, broken heart

I’m not going to talk about the process of loss, or the extreme grief and confusion. Or about the neurological issues that screwed up my processing, my comprehension, my word recall and more. That’s not the core issue for this post. The real crux of the matter in today’s writing challenge is that I was suddenly adrift; more alone and lost than I’d experienced before, and it brought home some harsh truths.

1) I had to accept that there was much I did not know about my own condition. And that the lack of knowledge contributed to the loss as none of us recognised the neuro’ issues. It would have been so obvious many months earlier if only we’d known it was part of my condition in the first place. 

2) I realised that I cannot assume anyone will stick around, even those who I thought would always be there. So I am even more super grateful for those who do.

So firstly I had to stop relying on doctors’ poor knowledge and stop assuming that those close to me would roll with the odd changes along the way. I had to get educated and I had to do it properly because I needed to take ownership of my health issues. I am at the centre of the web of my own life, I cannot expect others to just deal with stuff because I don’t notice it happening. I need to be aware, and in doing so I can self-advocate in my own healthcare, too.

Researching on the laptop

After that life-shattering event my world now feels pretty unrecognisable from what it was. For the first year I was incomprehensible and struggling to function at all. Distraction techniques were key that yearNow I know that the shock, grief, lack of understanding of what had happened, had all combined to make sure my ‘fight or flight’ didn’t shut off at all. The one event that escalated my existing autonomic issues to extreme levels and helped to create new ones… was also the one event that forced me to ground myself and take control of my own life.

The second year after the loss I was still experiencing severe autonomic issues but the whys and wherefore’s about the health issues were beginning to fall into place. I was mortified that so many fellow patients out there were just like me – with rare contact with doctors who understand (or who are even aware of) the multi-systemic issues, and no reliable way to find relevant, up-to-date and correct information themselves. (I have found the internet information on CRPS to largely be very hit and miss and rarely encompassing much more than the basic pain aspects. Morahan-Martin’s research has found this to be the case with health issues generally).

I wanted to help share the information I’d found, but it needed to be freely accessible and searchable. I decided to set up a website, and the best way for a website newbie like me seemed to be to use a reliable blog host. And so this weblog was born of my life-change. I had found a path along which I could help others and make a useful difference.

I had acquired knowledge which helped me to a) better understand my own condition and piece things together, b) to present things more coherently to my doctor as well as teach them more about my condition and how they need to think along different lines for patients with conditions like this; and c) which I could share with fellow patients all over the world.

Openness about reliability is very important to me, so I put dates at the top of the separate info’ pages so that readers could see when it was written and when it was last updated. Many websites do not do this, which is how people still think things like the ‘stages’ of CRPS are still being used when they were discarded so many years ago.

Poor quality and outdated information is rife in our patient group because it’s such a multi-disciplined specialist area that our general doctors just don’t get the new updates. Not all of us can read through research papers to filter the key information to add to the bigger picture, so I figured that’s where I can use my research skills.

And it’s rolled on from there. I’ve met other ‘expert patients’ who also have multiple co-morbidities and multi-systemic issues. We are part of an international informal network of CRPS information sharing. We admin’ in support groups and share information with others, some of us blog about our health conditions.

For my masters degree research I focused on what I could do to help fellow patients within the constraints of my academic field. I was overwhelmed by the number of wonderful patients who participated in the study and I’m now writing a research paper which I would like to be available to all via an Open Access research journal.

Dissertation parcelling up

Three copies of my research dissertation ready to be posted in March 2013

All of this gave me value and self-worth, gave me purpose and confidence, which rolled into other areas in my life as well. Before I knew it my physio’ Tai Chi classes led to performing in public at a Chinese New Year celebration in a local town, then I found myself winning medals at two national competitions and it’s exciting thinking of the potential for the future.The advocacy work and my involvement with other patients online has resulted in my meeting the most wonderful fellow patients who shine so brightly. I am privileged to have met them and honoured to call them my friends. I think about taking blog pic’s when I’m out. I write blog posts to share info’, to share experiences, and sometimes for pure silliness and a bit of a chuckle (coz that’s important too, of course)!

It’s now just over three years since the life-changing loss. I still think about it every day, I still wonder what happened, and it still hurts so much, but even though the pain doesn’t go away I am getting better at dealing with it. I have found new paths because the family context of my identity is no longer there, I needed to create a new context – I have been forced to focus on me, which was initially totally alien to me and felt all wrong. But I’ve increased my awareness, knowledge and I push myself all the time for more (within sensible constraints to keep my health ticking over, of course). My literature review is getting bigger, and it looks like it’s going to become a separate co-written paper with one of my peers who is medically trained so that we can both bring our skills to bear. Again,.. Open Access for availability to all would be wonderful. Oh and in 2014 I’ll be moved up to the intermediate level at the nationals so that’s ongoing to. So many plates spinning all at once! 😉

I always thought of myself in terms of being a daughter and a sister in my family. Who I was then was intrinsically linked with who I was related to, our family morals, likes and experiences. We’d always been there for each other and had come through so much together over the years. Now I have to see myself as me. Just me. I think I’m finally getting the hang of it!

I think we can safely say that the training wheels are off and I’m metaphorically thundering along a bumpy road with boundless enthusiasm. How about adding an international charity and associated information website into the mix? Oh yes, it’s coming! I’m designing tee-shirts for the shop when I am able (I’ll post a link once there’s items in there to look at, x), and it’s wonderful to know that all of the proceeds will be able to go towards making a difference. Everything takes longer because I am chronically ill, as are my counterparts involved in the same adventure, but we do what we can when we can and eventually we get there. Time has to be flexible, deadlines aren’t always viable, but with direction and determination I’ll get there!

x

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