Health Update

Hello there.

It’s been so hectic. I knew doing a masters degree would be a step up, but at the minute I am swamped with work! I’ve also been having regular hospital appointments and so I haven’t been able to devote as much time to my little blog as I’d like. There’s lots of lovely posts in the pipeline; reviews, foodie posts and all that good stuff, and hopefully I’ll get back into the swing of things soon.

I got a spine mri back and luckily my discs look okay! I do have significant lordosis (inward curve) in my neck and lower back due to the big kyphosis (outward curve) in the middle of my spine, but other stuff is okay. My sacrum is apparently tilted and often locks when it shouldn’t, so that explains the pain there. I’ll be getting facet joint injections between vertebrae to help with the pressure pain, and honestly I’m really excited to see if they work.

I also had a blood test recently because I sleep constantly. We don’t know whether this is med related or pain related (fyi chronic pain isn’t just painful, it’s thoroughly exhausting) but we thought we would double check stuff.
I also went to see the immunologist as I had a severe reaction a few months ago; I have the weirdest allergy I’ve ever heard of! I have exercise induced wheat allergy. So basically I can’t eat wheat then exercise. And that even includes walking! I have to really learn to carry my epi pen with me at all times.

Apart from that, I’m feeling good. I’m getting uni work done and I’m feeling quite positive about things. There’s a few fabulous posts in the pipeline, I promise!

Hope you have had a fantastic weekend 😊
Heather X

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Pain Management: My Experiences

Hello there. I’m currently writing from underneath a cosy blanket on the sofa. I suppose I have no excuse to be so lazy really, but I promise I am dressed and have made breakfast and have done all the Adult Things that you’re meant to do in a morning. I’m not feeling 100% today, but I’m a damn sight better than I was on Wednesday, so that can only be a good thing.  The sky is blue, the sun is shining and I have the flat to myself so I’m watching countless hours of daytime tv with copious volumes of tea to keep me going.

What I thought I’d write about today are my experiences of attending various pain management appointments. If you’re a regular reader you may be aware that I live with several chronic conditions and a couple of these cause varying degrees of pain. Due to the nature of my medical conditions there are no cures or quick fixes, and so I will have to deal with the resulting chronic pain. Though this takes some getting used to and can be mentally testing, I’m just going to outline my experiences with pain management and the physical side of things.

Some people I know really aren’t keen on the term pain management: they find it patronising, and possibly a little too vague (medical conditions affect everyone differently after all!) but I think I’m okay with it. For me, it took a very long time to accept that I needed help, and an even lengthier time realising that it’s okay to ask for help. Terminology aside, pain management basically deals with reducing the amount of pain one feels on a daily basis, and tries to enable those with chronic pain a better quality of life, including improved sleep, reduced fatigue and hopefully less pain = increased wellbeing. As many doctors have explained, pain levels affect a person’s mental health and outlook on life, and I can completely relate to this. Chronic pain is stressful; it is scary, it makes me irritable, and what’s worse is I don’t know how it will affect me in the future. So for me, I knew I wanted to give pain management a shot.

My first appointments started when I was around sixteen, and involved trialling various pain-management methods to find out which were the ones to provide the most relief. The treatments can vary greatly depending on your condition, but I started out with medical patches – namely a lidocaine plaster – which consists of a sticky patch impregnated with analgesia of some kind that adheres to the part of the body experiencing pain. I didn’t really rate these, so we moved on to alternative treatments, which included the use of TENS machines, capsaicin cream, laser treatment, corticosteroid injections, acupuncture and the last resort: pregabalin.As you can probably gather I ended up trying a lot of things. None of these really did anything for me, which can be really disheartening, I know. But I held out hope. And recently, I’ve found a pain management technique which works and has definitely reduced my musculo-skeletal pain.

So what is this pain-management miracle?

ACUPUNCTURE!

yes, you did indeed read that correctly! Acupuncture has really made my pain so much easier to deal with. And no, this isn’t just like traditional acupuncture; it does have some medical basis to it, seen here, on the NHS website. Although sometimes unpleasant, acupuncture has become an integral weapon in battling the pain I experience on a daily basis, and though this solution has been a long time coming (a whole 5 years since my first foray into the world of pain medicine!) it has really restored my faith in pain management.

Pain management can be an odd thing; it can be unsettling to ask for help, and it can be even more unsettling when things don’t quite go the way you’d hoped. But if you persevere like I did, you might find something that just works for you, or at least, as in my case, definitely helps. Pain management is no quick fix unfortunately but it is there, and I highly recommend you check out what the service has to offer you.

I’m all too aware that this is a slightly rambly-post, but I hope you understand what I mean. Have you tried pain management? And if so, what did you think?

Thank goodness it’s Friday! Best wishes for the weekend,

Heather x

Hospitals, Spoons and the ‘P’ Word

Hello, there. I hope you are having a fantastic Tuesday. I’m currently writing from a room that’s eerily similar to one I occupied in my first year of university (minus the bullying that happened daily…thank god) and it’s rather nice to be back in such a social environment but with less of the stress this time round. This week I’ve been working at a Talent Development Program at my university and it’s been a lot of fun. I’m mentoring a group of soon-to-be undergraduate students and am helping them to complete a presentation on a particular topic. The presentation itself will be assessed by professors of the university, so I can imagine they’re feeling a little intimidated at present (though I know they can do it!). It is a lot of work, but it’s a breath of fresh air to be back in university working with students and my group are all wonderful.

Despite the fantastic week, I have had a fair few appointments/medical emergencies and my spoon supplies are feeling just a little bit depleted so I’m snuggled in bed as a consequence (for the ‘Spoon Theory’, if you don’t know what it is already, head over to But You Don’t Look Sick . It has become a fantastic way for many with disabilities/chronic illnesses to articulate their experiences to those without chronic conditions). This all started on Friday. Things were relatively great until then and I was just about managing to cope with things/have enough spoons to do the things I wanted to. Michael, a close friend from university came over, (he has been working on the same project as myself at uni so came to stay with me) and we spent lots of time catching up, sipping G&Ts and watching wonderfully silly things on tv. It was fabulous…

… until Friday afternoon. We went for Italian food, which seemed innocuous enough. And so we enjoyed pizzas and chatted a while and then strolled home feeling rather content.

Until my body decided it had other things to do, that is.

It all started with itching…lots and lots of intense itching all over my scalp and face, which made me want to scratch my skin to shreds. It all happened so quickly but by the time we got to my flat I was so uncomfortable I tore off my clothes and desperately hopped into a cold shower. Nothing was alleviating my skin and by this point I was covered head-to-toe in a violent, angry, itchy white and red rash. Nothing escaped; it was all over my back, my chest, my legs…and maybe unsurprisingly, I began to panic. I became dizzy and light-headed and by this point I was running around the flat naked (I know, poor Mike!). We took the decision to ring an ambulance as soon as I found I was struggling to breathe and the paramedics burst through the door to me, completely stark-naked, struggling to breathe in a heap on the floor. It was probably hilarious.

Turns out I had a severe allergic reaction, although I’m yet to find out what it was brought on by. I was given a strong dose of anti-histamine by injection and was offered to be taken to hospital. I politely declined and thanked the wonderful paramedics for all their help (whilst apologising for my initial lack of clothing…im never going to live that down, am I?!) and that was that. it was over almost as quickly as it had started but I have been strongly advised to go for an allergy test.

Not only that, but yesterday I went to see a consultant neurologist for my hemi. The fabulous news is she’s referring me to orthotics, physios AND an occupational therapist, which I’m absolutely thrilled with and I’m hoping they’ll all be able to relieve my pain/help out even if only slightly. it would be a fantastic help to the quality of my life. Today I went to my weekly pain management appointment which was painful, but I am starting to see results in terms of muscular pain so I’m willing to put up with the short-term pain for now.

Tonight I have been thinking, and I’m just beginning to realise that this will probably be the way things are for a while this year, but I think that’s okay. I know I shouldn’t feel guilty about receiving all this treatment but I do, I really do. Sometimes I sit and think that I make too much fuss/that I shouldn’t be feeling the way I do because, although I do struggle with pain and hemi and MH and everything else, I am so SO lucky to have been given a life like this one. I guess it’s okay that there will be hospitals and things probably for the rest of my life, and I need to understand that I’m entitled to that. Really it just makes me feel hugely fortunate to have such wonderful healthcare available, because I honestly can’t fault any of the care from my recent appointments. I don’t really know where I’m going with this post, but I felt like I needed a good old talk about things. I think tonight i’ll just stay in bed and wind down.

Hope you’re having a great Tuesday, whatever you’re doing.

Heather x

What Not to Say to Someone With Chronic Illness and Disabilities

Hello there, and thanks for stopping by! This is going to be a slightly unusual post today, but it’s something I’d really like to share with you all. As you may know, I have a form of cerebral palsy- mild spastic hemiplegia – and a spinal condition called Scheuermann’s kyphosis. These are long-term illnesses, with no cure, so it’s just about learning to manage and live with the associated pain and mobility difficulties to ensure I have a good quality of life. What has been really shocking to learn is that people assume they’re an expert of chronic illness and think it wise to give out tips and advice. I know, we’ve all been there, but it’s something that never ceases to amaze me! After all, I know my body better than anyone, and I know how my conditions affect my day-to-day life. I just thought I’d share a few snippets of advice I’ve often found funny, and usually unhelpful. Some comments are pretty hurtful, but I know some are simply well-meant.

Just to clarify, this is not a dig at anyone at all, and this isn’t intended as something to offend any well-wishers: I just think it’s helpful to realise sometimes things aren’t always what they seem and maybe we can all think before we say something to someone. You never know how your words are going to affect someone else.

‘Chronic illness? But you look so well! How is this possible!?’

I get this a lot. I really do. And whilst I can appreciate I do look ‘fine’ most days, it can be very frustrating to hear. Firstly, it makes me feel fraudulent. No, I don’t use a wheelchair, and even when I use my walking stick I appear able to walk normally and without difficulty. However, I spend the majority of my day in constant pain, and it’s really wearisome having to reiterate this. Secondly, there’s also the idea that if I’m dressed up nicely or have make up on, that I can’t really be that ill, because, you know, I’ve made ‘an effort’. Having chronic illness doesn’t mean you have no desire to feel good. I still want to look as nice as the next person, and when I feel like it I really enjoy wearing a little bit of lipstick now and again. It just goes to show that you never know what’s underneath it all. (oh, I also enjoy wearing a bright shade of red when I can…makes me feel I can take on the world, especially on bad days!)

‘Why don’t you try exercise? I’ve heard it really helps [insert illness here].’

I have couple of things to say about this one. What I do seem to notice is people often recommend exercise when they don’t really understand the condition. Last year, someone asked what cerebral palsy was. Immediately upon hearing this, they proclaimed that exercise would cure it. Funny…they didn’t know what it was prior to asking! Though I know exercise is fantastic, and I do exercise as much as I can to keep my muscles as flexible as possible (particularly in my hemi side) sometimes the nature of my conditions limits me in terms of exercises. Some I simply can’t do. Most others leave me in a lot of pain. People also assume that I don’t try/never have tried/that I’m unfit anyway. I happen to walk quite a lot, and considering walking is something I find challenging, (particularly with regards to the palsy) this can sometimes be very painful and very tiring. However, I always try. Sometimes I try too much, end up walking for miles (often in a bid to push myself) and subsequently suffer for it. What I’m basically trying to say is don’t assume exercise is the be all and end all. It can be brilliant, but think about it: if you’re in severe pain, would the first activity to spring to mind be a jog/some workout at the gym? No? Didn’t think so.  Also, I’ll add here that when I was at school I still used to take part in PE and sports days despite my medical conditions and difficulties. One memorable sports day I volunteered for a long distance running race. At school, very few people knew about my cerebral palsy, but when I crossed that finish line (I came fourth out of eight) it was amazing. I’d done it; I’d also competed against people with no mobility or pain issues. It was possible, but I won’t say it didn’t hurt. I can still think back to the feeling of intense burning, crampy, sickening  pain in my hemi leg that followed. The PE teachers gave me some little gifts to say well done: they appreciated how difficult it must have been for me and I’m truly grateful for that. It’s an experience I won’t ever forget.

‘Ah, get well soon!’

I feel bad about including this comment, because this is obviously well-meant and I appreciate the sentiment. However, it is difficult to explain to people that my conditions won’t get better. I have done this once or twice, and I’m usually branded a pessimist. I just call it being realistic: there’s no cure for either. They fluctuate on a daily basis. Yes, some days are better than others. But I will be living with these for the rest of my life, and I have (mostly) come to terms with that. I’m still sad I included this one but hopefully you’ll understand what I mean!

‘You’re just an old lady really!’

This really, REALLY annoys me. This reiterates everything I feel about myself. Some days I wake up in so much pain I feel like I’m years older. I can’t do normal household chores without intense back pain, I can’t go shopping without my body hurting and I can’t do ‘younger people’ stuff like clubbing without things becoming very difficult. Of course I enjoy a good dance every now and then, but it becomes extremely painful. The next day is an issue not because of the ensuing hangover (well, at least not the majority of the time) but because my body is tired…it’s tired of the pain. Don’t call me an old lady. It’s never okay. It’s one of these things that really get to me. Calling me an old lady basically confirms all my worst fears. I have a hard enough time thinking of myself in this way, and I’d rather you didn’t add to that.

‘You’re just lazy/milking it’

I just don’t even know what drives people to say things like this. I didn’t choose to have these conditions. I can’t help that sometimes I need rest and relaxation. Just try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes: do you think it’s easy living in pain every day? It is also well-documented that people living with cerebral palsy use more energy than an usual. It’s tiring stuff. The latter part of the above comment was one of the more hurtful things I’ve heard. When I was in school, I had to wear a spinal brace. This was extremely uncomfortable. I had to wear it 23 hours every day and the hour off was for showering/PE. Because it was hard plastic, it dug in everywhere, and I’d end up with bruised hips, itchy skin rashes and marks cutting into my skin from the plastic. It constantly forced my spine into an unnatural position, and this was painful. Wearing that brace was awful. I felt detached from my own life: it was like I stepped into a magazine and became someone else. ‘Will I have pain for the rest of my life? So, you mean it’s incurable? My spine might get worse?’ These were questions I found hard to ask and even harder to understand when I was thirteen. I was thrust into a world of painkillers, hospital checks, physio, pain management, and procedure after procedure. This was on top of my appointments for my cerebral palsy. Having people claim I was milking it was something I really didn’t need. How insensitive can you be?! The worst part is that a person who said this talked behind my back and told my friends I was ‘milking it’. At the same time, they’d be really lovely to my face and would offer to help me in any way they could. As you can imagine, hearing that was extremely hurtful, and I never really associated myself with them at all after that. I still avoid having to now, despite the fact we have mutual friends. Please don’t do this, ever. The last thing I’d ever want to do is feign an illness. If I had it my way, I’d be completely healthy and have nothing wrong at all. As it stands, I’m not. Don’t make assumptions because you don’t understand.It’s a comment that I haven’t ever been able to shake off since the age of thirteen, and I don’t think I’ll be able to forget it.

I know this is an unusual post, but I hope it has given you something to think about! On a light-hearted note, I have two huge bars of chocolate to get me through the last couple of weeks of essay writing. I know I can do this, but it won’t be easy. Wish me luck!

I’m getting closer to that finish line…

Heather x

bad day

As I sit here typing this I can see the dull gloom of the sky outside, and the flickering light of candles on a desk. The landscape reflects my mood; the sun is absent, not even a patch of blue is to be seen and the sky is so overwhelmingly grey. Today is a grey day, and my mood seems similar. I feel dejected, stressed, tired and everything else that comes along with it. I’m at a stage where I’m really resenting things. I resent my body; I resent my body right now because I wake up in pain and I fall asleep in pain, it hurts to walk and it hurts to sit, and all the silly, mundane things that need doing in everyday life seem impossible and difficult. Washing my clothes is an ordeal, making my bed is a challenge, and cleaning the house leaves me in so much pain I can’t do anything for the remainder of the day. I feel hopeless. I feel ashamed of my body, and even more ashamed of the way it makes me feel. Today the pain in my body is taking it’s toll. I feel robbed of the opportunity to do things without having to think of their consequences. I am constantly weighing up the pros and cons of analgesia, knowing that either way I can’t win. Today I am realising that I struggle and it’s the struggle that’s the hardest to address. I am stubborn; but there’s only so much I can take on the bad days.

I’m hoping for a brighter tomorrow.

The Importance of Relaxation

I have to admit I’ve always been a stressed out, anxious person. It’s in my nature to worry about everything, and sometimes this worry is completely overwhelming and all-consuming. Coupled with chronic pain, my anxiety can spiral out of control. Being in pain almost constantly is physically exhausting, and can really affect you mentally. When I was younger I acted as if my cerebral palsy and Scheuermann’s didn’t exist. I think this was my ‘coping strategy’, but of course I wasn’t really coping with anything at all, I was just denying the existence of my medical conditions. Since moving to university I’ve recognised this, and during the past year or so I decided I needed to really work out a way of coping with the pain and stress that comes along with chronic medical conditions.

I cannot emphasise how extremely important it is to have rest days and to relax your body and mind if you’re dealing with a health condition such as cerebral palsy. Even if you’re not living with a chronic medical condition, you still need to give yourself time out to truly relax and to forget the worries in your life. When I was younger I thought it was perfectly fine to be completely wiped out from exhaustion after a day shopping, or to be in agonising pain after sitting to eat a meal in a restaurant. Yes, it’s normal for me to be in pain, but my body needs time to recuperate and get back to its normal self. There’s a few ways I do this, and I thought it would be a useful thing to share with you all.

Heat therapy is so relaxing. From a bubbly hot bath, to a hot water bottle and my trusty heat pad, heat therapy is soothing and relaxing for my body. I particularly like the homedics range and I own the shiatsu back massager, shiatsu neck massager and hand held massager with interchangable massaging heads. Below is a link to their products through boots: http://www.boots.com/en/Homedics/

I also love the heat packs that you heat in the microwave. I own a particularly cute one in the shape of a cuddly rabbit! These are relatively cheap compared to the homedics range, and can really help on sore days.

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Having hot baths with some pamper goodies can really help me out, too. The Body Shop stock some gorgeous products and you can always find lots of voucher and discount codes online if you type in ‘body shop codes’ into your search engine. Using high quality pamper goodies doesn’t always have to break the bank, so stock up if there’s a particularly good offer on. Recently my boyfriend purchased £40 worth of products for £20, which is an absolute bargain!

I also love candles. When I’m needing a rest day, I’ll get some reading together and spend the whole day in bed, taking painkillers as and when I need to. Putting a few candles on can really create a lovely soothing atmosphere. I also love my mooncandles, which are flameless and battery operated. You can change the colours of the ‘candles’ using the remote they come with, and they’re really very pretty. I purchased mine from Tesco. You can also purchase them online. I apologise for the picture, but it’s very difficult to capture just how pretty they are on camera!

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Having de-caffeinated drinks is a must when I’m feeling anxious or in a lot of pain. Though I thoroughly enjoy coffee and tea, I find herbal teas are particularly soothing on a stressful, painful day. I love Twinings Camomile and Honey, or the Twinings Peppermint Infusion. I was also introduced to Peanut Hottie at the Hull bloggers meet, and this is becoming a firm favourite. If you’re a fan of peanut butter, I suggest you give it a go!

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For my 21st birthday, I was spoilt rotten by all my wonderful family and friends. My boyfriend did make me a desk top zen garden as one of my gifts, and I’ve found it a really lovely way to relax. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly into the concept of zen or Buddhism, but raking the sand whilst stressed is a great way to relax yourself. Plus, it makes for a very unique object and you can create lovely works of ‘art’ in the sand with a mini rake. Zen gardens are available to purchase ready made online, however my boyfriend made this out of a photo frame. He glued the glass into the frame and turned the frame over. All he had to do then was buy the sand and objects to go into the zen garden, and he let me assemble it myself. It’s such a thoughtful gift, and it’s a true pleasure to own it. For secret Santa, my housemate thoughtfully bought me an oil burner with a selection of essential oils. This is such a fantastic gift for me and the essential oils create a soothing atmosphere in my room. Alongside my zen garden, it creates my very own relaxing space, and it’s really great!

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Buying a bouquet of flowers or a plant for my room instantly brightens up the place and so makes me feel more relaxed. I loved these gorgeous yellow roses. I arranged them in my marmite tea pot, and I thought they looked really lovely.

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I hope I’ve given you some inspiration. Hopefully in no time you’ll have a relaxing place of your very own!

All the best for the rest of the weekend,
Heather

Scheuermann’s Kyphosis: the basics

This is going to be a relatively short post as I have work to be doing and I’ve already been avoiding it all day so I need to get back to it as soon as I can! I think I’ve mentioned Scheuermann’s kyphosis briefly before, so I thought it’s probably time to quickly introduce it. When I was thirteen, I was diganosed with Scheuermann’s kyphosis. Scheuermann’s goes by many names, and sometimes it’s simply referred to as Scheuermann’s, sometimes kyphosis (or Scheuermann’s kyphosis) and often people also call it Scheuermann’s disease, but I prefer to avoid this if I can because a ‘disease’ implies that it is contagious, and this not at all the case! So, I’ll refer to it as Scheuermann’s, kyphosis, or if I’m feeling really fancy, I’ll use both words together.

I was told by my doctor that, in really basic terms, Scheuermann’s is where the vertebrae (the bones in my spine) developed differently. As a result, when the bones are ‘stacked’ on top of each other, they form a curvature in my upper spine. If you look at me sideways on, my back looks like an ‘S’. Now, I was always told that it was probably bad luck to have Scheuermann’s because no one actually knows what causes it. All I can tell you for certain is it’s not at all pleasant. It’s extremely painful, as my muscles around my spine (so the clever ones holding you upright) have to work really hard around my curvy spine.  So, as they’re working really hard, they can get very painful and ‘angry’ (perhaps I have a similiar reaction to hard work!) and thus I live with chronic back pain.

This year, I found out that spinal curvatures and cerebral palsy are linked, and so I think that my Scheuermann’s is due to having cerebral palsy. I can’t say for certain, but it seems rather likely. As well as pain in the thoracic (upper) part of my spine, my lumbar (lower spine curves inwards to compensate, and my cervical (neck) spine also curves to compensate. So as you can probably gather, I’m dealing with a lot of angry bones and muscles!

There’s no cure for Scheuermann’s, and my curve measures 70 degrees (or at least it did when I last had it measured). To put that into perspective, a healthy thoracic spine should measure between 25 and 40 degrees. So you could say I’m pretty ‘curvy’.

I did use a spinal brace at the age of 14, but I will be sure to blog about that experience separately. It was an experience to say the least. For now I manage my pain with various methods, including heat therapy, acupuncture, analgesia and gentle exercises. I do have ‘good’ days, and I do have ‘bad’ days, but that’s to be expected with a condition like this. Chronic pain is a really complex subject, and I don’t want to write about it here, but it’s something I live with everyday. For a brief glimpse into chronic pain, check out my earlier post here: https://nosuperhero.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/life-can-be-a-pain-sometimes/

So, that’s it! A speedy summary on Scheuermann’s kyphosis. I’m sure it’ll feature again shortly. For now though, I’m going to attempt to get back to my reading. Today Im reading When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro. I haven’t quite finished it yet, but I’m enjoying it!

Until next time,

Heather