Invisible Disability

At five am-ish stiffness woke me.  Each move to manoeuver out of bed was laboured and painful. In the loo I sort of dropped hard onto the seat; my joints lack flexibility. Most times I raise by putting my hands flat on the wall and pushing upward. Sometimes I shout for help, hoping my frustration infiltrates my sleeping carers.

From the top stair the ground looked a long way down, like when I absailed a near 90 degree incline. I travelled downward in my chair lift wishing a turbo boost would propel me into a parallel universe where my body worked. I made a cuppa noting my stiffness and pain easing and a sense of calm tucked around me.

Back up the stairs I went to wake Kitty.  She’s hard to distinguish; her top half engulfed by the quilt whilst her legs are entwined in it. A bittersweet pang of  love and protection rushes me.  She returns to uni today and already I feel a little less. It feels unnatural for me to be parted from my children. While I want them to storm Ben Nevis, backflip onto the Oscar’s stage to claim an award, turn alligators vegan, I want them to stay close…safe.

Breakfast.  Long gone are the days of a full English at Moons.  Everything I eat has unshiftable calories and the monster Pregabalin increases my appetite.  Carrying an extra stone and a half on my frail spine, I procranstinate daily what foods will satisfy but not fatten.  My diet is mainly vegan and as it’s #Veganuary Kitty and I shared a tin of spaghetti hoops on toast. She has that glow about her, the shininess emanating from your heart when you’re in love. She’s spending the weekend with her boyfriend and I don’t begrudge her a minute of it, I miss her but that’s how it should be. Gerty too is floating around, shiny.

Every so often I have a bad day.  Bad in the sense that I feel beat.  It’s never one thing that causes it more a recipe of woes.  Usually I’m so Doris Day I’m annoying.  I genuinely do find enjoyment in simple things like perusing M&S’s food shelves. I’ve planned a visit for Sunday to pick up a Planet Kitchen meal from their new Vegan range. Do you see? Planning to go to a shop is an event for me. As is going for coffee. Today I couldn’t be arsed, as my kids say.  Getting showered and dressed is energy draining; I don’t apologise for answering the door in my pyjamas.  The shortest journey to the high street spikes pain.  My neck bobbing up and down from our little car’s poor suspension; toing and froing with accelerating and braking.  Even with a neck brace leaving the house is an activity I seriously deliberate. Disability IS NOT just being in a wheelchair, blind, paralysed, being an amputee, it can be a collection of small issues that compounded make you housebound, scared to go out, an empty shell with no energy.

I resent how my condition controls me. How it’s always the deciding factor. How it determined I couldn’t join my daughters in Golders Green for a vegan lunch because I physically can’t get there without consequences. How I missed out seeing #Years&Years at the #O2.

Before Christmas I had a total crisis. If you’ve never had mental health issues this dark, barren vacuum of negativity that sucks you in and strips you of everything good, is hard to imagine. It had blasts from the past; issues I’ve not dealt with. Since forever I’ve strived to be emotionally strong; I’ve never wallowed in self pity…I should have…it’s normal to feel sorry for yourself, to cry, to scream, to fuck off everyone around you. Not me. I’ve smiled through every bad thing that’s ever happened to me; even when I knew that adage ‘things can only get better’ was a lie. I don’t blame anyone for who I am. I’m 99% amazing, but that undermining, damaging 1% clings to me like a tapeworm in my stomach. When my condition forced me to give up swalking that 1% swelled up inside me and I just didn’t know how to quelle it. Other than writing, swalking was my happy place.  My physical freedom, the mobility I had in the water, the smell of chlorine, the familiar faces, the daily power showers, my banana…I’m slowly losing everything.

So if I send you a ridiculous amount of links about my book, or my blog, or I Twitter excessively, or I Instagram a tin of chickpeas please don’t judge. I’m literally on house arrest, my only crime stealing a roll of flowery wallpaper when I needed one more strip to finish a wall and the price was exorbitant.

I still dream.  That somewhere inside me is a best seller.  That I can escape the walls of my lovely home by writing.  That everyday, after the stiffness and pain; after I’ve swallowed my pick & mix opiates, I step into a world where I’m running for my life, scrambling agily over a six foot fence, kicking the shit out of some messed up pyscho abducting girls.

I want to write for the rest of my life.

 

 

https://gertrudetkitty.com/

http://www.instagram.com/gertrudet.kitty

@gertrudetkitty

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The BB’s Book Club

 

I met my husband when I was 19 and he was 27.  He was in a friendship group of boys and girls he’d gone to school with, or that lived on his estate.  I was a loner; fairly reserved, so I was socially out of my depth among the tight-knit, strong, sassy, independent women in the group.  They knew who they were, they were in established relationships, they were loosely friends with my husband’s x – it was awkward.  But I was in awe of their bond, their easy banter, their shared experiences.  Thirty years later I’m still a little envious of their remarkable rapport; they have this honest and pure sisterhood.  They’ve been there for each other through school, boyfriends, breakups, pregnancies, miscarriages, raising kids, losing family; they are totally solid.  I still sit on the peripheral of this dynamic but it’s a warm, accepting, fun place for me to  be.  It’s a bit like when you are given a honoury degree.

There was a baby shower a while back.  It would have been so easy not to go.  It was a long enough car journey for my unsteady neck to be bobbing up and down.  My alcohol intake was down to water with a hint of wine and my conversation was dried up.  But I pushed myself.  And I’m so glad because Jen, who’d recently lost her husband, who I barely know, had formed a book club.  They’d met once and she said come along.  Whilst coping with her loss, she was thinking of me and my limitations and I thought fantastic; I can do this.  To live with myelopathy you need to focus on what you can do and let go of what you can’t…otherwise you’ll drive yourself mad and into a wheelchair.

So I find myself part of this sisterhood which I am totally embracing.  I have not missed a book club night.  They are a Come Dine with Me/Through the Keyhole fusion.  I’ve had great food, lively conversation and I’m living.  I’ve been so pleased with myself reading the book and engaging with friends.  It’s been a struggle because I am deteriorating and I am an unreliable guest.  Two weeks ago I was in Charing Cross, with head pain that immobilised me, half distraught thinking what the f**k’s gone wrong now, half angry that ninety percent of the health professionals attending me are clueless about my condition.

Since coming home my priority has been making it to Book Club.  Not tidying, not cooking, not shopping, not pleasing anyone else, just managing my pain and my mobility and getting to my lovely friend Paula’s birthday who was hosting Book Club.  I’d spent the week doing the complete minimum only stretching and moving around the house.  Come Saturday morning I laid in bed, pain in every joint, my head a ton weight sitting on a brittle neck, my stiffness wretched.

Three things got me to book club:

  • celebrating Paula’s birthday who’d put on a scrumptious dinner and dessert,
  • ensuring I remain in the inner circle because it’s a very lonely, miserable existence if you don’t help yourself to socialise
  • MYELOPATHY.ORG – being in hospital was a painful reminder of how misguided so many doctors and neurologists are.

My situation is ridiculous.  There’s Paula, at work all week, shopping for food for twenty guests, spring cleaning, cooking and I’m struggling to participate.  It’s my perfect night and it’s touch and go whether I’ll be well enough.  But what’s been lovely is no one pushes me for answers about my condition, I’m just accepted and treated gently.  I feel so lucky to have these ladies in my life.

But the icing on the cake is their enthusiasm and willingness to support our charity.   When I was in hospital I was so demoralised by the complete lack of interest neurologists have in myelopathy.  I thought, I’m doing something about this NOW!  When I say ‘I’ that means someone else because I can’t raise money for Myelopathy.Org without being helped myself.  So I asked the girls to donate a pound each time we meet for Book Club and Paula was so gracious about me hijacking her birthday to plug and collect for Myelopathy.  Particularly as I’m already the most needy member.  And I feel guilty that my participation is like hit and run.  I’m in there with the food and the book review and then I’m off.

 

But seriously when my husband came for me at about eight thirty my head was pounding and the car journey made me sick.  I was up till 2.30 am with severe body pain but I kept thinking this will pass and then I’ll count the money, blog and get my husband to deposit the funds raised during the week.  I’m still in pain, I’m doing breathing exercises right now like I’m in labour, I’ve taken Oxy and Tramadol but it was worth it; I had a great time last night.  I know I was fuzzy headed toward the end, I had to keep moving around because pain was creeping in and my balance was starting to waiver and my phone confused me.  It affected the quality of my goodbyes.  I wanted to hug and say thank you to each book clubber.  They probably don’t realise what a positive impact they have on my life…but I am so grateful – thank you ladies. xxxx.  Also you gave more than a £1.

On our Facebook page we often chat about how our disability comes into question.  That how we look doesn’t reflect our inner pain; which is true of many debilitating conditions like arthritis, autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia. Then there’s how our mobility alters so precariously; it’s no secret that I could be in bed, rigid with pain one day and in Nero’s the next.  Also age is used against us.  For some reason people think the younger we are, the better placed we are to cope.  Actually it means our spines have given up way too early and if we don’t conserve what we’re left with we’re in trouble.

There is so much heartbreak and agony in the world; it’s hard to know who to help and how; often we don’t have the time or the resources.  Usually I donate to Crisis at Christmas.  This year I want to donate something to homeless teens/young adults.  I can’t fix the world but if you help one person then that’s brilliant.  When those around me support Myelopathy.Org they are supporting me.  I find coping with day to day life challenging. It’s very hard to fight your corner when you’re in pain and exhausted and so we rely on our friends to accept us and charities to be our voice.

Thank you ladies you raised £33.10 for MYELOPATHY.ORG.  Thank you Paula for your patience, I’m getting disruptive in my old age, but it’s because you’re my friend that I had the confidence to butt in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slump

Sometimes friends ask you – if you were a dog, what dog would you be?  I like the idea of being a pug.  Everyone loves pugs.   My myelopathy body has numerous folds now so there is a resemblance.

But I’m a husky.  I’m strapped into a harness pulling Scott and his bloody kit across the Antarctic.

I’m in a slump.  No matter how positive I endeavour to be I can’t shake it.  It’s like I punish myself because six years of having myelopathy you’d think I’d know my limitations.  Yet I keep going around in a circle, chasing my tail the way disturbed dogs do.

I get these short periods of time, when I’m not in pain, I’m not dizzy, I’m not so rigid, I’m sleeping well and I think, yeah, I’m feeling pretty good.  I quietly, slowly reintroduce some of my old routines.  It always starts with a wash, I love the smell of clean clothes as you pull them from the drum.  I lower the clothes line so it’s at shoulder height.   It’s so rewarding folding dry, fresh clothes.  Next comes the dinner.  Pre myelopathy I was never a microwave/takeaway/chicken nugget mum.  I’m not skilled in the kitchen but I do the basics well.  It’s not easy preparing  food when you have poor grip and little oomph but I put the radio on and putting a dinner in front of my kids is so rewarding.  Already the spasms are returning, the head pain is increasing, but I haven’t done the taking the bus independently to the shops yet.  I wait for the right moment, for when my husband has gone golf, so that he can’t list the thirteen reasons why not to leave the house alone. I potter in the charity shops, peruse Aldi, I can’t actually buy anything over featherweight because I can’t carry it, so I splurge in the bakers for cakes for the kids.  Ok they’re sixteen and seventeen but a Belgium bun still puts a smile on their faces.  On the bus back I’m breathing hard, shit my head hurts, I want to cry by the time I get off the bus and as soon as I put the key in the door I’m nearly sprinting to the medicine cupboard.  I’m alone, no one to see what a fool I’ve been, what I’ve needlessly put myself through – Mission Impossible – The Bakery.  No one home to make me a cup of tea.  My hands shake trying to get the tea caddy top off, it takes two hands to lift the kettle.  The pain is intolerable, I mean I just want to shoot myself.  I sometimes feel, just fleetingly, that I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t want to suffer but the pain passes, sometimes in an hour of taking pain relief, sometimes in a week.   What knocks the wind out of me though is that reinforcement that I’m pretty f**ked.  Nothing is going to make me undisabled.  I will always be on hard drugs.

It’s never much good feeling sorry for yourself but it’s not healthy  thinking it’s mind over matter.  If your spinal cord is damaged, it stays damaged.  If you have a degenerative or progressive disease you are going to get worse. I won’t say you can make it easy on yourself because that’s never going to happen but you can make it harder on yourself.

My last point is this,  I think I’ve always been disabled aware.  I see people struggling like the oldies and I’d hold the door, help. them on the bus, things that the normal ok person does to be helpful and considerate.  I’ve never been very mental health aware.  I could say I don’t know anyone with mental health issues but I probably do, they’re just bottling it all up.  I think honestly I have mental health issues.  I feel so low sometimes that it’s like I’m fathoms under the sea, so unreachable that I feel totally disconnected from the world.  I cut myself off from Facebook, from writing and sometimes hours pass, days go slowly by, I’m staring at the tv but I don’t connect with it, I sleep a lot and it’s like I’ve disappeared.

Today I’m back.

 

 

The upgrade

I was at Charing Cross today.  I always feel emotional there. It was this time six years ago that I’d spent a fortnight on the ENT ward.  I’d been transferred from Hillingdon Hospital or in my experience HELLingdon for my first ACDF which was postponed due to my facial infection.  I was so well looked after there.  Yet once I step over their threshold I feel anxious.  Even today when I’d already knew I didn’t require surgical intervention.  That although I had some minor degenerative changes in my thoracic and lumber areas I had no cord compression.   This is very good news, a few dehydrated discs here and there is plain sailing.  I can get back to swalking and writing and persue publishing.   My battle now is with pain.

One minute I’m typing away and the next a wave of pain strikes and I want to throw up.  Doctors ask is it sharp?  Is it tingling?  Actually this pain is blunt and it feels deep rooted like a tumour and it’s in my head and the groves in my shoulders and it feels like veins in my neck are twisting.  It’s also bloody boring and it makes me sad.   It’s fine.  My emotional cave ins don’t last long.  Paddy and Kitty will bounce onto the sofa beside me and they’ll come up with a funny tale or two.  I love having my children close.  Young people have this electricity charging through them that’s contagious.   I think it’s what keeps me so positive…usually.

For a while I wondered would there be new experiences on my horizon, would I meet new people?  It’s not me being dramatic;  I’ve only  been out of my local area four times in a year: twice to the theatre and twice to Charing Cross Hospital.  My writing led me to an agent, which led me to editing meetings in new cafes and bars and maybe in the future it will lead me to a publisher.  It is of course  a poisoned chalice because over the last year I have deteriorated in terms of pain and I have to consider that my manuscript is possibly the reason.  Oxycotin’s been added to my perscription and I keep randomly falling asleep.  I think I’m in bed more than I’m awake.  I can’t bend; not to the fridge, the cooker, to pet the dogs.  I’m also very confused.

Everyone with CSM will be familiar with chronic pain and a constantly altering physical state.  Myelopathy is like someone having your effigy and each day they stick a pin in a different part or they stick two pins, three pins, four pins.

Myelopathy steals your life.  It prevents people from working.  From operating independently.  From participating in their hobbies and family life.  It’s like being an extra on a film set.

Every day before work I swam thirty lengths.  I spent the day in front of students lecturing. I drove to soft play rooms and kids parties. Every occassion I danced.  Every snowfall I built snowmen.  I remember starting a snowball off with my kids outside their school and rolling it all the way home whilst it grew larger and larger. All the time I baked, and power walked, and gardened and springcleaned and decorated all to the soundtrack of Kiss FM.  Now I’m an observor.

I think what I feel is loss.  Of course I’m glad to be alive, not to be in a wheelchair, not to be battling cancer, not to be in Syria.  The list of those worse off than me goes on forever. Most of the time thinking of them stops me from selfishly thinking about me but today, back in Charing Cross, I remember that I’m left with a version of myself that’s no longer useful.  I know that problems will arise and I’ll be downgraded again.

There’s that saying I wouldn’t wish it on my enemy – actually I think it would be brilliant.  For them to wake up one morning bright and breezy until they attempt to get out of bed.  To not be able to move.  To have to focus all energy on swinging their legs out of bed, to try to sit up, breathing hard because of the energy used.  To feel exhausted and defeated and that’s before they’ve put a foot on the floor.

I think what’s difficult is that I am disabled but not conventionally.  Today I may have walked the length of the garden.  Tomorrow I may not make it to the back door.  But if I’m out I’m probably casually dressed, definitely smiling because I love going for coffee and this will be me at my best otherwise I wouldn’t be out.

I’m like an Olympic athlete – my walking depends on the environment and conditions.  How long I’ve been seated for.  Whether I’ve travelled in a car.  How dizzy I feel. The surface I’m walking on.

The next day I’ll be in pain.  I’ll be tired.  My body will be so stiff and heavy it’s like semi paralysis.  I’ll lay in bed unable to lift my head from the pillow and I’ll vow never to leave the house again but it’s like childbirth…a week later I’ve forgotten all that and off for coffee I go again.

I don’t know how my words or tone read.  I don’t want to be a moaner but then again I don’t want to pretend like everything is cushty because for all those out there with myelopathy I won’t diminish the challenges they face along with their family.  For a long time I felt very isolated.  I didn’t understand my disease so I couldn’t explain it.  I searched the internet for hours, every day at the beginning, trying to find information and others with myelopathy.  When I stumbled across https://www.facebook.com/myelopathy and http://www.myelopathy.org/ it was brilliant.  I had a place to check in each day, read about others’ operations, outcomes, difficulties, chat.  Through them I found other facebook sites Spondylosis Support Site and Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion(ACDF).  I’ve learnt masses about my disease.  It helps me to understand my mri, to have more informed discussions with my surgeon and doctor and I get strength from others because they’re feeling it too.

One of the reasons I write this blog is because it might find its way to someone who is totally floored by what is happening to them and who desperately needs a support group.   I also write because it’s my new thing.  It’s what fills my time.  It’s what keeps pain in the background. If the old you was a sailor, windsurfer, gymer, rider, white water rafter there will be something new, a challenge, on the horizon.

Writing is my dream.  It makes me the upgrade.