For M.E. Awareness week I am blogging about living with M.E. On Monday I wrote about what M.E. is, and yesterday I wrote about how it affects me. Today I’m writing about how I cope with severe M.E.
Due to the severity of my M.E, I’m unable to do many of the normal everyday stuff that other people do. This doesn’t mean that I spend all my time moaning about stuff though (I do a bit of that when things are bad, but I try to limit it). I’m very lucky that I don’t have depression alongside my M.E, (in fact, I recovered from 12 years of severe depression a few months into getting M.E, which is hard to understand but I have my theories) so the motivation to do things is intact. It’s just my body doesn’t let me do them.
As I spend a lot of time lying in bed, I need something to do while there. The answer for me is the tablet computer I mentioned yesterday- my ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. Her name is Cameron 🙂 She runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.4 with a custom rom (that bit’s just because I’m a geek) and she basically keeps me sane. On Cameron I’m able to use Twitter (I like the Plume app- I’ve made it all colourful), keep up with emails, read blog posts and websites, play Draw Something (and get complimented on my drawings as I’ve got a 10″ screen which makes it easier than on a small phone), communicate with other people either online or when I can’t speak or it’s too exhausting, and when I’m well enough I can watch videos or television shows, read books or listen to music on it 🙂 I’m also using it with the keyboard dock to type this blog post (the keyboard dock makes it like a netbook).
Twitter is an awesome source of support for me. As tweets are 140 characters or less, they’re short enough for my brain to process. I’ve met so many wonderful, supportive people on there, both with and without disabilities, and it’s so helpful to be able to talk to people who are going through similar things to me. I’m very fond of virtual hugs and squishes, especially as I’m often too ill for real life ones. The Spoonies* especially are amazing, as they’re all ill themselves yet try to help other people as much as they can. We celebrate each other’s acheievements, help each other with problems, and just chat and share things between us. I also get most of my news through there (often shared by someone I follow). Quite a lot of my day is spent on Twitter as it doesn’t make me more ill, and it’s a very postive thing for me.
I follow quite a lot of different blogs in my Google Reader, and try to read all the posts that are there. This doesn’t mean I necessarily understand them, and some of the longer ones can be quite hard (which I feel a bit bad about as I’m guilty of that myself) but it helps me keep up with things and follow what people are doing. Since reading is the easiest way for me to take in information, I read blogs in a similar way to how people listen to podcasts (which is very difficult for me- some people find it easier than reading but I’m not one of them) so it’s another good way for me to pass the time and feel like I’m doing something, even if I’m unable to comment very much at all. I also follow some I can haz cheezburger? and comic feeds that are normally good 🙂
My faith is very important to me, though it’s personal so I don’t talk about it all that much (it’s not that I’m embarrassed, it’s just something I don’t feel I need to share constantly). I’m a Christian (Anglican- mostly Anglo-Catholic though I’m very much for gay marriage, gay and female clergy at every level, and other “liberal” stuff) and knowing God is always there for me and Jesus knows what suffering is like is a constant comfort. I pray a lot, sometimes in words, most of the time without, and though I can’t make it to church I know He understands 🙂
I used to spend a lot of time on the AYME (Association of Young people with M.E) member forums, though now it’s difficult for me to get on there much. When I can though the support is awesome, especially from the other SAMs (severely affected members). I also receive emails and the magazine from them, and can contact them (or Johan can contact them for me) if I have any questions or I need help regarding my M.E. As most of the members are of normal education age it was especially helpful when I was attending college, as there were other people going through similar things. Although I don’t agree with their stance on some things (I’m not going to go into that here) the support I’ve had as a member, especially from the other members, is excellent.
I try to remain as positive as I can (this does not mean you should tell me or any other ill person to be positive- that just makes the person feel lousy). Everything I’m able to do is something to celebrate, even little things like being able to roll over and being able to eat solid food 🙂 I am so grateful for everything I can do as I’m aware it could be so much worse. I limit the amount of bad news I read- I don’t avoid it entirely but as I can’t process things properly or do anything about it there’s no point me getting upset. I like trying to be as supportive of my friends as they are as me- not sure I manage that but I do like giving out squishes 🙂 I hope they improve, especially those who are more ill than I am. I surround myself with things that make me happy- I have Penguin and Katie (my teddy) in my bed with me at all times (Penguin is normally in constant contact with me), Erica is close by, I have a penguin on my wall and a purple penguin canvas next to my bed. When we get the room decorated and the blind up it’ll be even nicer in here for me 🙂 I know and like who I am and although I hate my M.E, I don’t hate myself.
When I can do something, I take advantage of it (though I try not to overdo it as that leads to payback or relapse). Sitting at my computer and playing World of Warcraft (which I currently do about 2 or 3 times a week, though I’m trying to build that up) is a big thing for me, even if I’m not well enough to do progression raiding with my guild now (though when I’m having a good day I can sometimes do Looking For Raid as that’s easy). That’s the best distraction from the pain and how ill I am I’ve got, as I get into my character and what I’m doing so well. Sometimes we’re quite creative to let me do things- I originally discovered I could stay upright in my wheelchair to stay upright by tying a scarf around my chest, which meant that getting a torso harness allowed me to go out a few times. That was just amazing and the memories from then helped me stay positive during the relapse. My weekly wash is one of the best parts of the week, even though it is so exhausting and painful at the time and causes payback.
The main thing I do is listen to my body. I don’t concentrate so much on what or how many symptoms I have (though sometimes they’re pretty demanding for me to know they’re there ;), but more on how I’m feeling overall. I then judge if I feel up to doing something, and if I do I’ll do it. Sometimes I get this wrong and overdo it, but most of the time this works really well and it allowed me to build back up from the relapse in December, and it’s helping me recover from the relapse a few weeks ago. I don’t have structured rests breaks (trying to do that and track them was too exhausting), but most of the stuff I do is pretty low energy and I often just stare into space or just lie there with my eyes closed for 5-10 minutes, which seems to work just as well. Sometimes if I feel I need it I’ll either nap or lie with my eye mask on to rest completely. I sleep when I feel sleepy (which is slightly different to the exhaustion and fatigue I experience all the time) and do things when I feel able to do them. It means I’m not always awake at the same times each day, but trying to force a “normal” sleeping pattern just makes me worse.
On the more medical side, I take tramadol and ibuprofen for the pain, lansoprazole to protect my stomach from the ibuprofen (which also helps with my acid reflux and heartburn a bit), cyclizine to cope with nausea, Buccastem (buccal prochlorperazine) if I’m vomiting too much to take the cyclizine (which works better and for longer, but the Buccastem works long enough for me to take it) and I was meant to be taking vitamin D and calcium supplements but the form I was given (a powder to be mixed up as a drink) was intolerable so I need to ask the doctor for an alternative (when I was last tested for them my vitamin D levels were on the higher side of normal after intensive supplementation as I’d been severely deficient and my calcium levels were normal, so it’s not urgent but it’s to prevent any problems from occuring). These make life tolerable. Last year I was able to come off the psychiatric medication I’d been taking for severe depression (which had helped me a lot) without any relapse. That was a big achievement for me.
Every medical professional I’ve had dealings with since I’ve had M.E. has been very supportive. Some have been surprised at how severe my M.E. is (I then tell them that it can be a lot worse) but all have accepted it’s a physical illness and just want to help me be as well as possible and hopefully improve. This makes me exceptionally lucky, but being believed and knowing I have medical support there makes things so much easier to deal with. The main advice I’ve been given is to get lots of rest, and there has been no suggestion that I do exercise or get any counselling to think my way out of this, though I do see a psychologist and a physiotherapist (the CFS clinic people) to help with management. I did have to have depression ruled out as a cause but due to my history I understood why my consultant wanted to do that before confirming my diagnosis. My old GP recognised my M.E. and initially diagnosed me. My new GP hasn’t even met me yet but has already been very helpful with prescribing medication and contacting the CFS clinic to see how they can help more, and if I need one I can get a home visit (I don’t want to bother them if I don’t need to, and the things I need at the moment are minor so can either wait until I can get there or possibly be sorted through another appointment that Johan attends for me),
I get (or am in the process of getting) all the support I’m entitled to (at least as far as I know). My benefits are currently sorted, and although I’m yet to be transferred over to ESA I’m obviously ill enough and very easily meet the criteria to get into the support group, though I’m aware I may need to appeal for that. My main worry is the medical but I’m hoping my GP will support me for a home visit, and I already convinced one ATOS doctor for DLA. I’m also entitled to social care, around 15 hours a week, which should be in place again soon. That should help quite a bit. I also go into a care home three times a year for respite to give Johan a break, which helps him loads which in turn helps me. We’re also getting some people in (paid for from my DLA) to do some housework.
My friends have been amazing. Some of them don’t understand M.E. itself (I’m happy to answer any questions they have or direct them to information if they’re interested but don’t want to force it on people who may not want or may struggle to understand) but they’ve all been very supportive and stood by me when I got more ill. They understand that contact may be sporadic as chatting to people is exhausting but when I’m able to they’re just the same as ever 🙂 I’m unable to use Facebook much at the moment as it’s too confusing and exhausting so I don’t keep in touch as often as I like, but I like to see what they’re up to when I can and celebrate with them. I’ve already mentioned the Spoonies and my other friends on Twitter who are a great source of support, and as well as Twitter and Facebook I’ve also made new friends through AYME.
South Tyneside College helping me as much as they did and trying everything they could to help me achieve what I did and to try and help me continue was brilliant. I am sad that I just got too ill to finish my A Level, but I did get my A in AS Computing and I learnt lots at Interface (the autism unit) as well. A special mention goes to Simin, my Computing lecturer, the staff and students at Interface, and especially to Louise, who was my key worker/personal tutor the entire time I was there, and did everything she could to help me, not only with my autism but also with my depression and anxiety and then with my M.E. I don’t think I’d be coping anywhere near as well as I am without what I learnt at Interface and without the support that Louise gave me.
The main person who helps me cope with everything though is Johan. He is my husband and my main carer, and for both he’s been as supportive as he could be. He does everything for me that I can’t do, and helps me with everything that I need help with, and he doesn’t complain and acts like it’s no big deal (except when I’ve woken him up, but that’s understandable :P). He struggles with some bits (the carer and cleaners will help a lot with that) and needs a break when he can get one, but he rarely complains and just get on with it. Without him, I’d be in a care home (which would be worse for me, especially long term). I love him so much and he helps me deal with life so well, and I’m so much happier being with him. I know he feels the same 🙂 He often doesn’t realise just how much he does for me, but he’s giving me the best life I can possibly have with this illness and I’m extremely grateful for that. He is awesome 🙂
I was hoping initially that this post would be shorter than yesterday’s, but it’s turned out longer. I think I like that my coping post is longer than the post talking about how I’m suffering 🙂
*For the Spoon Theory, see butyoudontlooksick.com. It’s a very good, simple way to describe living with a chronic illness, especially one that can fluctuate like M.E or Lupus (which the author has) does. Some of us who use it call ourselves Spoonies.