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

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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

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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: 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