My phenylalanine experiment

Feeling hopeless and unmotivated…what the…? I always had the motivation to do my daily paced physio’. For yeeeaaars. It’s towards my quality of life through pain management so why wouldn’t I?

Brain chemistry may be part of the problem, though….

Brain power

When we’re chronically ill we tend to get through a lot more neuro-chemicals than we used to. There are constant symptoms and sussing how to manage them as we go along – should I attempt this now or later? If I do it now then this, but if I do it later then this. If I take that med/supplement or eat some food or do that physio first then it will impact it like this or with those variables maybe like this. So I’m thinking maybe I should do this but with these provisos and that back-up and constantly monitor symptoms and be ready to adapt at any given moment as things pan out…. etc etc. There is a huuuuge amount of chemicals getting used up just trying to do the most basic of things. Then if we try to do anything other than the usual getting through the day stuff we decline faster and take longer to recover.

Back when I was studying I found that I will consistently lose my brain if I use it. Not the adage we more often hear of ‘use it or lose it’ eh? The more I use it (more time, more intensity, more challenge – any of those will do it) the quicker I’ll lose it and the longer it will be down for. My fellow CRPSer and blogger, Isy Aweigh, employed her nurse skills and suggested I need more dopamine to help my brain replace the neurochemicals I was using up. To create more dopamine, I need a source of phenylalanine. Us humans can’t make it internally, so we need it from food sources. I’m a veggie so meats are out, but aged cheeses are another source. And they helped. Significantly!

Dopamine.JPG

Created for this post by the Hypermobile Hobbit

It’s several years later though and my neuro’ dysfunction has been telling my immune system to react to all sorts of things, one of which is cheese so that’s that one out of the window!

I was chatting with the same pal the other day about my uncharacteristic lack of motivation and overwhelming sense of hopelessness about how I simply can no longer Brain long enough to do the research work required to gain any useful health support from medical practitioners. Guess what I might need? Yup, dopamine! Seeing as I’m still a veggie (that’s not gonna change) and that I can no longer eat any solid cheeses I’m quite possibly deficient in the phenylalanine that I need to manufacture the required dopamine. It turns out there’s a supplement for it, who knew?!

Phenylalanine.JPG

Created for this post by the Hypermobile Hobbit

After doing a quick bit of research (very quick, my brain falls over soooo fast these days) I found that the natural source found in foods is L-Phenylalanine. It’s not only used to make dopamine though, it’s also used to make other neurochemicals: adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenalin (norepinephrine) but it would be weird if balancing neurochemistry was easy, right?! We always need to consider all potential impacts and contra-indications (negative effects on med’s we already take) of any new med or supplement before we start taking it. In my case my ANS-balancer is an SNRI which inhibits the re-uptake of norepinephrine to reduce my flavour of dysautonomia. I was doing well on it until this potential phenylalanine shortage so rather than mucking up any previous balances, the supplement should (if it’s needed) return my neurochemicals to their happier levels.

There is also the artificially manufactured D-Phenylalanine which may well help with the production of dopamine as well, but it looks like the science isn’t completely in yet. It may help with pain however, and the side effects do not outbalance the potential for me personally so the standard mixed DL- supplement looks like it’s a Go.

Symptoms of a deficiency in phenylalanine pretty much describe my current state. Confusion – ohhhh yeah. Lack of energy – in the extreeeme. Decreased memory – significant, noticeable and upsettingly so. Diminished appetite – er, kinda, less appetite and depressed so I’ve been eating sugary stuff on hand and am now unable to fit into my shorts this summer. Possibly any summer. My first significant over-waistband roll. Oops.

I also found out that more than 5,000mg of DL-phenylalanine per day can cause nerve damage. Soooo I’ll be taking less than that then!

I ordered some DL Phenylalanine (a combination of the natural L- type and the manufactured mirror imaged D- type) from my usual reliable supplier of quality supplements and I’m gonna see if it helps me at all. Recommended is 1 x 500mg tablet per day. Not sure if that amount is gonna give me much Brain Time but it’s a place to start. I consulted one of my science whizz friends (fellow blogger the Hypermobile Hobbit) and she has raised a very important question – what’s the ratio of D- to L- in the supplement I have? Good point. L- would be more readily used by the body, so I’ve asked the supplier and am waiting to hear.

First, I figured I should list my current issues so that I can look at a before and after picture. Here we go, this is where I’m at:

Before, circuits

  • Utter fatigue, all the time
  • No brain. Like, really no brain. I struggled to order two photo prints from the usual website we use. I managed two and then couldn’t understand the website anymore. Had to ask Magic Dude to take over.
  • When I’ve got no brain it kinda hurts. Sort of like a headache but different.
  • No idea what the heck is going on a lot of the time, can’t understand concepts, sentences, sometimes takes me awhile even to figure out the meaning of individual words.
  • Memory shot to pieces. Have got used to not remembering anything now. Whole events/days go missing. Previously I would randomly forget ever seeing entire films but it’s so much worse than that now. I even think of something like ‘I must tell Magic Dude this’ and instantly it goes – I have lost the thought less than a second after I had it and he’s sitting right theeeere, it’s not like I had to remember it for any longer than it takes to say it. Really distressing.
  • No motivation whatsoever. Just an overwhelming ‘it’s too hard to sustain’ and ‘what’s the frickin’ point, anyway?’
  • Endless migraine. Relentless. Can’t do anything that doesn’t send it soaring except for prop myself up on the sofa in front of the laptop raised on its over-my-legs stand and there’s very little I can do in that position because I mostly have no brain.
  • Want to bury myself in something creative but not enough brain to finish any of multiple blog posts I’ve started over time. Tried sewing and it’s great but it sends the migraine soaring so can only do that for a short while once a week or so if I’m lucky.
  • Lots and lots of physical health symptoms that are hard to grapple with but I’m not listing them here as that’s not the focus so much as how I’m dealing with them (or not). I’m down in the dumps about coccyx pain being permanent, about near-fainting all the ruddy time, about not being able to choose to do anything useful or anything nice/fun, about not being able to go to Tai Chi classes or even manage any at home since my fall injury a year and a half ago. Yeah, really really down for a long time now. Not like me at all but I’ve been avoiding everyone online because communication has become so hard. I’m on a veeeery long waiting list to see a neuro’ and trying to cope in the meantime. Coping isn’t viable so I’m aiming for ‘exisiting’. That’d be a win, right?
  • Being near fainty all the time means I’m not safe to drive. I can’t get out of the house at all. I am completely independence-free. I managed to drive round the corner to collect prescriptions a couple of times in the past year or so but it took all day to try to get my body functional enough for those few minutes of driving and then there’s the lengthy negative health impact of that to work through afterwards.
  • Coming up for 19 years with this neuro’ condition and this will be the first time I’ve *ever* been referred to see a neuro’ – see why us CRPSers feel so flipping hopeless at times? It’s hard bloody work trying to get basic care because wiring issues are barely even touched on in medical school. Plus – most neuro’s are brain neuro’s and don’t deal with wiring anyway so this eventual appointment will either be really helpful or an utter waste of time and end of the road on any medical help for me. I could cry. But I’m too numb or dead inside or something.
  • Footnote: Magic Dude is a, er, magic dude! He’s been getting me out of the house whenever he can in any ways he can think of. I have noise reduction ear-plugs which reduce volume and help my processing and migraine management. So he’s taken me to the cinema, a concert, the Outdoors. We’re sick of sitting in coffee shops but that’s all I can do most of the time. But coffee shops exist within garden centres so that adds some extra interest (and buying plants is a temporary retail high). I’ve posted pics for my friends of anything I’ve seen outside the house to share that moment of joy but realise that doing so hides what’s really going on. But there’s nothing they can do anyway, and I’m struggling to read and understand stuff as well as piecing words together to form a reply, so messages can actually be quite stressful if they require a reply.

 

Oh. I’ve just re-read that list and realised that it’s basically what was happening when my Mum was trying to suss stuff out, got totally wrong concepts about me and disowned me despite my repeatedly saying that I didn’t understand what was going on. Okay. Arse! I’m back there then, eh? Big neuro downslide. Right. I came back a fair amount from that one, let’s see if I can pull the rabbit out of the proverbial hat this time as well with more help than just flukey luck back then when I found I improved a tiny bit from (unknowingly phenylalanine-ish) cheese sandwiches!

rabbit out of hat

 

Depression is kinda like drowning – it doesn’t look like what you think it looks like. It’s smiling whenever I can, making lots of jokes, going full-on distraction when I’m alone (Lord of the Rings Online), pretending I’m okay just to try and get through until the appointment that’s many months away, yet to be scheduled and which might utterly let me down.

But it might not. ‘Just keep swimming’, right? Ugh!

depression doesn't look like what you think it looks like

Next morning: I just re-read this to make sure it made sense then opened something else up on my computer. I felt like had been doing something else but couldn’t remember what and it was really bugging me. I had been re-reading this. Like, a second before and couldn’t remember doing it. And yet after writing this post yesterday my brain accessed the disowning distress from years ago, pulled Bjork’s ‘State of Emergency’ out of it’s vaults and sang it to my dysfunctional fight or flight self til 3am. Gawd this supplement had better help!

.

Okay, the DL phenylalanine arrived yesterday: 25th  May 2018.
Let the experiment begin.
I’ll come back and add how this list looks in a couple of weeks….

 

After, circuits

Day 1: Shortly after taking the supplement I found myself skim reading two articles in the Psychologist mag, whuuut? Then my brain keeled over, back to ‘normal’.

Day 2: Already using my brain trying to post this when I took the tablet. That weird head tensiony not-headache going on. Not sure I’ll get much impact this morning.

…..

20th June 2018

Okay. Phase 2 started about 5 days ago. Here’s where I’m at:

No major changes on just one tablet per day so phase 2 is an increase to two (one after breakfast and one after lunch, though with health varying these meals vary pretty wildy timewise).

However, I didn’t mention something in my list of symptoms above because if I listed all my symptoms you’d fall asleep trying to read them! Yet it seems to have improved a bit since taking the phenylalanine. No idea yet whether this is causal or coincidental, time will tell.

The unmentioned issue is that since my fall injury I’ve been reacting badly to certain things. I experience near-syncope, nausea, facial drooping, limbs powering down, slurring, eyes flickering independently of each other, dystonia in my legs. The triggers all seem to be when there’s too much for me to process i.e.:

  • motion (in a car, worse on narrow and/or windy roads, first person gaming)
  • flickering lights (florescent, daylight through trees when I’m travelling)
  • audio input at the same time as motion impacts harder and quicker (e.g. music, radio, audio book)

I’m hoping the supplement is related to the improvement in how well I cope with motion. All I can do is keep working through phase 2 and see what happens.

 

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The chronic illness Christmas card paradox

I received a hand-made Christmas card from a friend I haven’t seen for ages. It gave me such a lift.

Handmade card from Glenys

Enter a caption

Now I find myself hopefully checking the doormat every day during the run up to Christmas.

Being chronically ill means we’re often lonely. We’re feeling separate from the world that we used to move around in. Every day I check the doormat because a card sitting there would be such a wonderful lift and would help me cope with the long symptomatic Groundhog Day stretching ahead of me. The thing is, it’s hard to write cards when you’re chronically ill. Using what little functionality you have to do so means you can’t do other things. Which is the same for everyone of course but when it comes to illness it’s not about losing time it’s about losing functionality to do something really key, like being able to eat dinner. And whereas missing out on basics like eating isn’t the best for healthy folk, it’s much more severely impacting on an already malfunctioning body.

From a healthy person’s perspective, it’s not that they’ve consciously decided not to send us a card any more for Christmas, birthday or whatever the occasion may be. Well, okay, for some people it might be. It’s not an unusual human response to think that they’re not going to send cards to people who don’t send cards to them, but mainly it’s very usual to not understand what it’s like to be chronically ill.

Being absent from friend’s lives makes us fade into the background because they have other friends they see regularly. Whereas for us, well, we don’t generally get to see our friends. Travel is erm, difficult (one heck of an understatement, I know) so we see whoever we actually live with… and medical practitioners. (Sooo many medical practitioners). Oh and walls. And ceilings (those of us with Dysautonomia tend to know some of our ceilings in quite a bit of detail)! We don’t tend to get to see anyone else. So the friends we haven’t seen for years can be just as important to us now as they were back when we were able to see them in 3D. They do not fade into the background because our foreground is mostly illness, they stand out in the bright and colourful areas that we like the most.

Potentially a healthy friend and a chronically ill friend can perhaps feel very differently about each other. And it’s hard to feel ourselves being faded from their main friend space when they are often still our main friends.

We can’t help hoping for indications through the post that maybe they haven’t forgotten us either, that even though we are ever-absent from their lives that they still somehow care meaningfully about us.

There is a paradox when we make that massive effort though… “I’m determined to write cards this year…” knowing full well that we’re going to make ourselves more ill by doing so: the cards that plop onto the doormat are more often a response to the card we sent rather than something that would have been posted otherwise. So then all that effort brings us a bitter-sweet moment. A card that is meaningful to us and yet never would have arrived if we hadn’t managed to send one ourselves. We learn that when we can’t write cards there are very few people who will still remember us regardless, but we push ourselves every year because we want to send people some love. We don’t write cards to receive them, that is most certainly not the point. We try to write them because our friends mean so much to us. It’s human to feel somewhat bereft when it appears that regard between friends has become imbalanced and yes it’s not actually about cards at all, despite how we tie ourselves in knots trying to work out if we can physically afford the impact from writing them. It’s about connecting with friendships at meaningful times. About feeling loved and included. That we’re still of some importance or significance to them. And it’s about feeling a little less alone at a time of year when loneliness can be most difficult.

In the end we have to be kind to ourselves. If it’s going to reduce our functionality to the point of being even more impaired in meeting our most basic needs then we shouldn’t be pushing ourselves to do it. The reality of not receiving any festive cards is an extra sadness in the overall cruddiness that is being really ill all the time, but we really need to manage our health. Fortunately our pals who also happen to be fellow patients totally get it, we support each other and reiterate our friendships online. Thank goodness for the internet! Though we still try, and each year some of us will succeed in writing a few cards and asking someone else to get us stamps and post them for us.

Interestingly, I find that my doormat is more likely to be graced by completely random arrivals that have nothing to do with yearly events. These are perhaps the most beautiful and lifting kind. When someone has thought of you just because they have, not because you’re on a list. The arrivals tend to be from a few astoundingly thoughtful friends who I either rarely see or have never even met in 3D. These are the heartwarmers. The ones who make us smile just by thinking of them. They are most commonly fellow patients who understand in depth what living with chronic illness is like but who send something because of the love in friendship, not because of the illness we might share (even when what they send may in fact be totally related to our illness, and is super thoughtful and aware because of that too). These arrivals are overwhelming because we know how much it has cost them to do this, and they chose to do it anyway. Love is priceless.

metal straws

Like these metal drinking straws sent to my by ‘The Princess in the Tower’ so that I can still get some enjoyment from a cup of tea when I cannot raise my trying-to-faint head.

The other arrivals are from that rare breed of healthy friend who sees the health stuff, does their best to understand it but still sees us in here as well. We’re not just a walking illness to them, we’re a friend they love. And because they love their friends, seeing us so ill pains them terribly. But seeing us in here too, gives them hope and helps them cope with the illness stuff. They have to keep their distance to cope, but they don’t stop caring. I don’t think they know just how rare they are, many patients can count these friends on less than one hand.

Contact from those who still genuinely know us and who handle the illness that comes with us as best they can (effortlessly, in the case of fellow patients) means more than a token reciprocal card. People are insanely busy at Christmas. We get forgotten because they are buried in Stuff and they don’t actually see us in 3D. But those blanket text messages and occasional private social media messages that we receive instead mean the world to us. After all, we do the same. It’s better for our health to do it that way and we know that our sentiments are no less for having sent them out en masse, so we know that receiving friends’ messages like that are just as genuine. We may not be able to hang them up and look at them from wherever we are stuck dealing with symptoms that day, but they warm our hearts nonetheless and that’s way more important than warming our doormats.

The yearly paradox persists though simply because it’s nice to be able to send cards to the people we care about. To show we are thinking of them and give them something they can put up in their home instead of read once on their phone. We’d like to be able to be a bit more present in their lives that way. And we’d like to experience being on the receiving end of that, too. Let’s try to be kind to ourselves and allow us to send the messages to those we love in lieu of writing symptom-amplifying cards, or sending a selection of carefully chosen emojis or a voice message in the case of those patients who experience enormous impact from using their hands. Says the hypocrite sat here surrounded by cards that I hope to write.

Yep.

Every year. <headdesk>

Happy festivities to you all whichever they may be. Be kind to yourself, there are people out here wishing you well and who are dancing the paradox with you.

xx

Coping with ‘still’ being disowned

Family has to have a broader meaning or I wouldn’t survive. I put on a good front but what silently rips me apart everyday does so even more relentlessly at this time of year. So many of my fellow patients have also been disowned by members of their family, courtesy of neuro’ symptoms and the resulting accumulated misunderstandings. It’s a horrific ‘norm’ but I never thought my family would be that kind of normal. We were so close for so long. Two family members outright believe I’m some kind of opposite of me, one has never said what they think but hasn’t acknowledged any messages or even my basic existence since the others disowned me. One definitely knows I’m still me and I am blessed to have them in my life.

Family is those we care most about and who cares most about us. Some of those I care most about think bizarrely incorrect things of me which is a daily torture I struggle with. But the rest of the people in my life know who I am and their (your) mutually reciprocated love and care is what helps me to keep going. Thank you. For just being you. I love you being you.

Like many other patients I keep thinking that one day this nightmare will end. That those three members of my family will wake up one day and remember that I’m me but after, what is it now? Five or six years? I try really hard not to remember how long it’s been. After this long I have to find a way to let go of the need for that to happen whilst still keeping hope more generally. I have to find a way to stop the ‘why? wtf? how-is-this-even-possible? argh! I-can’t-cope-with-how-wrongly-they’ve-got-me’ going round and roouund my head each day.

Pain of confusing loss, broken heart

I live by distraction. It’s a chronic illness tool for survival which I try to apply to this kind of pain as well. Distraction is the only way I keep going in this regard but at this time of year when Magic Dude is at work and I can’t phone my Mum to wish her a happy Christmas because she’d hang up on me over stuff I don’t even understand, well, it’s a whole new level of hurt and confusion.

There’s aspects we hang on to in the hope that an answer will magically appear. In my case I’ll likely never find out what the confusing conversations were taken to mean. They were during my neuro’ downslide which was reducing my processing so swiftly that none of us stood a chance of finding out about that before it affected communications and interpretations. And why hang onto that? Even with the med’s that I have now I can’t read the explanatory email because my fight or flight still responds by trying to make me pass out. I actually tried to reply to that email in the beginning. We often try to deal with things as we would have pre-illness because we don’t realise at the time how cognitively compromised we can be. I made that mistake. I would read one paragraph then battle not to pass out and then, once I was vaguely upright again, I’d attempt a reply to that one paragraph without realising how severely my processing was being affected. It took me three months to write a reply because it took so many days to recuperate after reading each paragraph. You’d think I’d have cottoned on but I just thought it was the extreme distress causing it. I’d never been disowned before, but I’d never been so cognitively compromised before either.

To this day I have no idea what was in the email I received or the one I sent and as I can’t read either without getting severely symptomatic I have to accept that I am unlikely to ever know. And I think this is the issue for so many in this situation – we never get to resolve it, we never get to correct each other’s misunderstandings. It remains an open case. There’s no real understanding of how this came to be, it just happened one day out of the blue and that’s why we struggle to find a way forward. Because it’s not just the loss, it’s the fact that the loss seems so random and inexplicable. Being unaware of any comprehensible reasons for such an extreme life decision makes it a lot harder to accept and cope with. And that shock never seems to go away. Every day it slaps us in the face again. Having a faulty nervous system sucks.

One thing I do manage though is to hang onto what was. Before the inexplicable. Maybe that makes it harder in some ways but it definitely makes it easier to not implode entirely. I remember when Mum knew who I was. All those years, all that love, all those shared experiences – they are not erased and they’re not changed to fit with my new reality. They are a part of me and of my journey to who I am today. Admittedly who I am today was also massively impacted by being disowned but I do not have to let go of those good memories to deal with the confusing past few years. The good and the bad times are not mutually exclusive, they can co-exist Shroedinger style. Which can also be upsetting as the contrast is so extreme. But it forces me to look at the now. What I want from life in it’s current reality. And prodding me to keep focused on the present is no bad thing at all. That’s where life gets lived after all. I want to fill it with smiles and goodness.

So in each moment – what would help with the smiles thing? If I find I’m a bit stuck… planning housey stuff and sketching ideas (refocuses my mind to positive developing stuff), arty stuff (currently embroidering my first ever home-made curtains, they’re gonna be the prettiest bodge-job ever 😉 ), playing Lord of the Rings Online (it’s currently the Yuletide festival on there!), Facebook (connections with friends), online ‘window’ shopping (pretty stuff!), sometimes I can handle some music (maybe something enthusiastic like Florence and the Machine’s ‘Dog Days are Over’ or perhaps something beautifully chilled like Stevie Ray-Vaughan’s version of ‘Little Wing’ or delightfully nervous-system-calming like Ry Cooder’s ‘Dark is the Night’). What would your go-to list be? And would it be helpful to have that list up somewhere so that you can see it when your nervous system is raging or the thoughts are circling endlessly round and your cognition needs a helping hint?

This post was prompted by the first acknowledgement of my existence in aaaall this time by that one family member: today they removed me from an old message group. So I guess I finally have my answer on whether a) they wanted to have contact but felt caught in the middle, or b) it has been their choice to avoid me all these years. Maybe that’s helpful. I’m not sure yet. Maybe that’s one less question to drill into my soul each and every day.

I wanted to share my experience with my fellow patients so that you know that you are not alone. If you’re struggling with this kind of loss I want you to know that I ‘get it’ and I’m sending love and hugs. I am open about my loss, my distress, my confusion, my ongoing attempts to cope all these years later because this kind of stuff happens and I want you to be able to talk about it if you need to. It’s okay to talk about it. A common misnomer is that loss and grief get ‘better/easier with time’ whereas it’s really that we get better at coping with it. Of course it can be difficult to get better at coping when you’ve got a faulty nervous system that freaks out the moment that big-stuff-subject pops into your head. Hence that handy list of calming in-the-now stuff.

Getting my feelings down in writing also kind of helps. When this stuff begins to devour me I need to get it out somehow. The process naturally makes me re-assess my approach and behaviour which helps me think about what I need to work on next to better cope with the loss and confusion. There’s plenty of research on how writing can be helpful. If you need to talk and there’s no-one around at the time it’s another option to get those endlessly whirling thoughts out of your head. Maybe give it try. Poetry can be pretty cathartic so don’t be afraid of different types of writing. Write like no-one’s ever going to see it because no-one ever has to.

If this post makes you feel any better, any less alone, then hopefully you now know that it’s okay to feel how you feel. This is no easy or quick fix. We are complex beings even without the chronic neuro-illness complications. But it’s okay to feel and it might help to get some of those feelings out, whether that’s onto paper or with a trusted friend. You don’t have to bottle it up.

And if you know someone who is struggling with the impacts of chronic illness on their family attachments (or indeed struggling in any way). I want you to know that just by listening, by acknowledging, just by being you – you make a difference. There’s no need to encourage them to talk endlessly about things, (with conditions like mine that could actually rile up the nervous system even more), just being an ear and then being the much loved distraction that you are helps enormously.

Wishing you smiles and goodness,

Sending love to you all, xx

Managing in a new home

Well, what a palaver moving home is when you are chronically ill eh?

It all started so many months ago with packing well in advance so that I could do a little bit each day during my paced daily activity. The pacing is such a crucial part of my pain management so I can’t go overdoing it as then I risk sending my nervous system back into it’s old amplifying ways. But then there’s all the viewings of potential houses, sometimes Magic Dude was at work and I had to drive myself to viewings and take pictures to show him. It all adds up and takes its toll. And it takes its toll for a long time afterwards. Trouble is it doesn’t stop there of course.

We tried to buy a place and had to pull out when we found out there were potential structural problems so we found ourselves back at square one again. Our buyer hung on (and on) (for months) and we eventually found another place, won the bid and then it took ages to actually get through all the paperwork and reach the incredibly stressful moving day. It was all so well organised by us to best manage my health issues but the handing over of the keys was out of our control. Our lovely removal guys were sat outside the new place for hoouurs waiting for us to call them and let them know that we’d finally been given the keys and were on our way. In the end it was so late in the day that they called in a couple of extra guys at no extra cost just to get unloaded in time. They were awesome. But yikes, what a day!

As I now have immune responses to loads of different things Magic Dude and I cracked on with my second paced activity of the day removing the bedroom carpet, under which was a layer of lino and under that was a layer of disintegrating black spongy stuff. It was a messy job so we wore facemasks and got on with filling up rubbish bags and cleaning the uncovered floorboards. Windows open to air it out. Mattress made up on the floor. Eeeeeevrything else shoved into the extension because we foolishly thought we’d be decorating everywhere pretty soon, haha. Silly us!

We have got loads done, though.

First things first… the health stuff:

New boiler because I need to be warm to help manage my pain levels.
– we were lucky to get a government grant via a local environmental charity and after taking some info'(including Magic Dude’s income) we were awarded an additional grant from one of the charity’s other schemes as well. The government ‘Green Deal’ has finished now but it’s always worth checking with any local teams or charities to see what’s available as they receive grants from elsewhere too. Your local council should know who in the area you could contact to ask about this stuff.

Boiler

Loft and wall cavity insulation for the same reason. If I’m not warm I’m in more pain. Simple as.
– we had the work done by energy company EDF as per advice from our local environment team. Many energy companies in the UK offer schemes like this but EDF are unusual in that they are the only one currently offering this service to disabled people who used to work. If you receive contribution-based disability benefits you are not included in many schemes available. Purportedly this is because contributions based disability ESA (for those of us who happened to have been able to work at some point in the past) is more than the income based version but for me personally the addition of about £3 doesn’t make enough of a difference for this to make sense. Yes, I know, whether we used to be more ‘able’ makes no difference to our current state of disability or the help we need now, but hey, the rules are created by non-disabled people and they are politicians who don’t get stuff. What can I say?!

Both these schemes for the boiler and the insulation were brilliant. I am so truly thankful for their assistance I have no words to describe it.

Security.
– also recommended to us by our local environment team was a charity called the Blue Lamp Trust which covers England & Wales. It’s a security charity of which many employees are ex-policeman and so they really know their stuff. They help a lot of domestic violence victims as well as disabled and elderly folk. I’m home alone and non-functional most of the time so I had highlighted a security concern and said I’d appreciate some input and advice. What I actually got was lots of really good security advice on all fronts and even more than that… including two new smoke alarms, a door chain, a door bolt, three different planned fire routes for us to get out in the event of a fire, tips on how to handle cold callers (in person and on the phone), he would have given us a carbon monoxide detector as well if we hadn’t have already gone and bought one, and even some tips for avoiding identity theft. In addition to all that he was an absolutely lovely chap who used to police our area so knew it really well and he didn’t even complain when I made him a bad cup of tea!

Blue Lamp Trust

So (for England and Wales) if you’re one of my fellow disabled or if you know anyone vulnerable (including victims of domestic violence) who would like to feel safer at home I can recommend contacting the Blue Lamp Trust through their Bobby Scheme.

Other than that it’s been typical do-er upper work!

We bought a place with the space I needed as I’m stuck at home unable to work. At the old house we had no space so if I wanted to try to do anything I lost most of my activity time to setting things up and then putting them all away again so I couldn’t actually get much done in between at all. Now we have more space so I can (eventually – once we get the boxes unpacked) set things up then just leave it where it is for next time. Reducing my set-up/put-away time and increasing my quality of life. Hurrah!

To get that space we had to get a do-er upper though. Houses ready to live in were too small and houses with space were in need of er, most things! So we bought a place that was well under our budget so we’d have some money to get it liveable, but we still couldn’t have done this without the help of the crucial grants. Thanks to the grants covering the boiler and insulation we had the money to get the dangerous old 1950s rubber wiring replaced throughout, get the two-level floor (with a steep ramp between the two where a wall had once been removed) amended to one level to stop me from tripping over it when I’m struggling with symptoms and a new kitchen (because we had to rip the very old one out to get the floor levelled).

Ta-dah! Money gone! So now we’re on to good old fashioned home DIY (‘Do It Yourself’).

Gosh I’d love to sleep in a bed! And have somewhere to put my clothes. And not have eeeeeverything re-covered in dust each day! But we’re getting there. Albeit slowly.

Cooking in kitchen

Our kitchen after the floor had been levelled

It’s been nearly four months since we moved in. It’s great to no longer be cooking on the camping stove and I’m chuffed to not have to wash the dishes in the bath any more although I am still washing my hair in the kitchen sink when I can stand up long enough! The shed now has a roof (storage space to reduce the amount of crap in the house!) and we’ve re-purposed the old kitchen units to go in there. I’m pretty chuffed with how that plan came together. Poor Magic Dude was so terribly down about living in such a building site so I arranged a surprise for him – his bestest mate and my lovely bruv came round one day whilst he was at work and we sorted out most of the shed roof. I say ‘we’, but that’s pretty cheeky as I couldn’t do much of course.

He was in shock for several hours after he came home and found what had been happening in his absence but eventually he started nudging me from time to time and then grinning at me! I had hoped it would help him out of the doldrums but the effect was way bigger than that as he got really enthusiastic again and threw himself at the remaining shed jobs with gusto. It was flipping wonderful for us three to be able to help him so much with a plan so ‘simple’.

Shed roof

One very holey shed roof!

I say ‘simple’. None of us had done anything like that before. We researched it thoroughly and then kinda made it up as we went along. 😉

After much removing of carpets, fire-hazard ceiling tiles, wallpaper, filling of holes and cracks, sanding of well, everything… we are fiiinally about to be able to paint some base coats on a few walls. In fact Magic Dude is doing exactly that as I edit this and I want to go and see but can’t get up, waaah! I’ll get to see it later though. And we still have the dyeing and varnishing of the upstairs floorboards to do (another thoroughly researched but totally new endeavour)!

So we’re getting there.

Slowly.

And my pain levels are worse because anything extra throws them out. I work hard to pace my daily activity but have found it easy to get too involved and overdo my morning physio so I then do less for my evening physio to balance it out. This then means that I’m doing different activities to usual and training my body to be more flexible on how my daily activity is grouped when it really is much more sensible to only vary one thing at a time. Still, I’ve done pretty well restricting my activity to the crucial paced time per day overall during all this change, tradesmen noise and long list of stuff that needs doing.

Magic Dude has now driven me to a few Tai Chi classes whilst he’s been off work to try and help me normalise my paced activity a little more. I’m learning a new and challenging style (Chen) so that’s a good distraction to think about between paced physios. And when thinking isn’t distraction enough to help me cope with the pain I resort to immersing my senses in Lord of the Rings Online for a while.

Me, decorating

Sometimes I’m able to help out a bit during my daily paced physio time

So, I guess to sum up: I’ve moved home, I live in perpetual dust, I’m trying to convince my lower torso get involved in Chen style Tai Chi and I’m nearly out of the dangerous tunnels of Moria! 😉

xx

CRPS Awareness photo challenge: flames and ice

Today’s photo challenge is to post something which includes flames, as they are often used to symbolise the burning pain experienced in CRPS. As I created the firey flaming CRPS awareness ribbon the other day I have put together another couple of info’ posters using that but I have made a point of adding in something else so that more of us CRPSers feel represented.

Many of us experience a different kind of burning. An icy burning. Sometimes it occurs as part of the CRPS doing it’s thing in our affected areas and sometimes it is triggered by an external source (for example I have to wear gloves to get anything out of the freezer coz it burns so much). (Wow, that’s not a good font to write about burning in, it looks like it says ‘bums’, oh dear)!

Of course there’s not really a ‘one or the other’ scenario. Despite recent research rumblings about ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ CRPS as either potential subtypes or as a way of referring to acute and chronic CRPS, many of us experience both the hot and cold burning. So for a large percentage of CRPSers the hot and cold representations are a truer representation of our personal experience with the condition.

Anyway, I have created two more info posters using exactly the same info’ but with an additional cold theme. One with an iceberg, and one with a background pattern of the icy frost that forms on glass. Here’s hoping you like them.

 

Firey ribbon, iceberg, graded background, info poster

 

Flaming ribbon on iced glass info poster

 

I’ll add them to the Fbk blog page as well so that if you feel they are useful to share they are at least easily accessible.

Much love from me,

x

CRPS Awareness photo challenge: fear and coping

Today’s challenge is to post a quote which has helped me cope. This little gem of a quote is from the book ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert.

Fear is the mind killer

It gives us a choice in the face of bad things. We don’t have to accept being flattened by our circumstances. Changing our response to fear gives us back some control. We can feel our emotions but we don’t have to be overwhelmed by them.
The kind of life changes that result from chronic ill health have been described as a kind of drowning.

This quote suggests we can get through this. And we can. 💜

x

CRPS Awareness photo challenge: regained

Suzy's photo challenge, 2015, day 11

Something I never thought I’d do again.

A bit tricky for me as if I find I can’t do something any more I don’t think “that’s it, I’ll never do that again”, – I accept that I can’t do that for now but I don’t write everything off entirely. That would be a very defeatist approach which I avoid because that’s enough to make anyone prone to depression. Besides, this neuro condition is all about change. Some changes can be positive. So there’s nothing important that I’ve written off that it turns out I can now do again during physio time. Except for… grating cheese and rolling pastry!

Heh!

The important things that I had to accept as written off are few but sadly they still stand.

But at least I can grate cheese again, right?!

x

Send in the clowns

Well here we are again. Well done people, you’ve traversed another year. Whatever you’ve been through this year, the ups, the downs, the wibbles, you’ve been awesome. You’ve hung in there and here you are now reading about my own little adventure new years eve.

I went out today to run some errands. It made me realise how long it’s been since I drove myself into town for a physio’. I was actually a bit nervous about going so far from the house on my own with no-one to meet there ‘just in case’. But it was a successful trip. The festive market has gone so there’s more pedestrian space, and the multitude of shoppers has thinned back down to a more usual amount so I didn’t have to wait in any long queues, hurrah!

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Christmas lights

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I bought some Christmas cards for next year (I know, organised eh?! hehe), a notebook for my upcoming free online course on medical neuroscience and some beer for Magic Dude to swig at midnight tonight to see in the new year with me. But I also grabbed some unexpected additions: some cute lights to hang from the mantle piece and a reindeer decoration for the Christmas tree. Oh, and obviously I needed a Batman biro with multiple colour options. And a glittery travel mug. Obviously. 😉

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New Years Eve buying

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Living with chronic illness does tend to be a bit of a circus at times so new years eve is often pretty hard for many of my fellow patients out there. We tend to find the laughs, silliness and smiles where we can but some times are harder than others. Which is why I want to share this…. I fell about laughing when I finally saw this following little ditty last night which may become my theme tune for 2015….

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Imagine leaving a doctors appointment where we’ve seen a practitioner particularly lacking in knowledge specific to our conditions – what a circus. What better to cheer us up than to sing quietly to ourselves as we leave…”dah-dah-daddle-uh-da-dah-dah Circus…”! By the time I get to the bit about polka-dots I expect I’ll be chuckling. We’re stronger than we think.

Sending best wishes for the new year to you all,

Love from me

x

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P.S. Here’s a version in multiple languages. Just because. 😉

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Inspiring addition

I was window-shopping online during a time of brainlessness and I spotted a cushion cover which made me feel inspired.

We are often told we “can’t” do things and we soo often feel that we “can’t”, especially as we have a tendency to compare our abilities with that of our former selves. Change over time happens to everyone and we are being rather unfair on ourselves by comparing the me-now with the me-in-the-past, and extra unfair by focusing on what we can do instead of who we are. Change happens to everyone in various ways. And yes our health changes can be pretty massive, but the way forward is helped enormously by the way we view things. Our reality involves our perception of it. And perception plays an extra big part for us when it comes to coping skills and finding the positives.

Being able to turn those “can’t”s around into “can”s is a truly fabulous feeling. And feeling inspired is often such a floaty-light moment of gloriousness where we rediscover our smile, our hope, our confidence, our determination. It is not to be underestimated or neglected.

So I bought that cushion cover for myself. Every time I looked at it online I felt inspired so bringing that inspiration into my home where I could see it every day seemed eminently sensible!

It arrived yesterday, having travelled all the way from Australia, thanks to a shop on eBay…

Inspirational cushion cover

And the monkey was a pressie from, and created by, one of my friends from school so he makes me smile too. He and the cushion are a pretty good pairing!
(Thank you Jaime, he’s been enjoying sitting on the chair by the window in the front room). 🙂

What inspires you?

Is there something you could move to a more prominent position so that you feel lifted when you most need it?

x

The Elusive Spoon

This is written for Dysautonomia Awareness month and is spoon related as a result of Christine Miserando’s well known “Spoon Theory“. This is a bit of a day with a CRPS & Dysautonomia patient…

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Oh no, really? Morning already? How did that happen?! I mean it’s not like I got any actual quality sleep or anything! Ugh!

Scrunching her eyes up and contracting her muscles to pull herself back under the covers Elsie tried to come to terms with the time.

Yep. There’s no getting around it. It’s definitely morning and if I don’t get up I’m gonna be pushed for time.

Flopping the covers back she raised herself up slowly then waited for the spots of light to stop dancing in front of her eyes before attempting a full upright position.

Scooping up a pile of cutlery next to the bed, and then returning one to the bedside cabinet, she reached for her mobile phone to check the time. 9.30am.

Oh no, I’ve only got an hour!

A brief look of panic crossed her face before being replaced with one of intense determination.

“Right!”

Pushing herself up to standing she moved stiffly across the bedroom, being very careful to step overly widely around the corner of the bed.

No bruise that time. Hah!

Slowly becoming a little less bent over as she walked to the bathroom, she piled the cutlery on the windowsill as she reached for the toothbrush.

With clean teeth, washed body, brushed hair and an empty bladder she made her way back to the bedroom. A little more alert and minty fresh than before. A small pile of cutlery now also sat on the bathroom windowsill but the remainder was clutched in one hand and got deposited on the bed as she found underwear, tracksuit bottoms, a couple of layers and her handbag. After dressing she placed a couple more pieces of cutlery on the bedside cabinet, before stuffing the rest in her bag with the mobile phone and heading off downstairs.

How am I doing timewise? Checking her phone again. Pretty good. Still time for a proper breakfast. On went the kettle, into the microwave went the porridge, and she started counting out supplements, vitamins and medications into a pretty coloured shot glass. Tea made, porridge mixed with scrummy cinnamon, tablets collected together, hot water bottle made… all went into the living room and she turned the TV on for company before collapsing on the sofa.

Placing the hot water bottle under her legs and pulling a nearby blanket over them she grimaced a little but only for a moment. Then that look of determination returned again. Reaching for her bag she removed some of the cutlery, placing it on the table.

Hmmmm, this bag’s getting light already.

Half an hour later and once again standing upright, Elsie makes a soft drink to put into the bag along with a bag of ginger, half a bag of salted pumpkin seeds kept shut with a metal stationery clip, and her collapsed practice sword.

“Trainers! Can’t be forgetting them now, can I?”

I wonder if my neighbours can hear me talking to myself? Hehe
Coat, bag, keys, flask, mobile, trainers, insoles…. yep I think I’m ready.

Reaching into her bag she removed several items of cutlery and left them on the coffee table before locking up the house and settling into the car for the short journey into the outskirts of town.

As she pulled up into the car park at the industrial estate there was a single piece of cutlery lying on the passenger seat. After finding no parking spaces and all the disabled bays taken she had to use a space outside on the main road to walk from. Before leaving the car she placed her disabled parking badge on the dashboard and a second spoon next to the first and then walked to a business unit where she greeted classmates and teacher and started industriously putting on her trainers and doing some stretches that have a tendency to make other people’s eyes water. But that’s hypermobility for you!

After 15 minutes of calming Chi Gong she felt more separate from any stresses and strains but had to drink some of her lemon squash to try and reduce her body’s urge to faint. Some glugs of fluid later and the class were moving in time to the music for the Yang style 24 form of Tai Chi. It’s the form often seen practiced around the world and it felt good to go through the moves together as a group and to feel the body responding to what was being asked of it. The familiar moves being reined in by Elsie so that she doesn’t topple over as often nearly happens early in a lesson.

Good thing the teacher knows about me or I’d have a list of corrections as long as my arm!

While the others were chatting about the moves they’d just worked through, Elsie quickly ate some ginger to try to reduce the nausea, had another couple of swigs of fluid to try to reduce the faintyness and then she expanded her practice sword to it’s full length to start some individual work. The class numbers were small today and there was a little more space to wave the sword around!

It felt good to work through the sword moves she knew so far, but after some corrections from the teacher the fluidity and meaning of the moves increased and it felt great! No, it felt awesome! How wonderful to be upright and moving with purpose. She knew the moves could look beautiful if she worked at it hard enough, so while the lesson lasted she went over and over and over… just getting the moves more clearly etched into her head and into her ‘muscle memory’ for an even better foundation to work on. Fantastic!

When she returned home she found that getting out of the car was already difficult. Walking as well as she could she went indoors to put the kettle on again. The pain was already rising. She could not stand long enough to make any food for a midday lunch so she grabbed a banana and a protein flapjack. With hot water bottle and a cup of tea she returned to her spot under the blanket and this time she lay down flat to try to help her body recover from the near-fainting that had come on.

Reaching for her bag she removed several pieces of cutlery and looked at what she had left. One piece for everything she did. Starting with a finite number she had to lose a spoon for every move she made. One for getting to the bathroom. One for getting washed. One for getting dressed. They go down in number so fast it makes her days very tricky. Carefully placing her remaining spoons on top of her bag she figured she might have enough to get ready for bed later, but not enough to get any food.

Sighing she lay back and waited for the heat of the hot water bottle to help her muscles relax a little, for the pain levels to reduce a little from the high levels to something a little less screamy.

She knew she’d not be able to move for several hours.

Good thing I forced myself to the bathroom already or I’d be dying for a wee by now!

Resigning herself to the hours of pain ahead she smiled to herself.

An hour ago I was doing sword Tai Chi! What an achievement!

She grinned and adjusted the position of her legs. Then turned on the laptop to see how her fellow patients were doing that day. Her brain was not up to much at all, but at least she could say hi and check everyone was okay.

She settled in for the long haul. Distraction would help pass the recovery time. Then it would be time to physio’ again. That’s when she would decide what to do about not being able to get food. Maybe one of those vitamin powdered drinks, she could possibly mix that with milk before running out of spoons entirely and ending up in a mega-flare.

We’ll see. That’s later. This is now. And right now I’m chuffed that I learnt more in my physio’ class today.

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Spoons are more than cutlery to us ‘Spoonies’, they are our metaphorical spoons that help to describe our medically induced limitations to others. We try to make spoons last longer, try to get the most value out of each one that we can. We desperately wish we had more of them to be able to function a little more during each day and often send virtual spoons to each other in solidarity for our daily challenges. Sometimes we ‘borrow’ spoons from the next day, a kind of advance on spoons that we will severely pay for later in health repercussions.

The 'Ishishara Spoon' created for one of Jasper Fford's books

The ‘Ishishara Spoon’ created for one of Jasper Fford’s books

Picture source – no longer available but it was a challenge on Jasper Fford’s Facebook page to use various images. He was intrigued to find out what we might use them for!
You can still see this artwork on his webbie here though. 🙂

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 x