Why We Carry On: Living with Pain and Illness

So, the title of this is pretty bleak and to be honest the content isn’t too much brighter. However, the purpose of this is to be able to look at a serious issue that claims the life of so many and to determine the reasons why we carry on.

When I first became ill I was ready to kill myself. I planned how I would do it and the worrying thing is that I had no strong emotions towards the idea of it. At the age of 17 I had been driven crazy beyond the burden of physical illness due to doctors, specialists and people who were in positions of trust and power leading me to believe that there was nothing wrong. I was ill. Physically and mentally. However, I was too ill to leave the house. Too high on painkillers to really understand what was going on. That is why I am still here.

My personal situation at that time had left me with very few friends who knew or understood my situation and even less who cared. My mum experienced all of it, the same as, if not worse than, what I was going through. It was apparent that to her, the only thing worse than me being in that state was me not being there at all.

Since I first became ill, I have had operations, counselling, pain management, good days, bad days, mental illness and physical illness yet the suicidal thoughts I once had now no longer cross my mind. Self-realisation, the people around me, and everything that has happened in my life has led me to this.

I am currently the most ill I have been in a very long time. I have suffered with chronic pain for over three and a half years and the episode leading up to its induction took place almost continually for the 3 years prior to it. As a 23-year-old, I work it out to be approximately one fifth of my life I have lived in near-constant pain and at the age of 20 I was told that there is a good chance this pain will be permanent. That’s pretty intense and you can imagine the effects that has on me. Yet, like I say, any thoughts of suicide are now gone.

I experience some days and moments where I cannot get out of bed through crippling pain accompanied by anxiety. I go to work and can feel lonely despite being surrounded by people because they don’t understand my problems. I cancel plans with friends and am judged because I’m too exhausted from an entire day of pretending that I am okay. These can be dark moments. Sometimes it’s hard to see past a moment, into the future when everything will be okay again. But it will be.

Mindset

I have looked a lot into positive mindsets and mindfulness and this has helped me massively. I have seen mindfulness workshops and programmes which may be fantastic but can also try and force the ideas upon you. Positive mindset is really something that you need to explore yourself, in your own ways and at your own time.

While some find meditation and breathing techniques beneficial others may have just as good an experience by listening to relaxing music such as Hammock or Bonobo (personal favourites), others may find that peaceful walking or exercise work; explore these options that are able to calm yourself and your thoughts and redirect your attention back to yourself and the present as well as the positives in your life.

For me, to realise that it is only my foot that is truly hurting and that the rest of my body is pain-free helps me to calm down and take control of my emotions. This particular technique is called a body scan. When dealing with stress from work and exams on top of pain, I found exercise to be the best medicine for controlling my mind.

You may be different so it is worth exploring all options before giving up on trying to give yourself a positive mindset. I personally thought the whole meditation and mindfulness area was a load of hippie-bullshit before I tried it but it has actually helped my condition the most.

Positive people

The people in my life now are there for a reason. Counselling helped me to open up and this has been one of the biggest steps in preventing any suicidal thoughts. There are now people in my life who I know care for me greatly and likewise I care for them. A lot of the actions in my life are to benefit the people I love, this makes me happy. Seeing my own effects on people makes a massive difference in the way I see the world.

Find someone to love and to love you, someone you can talk to about your fears and pain and sometimes just getting these out there in the open can help. As someone in a supporting role, you do not need to offer advice, just offer support, let them know you are there and able to help them if they would like. People in my life who understand that keep me going every single day. They are superheroes and a lot of the time they do not even know it.

I keep up with the news without reading too much into it as it is filled with negativity where the worst people receive the most screen time. People such as the Dalai Lama preach positivity and talk of how to make the world a better place. Listen to them and carry out their suggestions and you will find yourself a happier person. I find my own life much more fulfilling by carrying out little acts of random kindness.

Positive actions

When you are well, do things you are proud of and things you want to do. Take advantage of feeling well and reflect on these when you are not, it can be powerful to reflect on your potential and for myself it makes me determined to get back to this state. I am understanding that it will take time to get back there but thinking about some of the things I have achieved adds a willingness to return to that mindset.

I have run cross-country marathons, I teach self-defence, I am also a school teacher. The mindset required to do those things does not generally cater for illness. I’m a ninja. I’m an athlete. I’m a role model. I am not ill when I’m doing those things.

If you enjoy doing something make the most of it. It may sound silly but, especially as someone who is ill, don’t do recreational activities that you don’t enjoy! If you don’t like going to nightclubs or the gym, don’t go. Forget about other peoples’ expectations and opinions and focus on what you enjoy. Be open to trying new things because you may surprise yourself but do what makes you happy.

Remember to enjoy the little things: chocolate, pets, cuddles…whatever that may be.

Further support

Finally, and most importantly is get help. I could never have got through my difficult times and the issues I am currently going through by myself. For a long time, I have tried to deal with my issues on my own and have failed miserably. There are organisations such as The Good Samaritans, professionals such as doctors and GPs, counsellors, and online forums that can help you or anyone you are worried about. Don’t suffer in silence.

Talking to people has been my saviour and there is always someone willing to listen. It is difficult to talk about any illness you have but there are a lot of people that will be supportive: friends, family, professionals or strangers. You are never alone if you know where to look.

If anyone would like to talk to me personally about this or offer their own suggestions please do.

Love.

Pain, how not to be bigger than it

My diary entry today during a flare up. The rest of the Pain diaries will be updated this weekend. Love x 

Thursday 20/04/2017I woke up again in a lot of pain but determined not to let people down again, I went into work.

I constantly tell myself to be bigger than my pain, more than my illness. The frequency to which I tell myself this makes me think that a lot of the time I’m not bigger than my pain.

Living with any type of illness is hard. Don’t let anyone make you think that is isn’t or that you should be dealing with your problems better. Sometimes I’m on top of the world but sometimes I’m going through hell. I can struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I start re planning my life as if everyday I were to experience me at my worst.

This is now normal.

“Fuck, I wish I was normal” I say to myself over and over.

Be bigger than your pain.

Your illness can define you and right now it is defining me. I think I’m close to being the worst I’ve been since my pain started over 3 years ago. Fuck I wish I was normal.

Be bigger than your pain.

Most days I get up and get on with it. I am bigger than my pain. I’m allowed to be ill. I am ill. That’s hard to admit. It’s hard to talk about. But I am ill. Ill. Fucking ill. Every-fucking-day. The world keeps on turning even though I’m ill. If I stop nothing else does. That’s why I need to carry on. Carry on going. Carry on being bigger than my pain. It is hard.

Things will get better eventually and I know that but for the time-being they are bad. I carry on to make the wrong decisions and be dominated by my pain and it has been going on for a length of time now where I will need a significant change to help me out of this rut. Please don’t do what I’ve done. Look after yourself better and speak to people more about your issues, no matter how small or sudden you think they are. As soon as things start getting bad take the reigns of your life, your illness, your emotions and steer them the way you want them to go. You have a lot of control of your own emotions.

I’m in a lot of pain and I am not feeling bigger than it

But that’s okay, because soon I will be through this flare up, and back on top of the world. Just like last time. Just like the time before that.

Anxiety and Dreaming: Don’t Sleep Away Your Problems

We all like sleep. Sleep is good. Naps? Phawrrr, I could go for a nap right now! A much-needed escape from the plethora of stress encountered on a daily basis. As someone with chronic pain and anxiety it doesn’t necessarily come naturally and it can sometimes make things much worse. I warn you now that the middle part of this does real a little like a horror story.

I often have bad dreams, they come as an unwanted side effect when I am in pain. I wanted to share an experience however of what happened to me when I fell asleep during an anxiety attack and why you should never do it. I don’t talk about this much and if I’m honest the whole situation still makes me very uncomfortable but I learnt the hard way how not to deal with anxiety attacks.

I remember the day being bright. This was when I was in my first year of university in a house of strangers. There was a dog barking outside, sound is my trigger for an attack when I feel one coming on. I think I was already in bed trying to nap (because we all love a good nap). I pulled the duvet over my head and curled up into a ball. I always do this; the bed becomes a cosy womb and I feel safe and comforted. The dog was still barking and every time it did felt like it was getting closer and closer.

That’s when I fell asleep. I don’t remember falling asleep and the whole scenario played out as if it were one continuous event. It was warm so I emerged from my comfort-cocoon and stared at the sunlight reflecting off of my door. I turned my head to my desk and someone was sat at it. I felt a lump in throat. The figure was entirely blacked out. Like a void. The head turned and looked at me with no distinct features. I pulled the covers back over my head.

I stayed there for a bit. There were no sounds. The dog’s barking had faded into nothing. I peered back out and the figure was now stood at the end of my bed. I shut my eyes. I couldn’t move. When I opened them again the figure was no longer stood there. As I looked to my left it was sat next to me in the bed.

There were no words exchanged, no violent gestures and nothing menacing other than the presence of this figure and the nature of its appearance. I turned away from it pulling the duvet back over my head. Still the figure did nothing, but then, a banging started on my door. So loud and so clear with a voice shouting questions and responding to them immediately after as if I had called a response. This woke me up.

I hadn’t realised that I had been dreaming until that point. I couldn’t move though and didn’t leave the house for the next day or so. Of all the fear I have ever felt nothing comes close to that, nothing has ever seemed so real.

So what’s my point? Other than showcasing my budding talent as the new Stephen King, I feel like this says a lot about how you should be dealing with anxiety and any problems you have. Not until I started working with my problems instead of against them did I start to get better. Any problem you are experiencing is your body trying to tell you something. My anxiety can be explained as a perfectly normal response to my chronic pain but I still need to listen to what it is saying to be able to deal with the issue.

Suppressing feelings like this will not help you deal with them. What actually happens is you will create a conflict between you and your problems. The Buddhists describe this as “the second arrow”. Experience the discomfort without reacting to it. This will stop further pain and anguish for you beyond the actual issue. This is where being accepting of your issues and facing them head on will benefit you.

Going to sleep in this instance was my second arrow. It just so happened to hit my right between the fucking eyes. Sleeping can seem like an escape but often you should not be trying to escape from the problem, you need to face it, listen to your body, and if you need it, seek further help. Don’t try and sleep away your problems. Definitely not if it is an anxiety attack.

Be kind to yourself.

Why it’s a good thing that no one cares about your invisible illness

Having an invisible illness can feel like the worse thing in the world. Not only do you feel a tremendous amount of pain, struggle through life more so than most people and still have to deal with everyday shit like bills and work, but all of your effort goes completely un-noticed. Un-fair right?

As a teacher, I have stood at the front of a classroom of teenagers trying to teach maths (or math if you are American) with the room spinning and my leg shaking about to give way due to my chronic pain. Do you know how many people in that room noticed that I was ill? Zero. And that is what got me through the lesson.

Have you ever been stood on a bus, desperate for a seat and not had anyone offer you one? Same. I’m 23, I look fit and healthy and in many ways, I am. Sometime I wish that people could see my illness, see my limitations and understand what I’m feeling but then I would be treated differently, and I don’t want that.

The Dalai Lama said: “If I consider myself as something different from you…then actually I create myself as a prisoner.”

Our ailments affect each of us differently in ways that no other human being can imagine but if we start to think of ourselves as truly different then we cannot be happy. How many times have you wished that you could be normal? Well what’s more normal that standing up on a bus?

Everybody feels pain and though it may not always be the same as yours take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. You are not a prisoner.

The greatest gift of your invisible illness is your ability to blend in and watch the world go by without people stopping and drawing attention to your differences. You are not your illness. You are bigger than your illness and if you start to forget that then it is very hard to escape this downwards spiral into anxiety and depression.

Being ill is difficult. Being ill and being able to go and live your life as if you aren’t ill is fucking amazing. You won’t be able to do it every day and you won’t be expected to, but never underestimate the power of watching the world go by. The world doesn’t stop turning just because you are ill. Take the time to rest and heal when you need it but if you have the strength to go for a walk or to sit in the park on a sunny day I encourage you to do it. No one will see you as your illness, you’re just another normal, living your life.

Smile, you’re amazing.

The Pain Diaries

cropped-file-06-04-2017-16-26-0411.jpegThe Pain Diaries were started on the 18th of March 2017. This is a day-by-day summary of my pain and emotions. As a 23-year old who has had chronic pain for over 3 years, I have learnt a lot and continue to learn every day about my own pain and the best ways to deal with it…or not as you will see is often the case. The Day-by-Day page offers an intimate look into emotions that often stay locked up in my brain, on top of this I will also be adding further blogs, offering much more concise advice and insight to living with pain and anxiety.

Love to you all and enjoy (almost as much as I’m enjoying Ditchling Beacon, pictured above).