11 Things I wish I Told when I was Diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis

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At 15 I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis , the doctors and nurses talked a lot and explained lots of medical terms to be but there was lots they just couldn’t have known. These is my list of the 11 Things I wish I had known when I was diagnosed with Arthritis

  1. ‘At the moment, there is no cure, but that doesn’t mean no future.’

Arthritis is something that is ‘managed’ and not cured. It is something you will have for the rest of your life and will affect you every day. However, you will still go on living. Things will be harder for you than most, but you still have so much potential and so much life to live. Arthritis may slow you down sometimes, but there is no need for it to stop you.

  1. ‘It is not something to be embarrassed about.’

Sometimes when you need help undressing or get locked in the bathroom because you can’t unlock the door, you will feel utter mortification. Stop…it is fine. You need help or take longer to do things because you are unwell. You are not useless, stupid or an embarrassment. You didn’t ask to be sick it just happened, and it is nothing to be embarrassed by.

  1. ‘There will be lots of bad days, but there will be lots of good days.’

You will have days where you can’t physically get out of bed, and it feels like the world is an incredibly unfair place (it is), but then you will have days where you laugh your butt off with friends and family or can manage a long walk or do something really impressive like dance all night! Unfortunately, you have to take the rough with the smooth, and there will be lots of smooth so don’t worry too much.

  1. ‘”Normal” People will never really understand.’

People without arthritis will never understand a 100% what you are going through. Some will try, and that is wonderful, but they will sometimes say the wrong thing, be confused as to how you can do something today but not yesterday and will every once in a while get frustrated. It is not always the case that they don’t care or don’t believe you it can simply be a case of confusion.

  1. ‘You have to grieve the old you to make way for the new you.’

The old you might have run marathons all the time or worked every hour god sends. The old you might have been able to go out four nights a week, not a bother. But you are no longer the old you. You have the same personality as the old you and hopes and dreams as the old you but you have limitations now, new fears and concerns and new priorities. Before you can fully make way for the new you, you need to accept the old you is gone.

  1. ‘Tell people when you can’t do something. It’s okay.’

Sometimes you won’t be able to pour a cup of tea from the pot or cook the dinner or carry the box from the lobby. Whatever it may be and you need to tell people that. You need to be honest because pushing yourself to do it when you can’t, will leave you in agony and not doing it at all will only frustrate those around you. Just explain you can’t. This is something I still struggle with 10 years on but it is a learning curve and its always better to just say ‘I can’t ‘.

  1. ‘It is okay not to be okay.’

You don’t have to pretend you are fine all the time. Sometimes you won’t be fine. I am not saying stop everyone on your way to the shops or into work and tell them ‘You know I am not ok’ but when a close friend or family member asks ‘How are you?’ you are allowed say ‘Not that great actually’. That’s why we have friends and family members and being honest about when you’re not ok is much better for your mental health.

  1. ‘Tell your Doctor everything.’

Tell your doctor when you feel like the medicine isn’t being effective anymore, or when you have developed a new symptom, side effect or pain somewhere. Hiding it is not going to make the appointment go quicker or make you feel any better.  Your doctor is there to help you as best as they can, they can’t do that if they don’t know the full extent of what is actually wrong.

  1. ‘Laugh about it.’

Sometimes you have to laugh and find some humor in the situation. Funny memes or cracking the odd joke about yourself or your condition can help. Laughter is the best medicine after all.

  1. ‘Cry about it.’

Yes, cry your heart out because it sucks and it happened to you, and you deserve to let all the frustration out. Cry because you’re mad and sad and cry because you are in pain. Don’t hold that in all the time. Once in a while, you need to let it out and throw yourself a little pity party which admits one.

  1. ‘Never give Up.’

Yes, there is no cure, and yes it sucks, but that doesn’t mean you give up. Life is for the living and you are included in that. In today’s modern world there are tools and gadgets to help you achieve all sorts. There are ways and means to conquer your dreams. Where there is a will, there’s a way so never stop trying.

 

This post was originally published by Arthritis Ireland on their Blog. For more stories you can follow me here or on Facebook.

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Invisibly Obvious : My Invisible Illness and Me.

invisible_by_pyroin-d7sxmblI sat in the Doctor’s office while the nurse repeated words like ‘manage, lifelong and chronic’ , but at just 15 none of it sunk in and I had no idea what all that really meant. I expected to be medicated, sent home with a few days off school and I would feel better in a week or two and my life was to go back to normal. Little did I know that was far from the way things were going to be.

Normal is a relative term and suddenly my normal was sleepless nights, needing my younger sister to brush my hair and dress me and for my friends to carry my school bag off the bus for me. My new normal was being in agony for a weeks after one fun filled weekend of shopping and movies with my friends. My new normal was anything but normal for my peers.

People do not understand the impact Rheumatoid Arthritis can have on your life, they hear arthritis and assume you have a bit of an ache in your knee and are a hypochondriac. RA is an inflammatory autoimmune disease which affects the joints in your body  but also causes chronic fatigue , pain and discomfort and limits your mobility. In other words it is your own body attacking itself and causing inflammations to heal the body however the problem lies in the fact there were no wounds to heal in the first place.

The pain is one part of the disease that can certainly test you and push you to  breaking point but it is the lack of true understanding from others that can be the most painful. Rheumatoid Arthritis is not something that we made up in our heads or something we exaggerate. We smile and say we are fine and then we cry in agony when no one is looking  because we do not want to bring down those around us. So we play a great game of hide and seek as we shelter you from the pain we are in.

It is the simple tasks that we once took for granted that affect us the most such as getting out of bed in the morning. I doubt anyone really does this at ease but now I need to prepare myself as my bones ache and creak as I sit at the edge of the bed. I count to three in my head and take a deep breath as that is the little routine I have made for myself to ease the pain of the first movements of the day.

Everything is different now , everything is more difficult now, from brushing my teeth to carrying the shopping in from the car. The little things people do without a second thought and in mere minutes can be a real struggle for me and during a flare up quite time consuming.

People don’t see a sick person though, they see a young woman who should be ‘well able’ for these easy tasks. They see someone who is just lazy and can’t be bothered. I may not have a wheelchair or a missing limb but my body does not function as it supposed to.  I have my body but it is broken, I am broken.

My illness is invisible to the naked eye it seems but really it just takes some time to open your eyes wide and see. You cannot possibly know what every person you encounter on the street is going through and no one could expect you to. But  a friend, a colleague , a loved one has the capacity to see what is going on behind our fake smiles, and lies of ‘I’m Fine’. You just have to look hard enough and when you do my invisible illness suddenly becomes glaringly obvious.

 

This was originally published in The Clare Champion a local paper in Co.Clare, Ireland.

 

Diagnosed, Dazed and Confused; A letter to myself 10 years ago.

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I nodded at the doctor and sat there puzzled as to why the nurse looked so concerned at my complete acceptance of my rheumatoid arthritis. I continued to nod at everything they said and hoped mam was actually taking in the information. I was happy that they finally knew what was wrong and in my head that was the same as them saying ‘It’ll all be okay now.’

Little did I know that wasn’t the case. I had heard the nurse say ‘manage your condition’ about 10 times in my consultation but I was 15, to me that meant I would get some medicine and in a few weeks I would be back to myself. No one told us in that hospital room the emotional and physical roller coaster I would be on for the next ten years. There is so many things I wish I could have told myself back then or have someone tell me. However until someone invents a time machine unfortunately that won’t be possible so this letter is not only for the 15 year old scared girl of ten years ago but to all those who have just found out they are chronically ill and feel like a deer in the headlights.

 

Dear Me,

 

Wipe your tears, get Dad to make you a cup of tea, sit somewhere comfortable and get ready to hear some things that no one else will tell you. The nurses and doctors are very nice and they have sat you down and told you all about your medication, how often you have to take it and that you will have to have some blood tests every few months.

 

But I’m afraid there’s a lot they haven’t told you, they haven’t explained that having your condition ‘managed’ is not the same as having it cured. The meds they have put you on will help a bit with the pain and it won’t always be as bad as it is now…but it will never be 100% better. You are not the girl you were a year ago, it is not your fault, you didn’t do anything to deserve it but it has happened. It is no one’s fault, it’s just the way of the world. Everyone has a cross to bear and this is yours. 

 

It won’t always leave you in a state of agony where you are curled up in bed crying your eyes out and it won’t always leave you feeling useless. There will be days when you feel like a superhero because you conquered something that was incredible but you did it despite the hurdles the disease put in your way.

 

Stop being embarrassed, arthritis is not something only old people get, there are babies to grannies who are all suffer with the condition and there are different forms of it too. Stop trying to keep it to yourself, start telling the world and  their dog about it and educate people on the fact that you are pretty impressive because you achieve so much even with a chronic illness.

 

Your little sister doesn’t hate you or think your pathetic, give her some time to come around to this. You may be young but she is even younger and as hard as it is for you to wrap your head around this , imagine how she feels. One day you’re her big sister protecting her from the world or at least trying to and the next your crying your eyes out every morning because you can’t button your school shirt. She will become one of the most understanding people about your condition and be with you every step of the way you just have to give her a chance to get there.

 

Don’t worry too much about what your friends think, to them you are still you just your sore sometimes now. You are still a flirt, dirty minded and a bit of a klutz.  None of that changes because of RA and it never will. (Even the Klutz bit unfortunately)

 

Stop thinking no boy will ever love you because of it, sure it adds an additional hurdle to any relationship but you will find someone that supports you, pushes you when you need to be pushed and understands when you have reached your limits. Someone who tries their best to understand where you are coming from no matter how much it bewilders them at times.

 

Tell mam why you don’t want to do the hoovering, she thinks it’s just because well lets me honest here you never wanted to do the hoovering. We both know it’s different now but she doesn’t unless you tell her. Appreciate her and dad and all they do for you. And when they drive you mad about hospital appointments, medicine and taking it easy remember it comes from a place of utter love.

 

There will be things you can’t do, and there will be times when you feel like you can’t keep up with the rest of the world around you. Try not to let it get you down too much. Try to be thankful for all the things you can do and all the opportunities you have. 

 

Learn that it is ok to not be ok. What you are going through is tough and damn it you can have days where you don’t get dressed, where you watch Netflix all day (Netflix is the TV of the future :p) and eat chocolate. It’s ok , you need more rest than other people your age but there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact you should see that as a perk, well the only perk of the illness. If you look at it that way…it’s a little easier to cope.

 

Most of all don’t let it stop you doing anything you want to in life, it is something you will deal with for the rest of your life but you will deal with it. It will become part of you, it won’t make you less of a person, it will feel like that sometimes but that instinct is wrong. You will meet others who have gone through the same things and it will open your eyes up to the fact that you are not alone.

 

You will still have a great life, full of love, laughter and great memories. Your illness will allow you to gain empathy for people and what they may be going through and ultimately your condition will allow you to become a stronger person.

 

Don’t cry, a lot of your life will be normal, dossing in class, make ups and breaks ups and nights out and fights with your mam and dad, then there will be the days that life isn’t so normal but either way…. You won’t ever be who you used to be but you will be ok.

 

You, in ten years’ time.

 

The Girl with the Old Lady Bones.

 

Is there anything you would tell yourself the day you diagnosed? Is there anything you wish you had known? I would love to know! ❤

For more stories, helpful tips and funny memes follow me on Facebook here.

 

To the Person Who Thinks I am Lazy

To the person who thinks I am lazy

To the person who thinks I am lazy, this is a letter for you, in the hopes that after reading this you will get a little insight into how that makes me feel. Firstly I must say It is probably not your fault, if I am entirely honest I might have made the same judgements as someone just like me before I was diagnosed. But then again I was a naïve teenager, still learning about the world and the people in it when I was diagnosed.

This is not a post to give out to you or claim that you are a bad person or even to claim that I am never lazy. At the end of the day, I am a human being and from time to time just like you I am lazy. But for the most part just getting through the day takes more energy from me than climbing a mountain might for you.

I know you may read that and think ‘what exaggeration!’ and roll your eyes but it is true. It’s ok that you do not completely understand. In truth I hope you never really do as that would mean you would have to go through the pain and exhaustion I do each day.

This is not a pity party either or a need for sympathy or attention. All people with a chronic illness want is understanding. Even if you cannot truly grasp just how difficult a regular day may be for us we hope that you grasp the fact that we are in fact not lazy. That we want to work, that we want to play with our kids, go on long walks, attend every event we are invited to ….but whilst we want all that, sometimes that is just not realistic on a daily basis.

Those with a chronic illness who are able to work count themselves lucky, those who has an understanding manager and colleagues are even luckier and those that have a family who is supportive feel as though they have hit the jack pot.

A husband who understands why he has to cook the dinner AGAIN because we are in too much pain, a manager who gets that we wish we were at work and knows that we are important to the team despite our struggles, friends who don’t make you feel guilty that you can’t make it out to see them after all, this is all we want.

We are not lazy but rather in too much pain to get of bed, too much pain to get dressed or brush our teeth. We are not lazy but sit at home willing our body to move at ease so we do not have to feel like we have wasted an entire day doing nothing.

But what you and I must come to terms with is that on those occasions we are not being lazy, nor is it a waste of a day doing nothing. It is a day our bodies need to recover, to revive and to get us through the rest of the week. A day that is unpleasant for everyone involved but that means we are re charged and capable of more in the long run.

We are not lazy, we are just broken, we need more time to re charge then others and we wish it was different too. We want to have a good night’s sleep and feel refreshed ready to take on the day. We want to wake up and the only pain and discomfort we feel is a little indigestion or a period cramp.

To the person who thinks I am lazy, I hope you never have to explain yourself like this to anyone.

I am proud of myself and those around me whom smile every day despite the pain they are in. Those who try their best to meet their goals and life a ‘normal’ life. I admire each and every one of you no matter what your chronic illness whether it is much worse than mine or much milder.

Each day is a battle, but you know what sometimes the illness isn’t the biggest battle, instead it is the people who refuse to at least try to understand.

Just remember you cannot always see someone’s pain, but we can see your judgement.

5 Things People Might Say When You Tell Them You Have Arthritis.

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Once you tell someone you have arthritis, well they are usually expected to respond. Some don’t know what to say, some say the right thing and some couldn’t say anything worse if they tried. Here are some of the most common responses I got!

  1. “You’re too young to have that”

Most people do not realize that even small children can have arthritis and that two thirds of those diagnosed with arthritis in the world are under 65! Some people may even think that miraculously while you only look like you’re in your 20’s you must somehow remember when the Titanic sank! Just remember to stay calm, it’s not their fault they don’t know everything about your condition. They will learn.

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  1. “You Don’t Look Sick”

People will see you living out your daily life and I find often people say “Oh well you don’t look like there’s anything wrong with you”, I just tell them “You haven’t seen me on a bad day yet!” I just think of it like this if people can’t tell I’m sick I must be doing a pretty good job of getting on with life.

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  1. ‘You can’t do that!’

People may try to tell you that there are things that you can’t do now. Don’t believe them, because only you know what you can’t do! Also try and remember it may seem like they don’t have faith in you or your ability but really they are just looking out for you because they don’t want you to push yourself and get hurt.

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  1. “You Can Do This”

Once again when people tell you that you can still do something once you’ve told them that you can’t, remember that only you know what you can and can’t do. Don’t push yourself to please others. You have to decide what is worth the pain the next morning and what you are physically capable of.  Often they will tell you this by means of supporting you, so while you may want to murder them for saying it, try to understand they just don’t want you to miss out on anything!

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  1. “Oh right, If you need me to help with anything let me know”

Most people don’t really want to know everything there is to know about your condition. They just want to get on with what has to be done, or they don’t see what your condition has to do with your friendship. Most people even offer to help should you need it. So don’t be afraid to tell anyone, its not a big deal to them so it shouldn’t be to you!

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I would love to hear the response you received when you told people about your arthritis or what you said to someone with the condition (or something similar). Comment below or email me at glorialouiseshannon2392@gmail.com , I would love to hear from you!

You Can Do This!

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I stood half way up a small hill looking at Aidan, and the rest of the hill just past him. Aidan and I were on a weekend away to Killarney over the summer and we visited Torc Waterfall. Torc Waterfall was beautiful and if you have ever visited you will know that it really is a lovely place. I was feeling sore and even the 500 metres of rough ground from the car park to the waterfall seemed like it was defeating me.  We had looked at the waterfall, taken some pictures, sat and talked by it and all I could think about was the huge row of steps behind us, which I knew Aidan would want to explore.

In situations like this I often feel like a burden or a kill joy to my friends. It can be tough, not just for me but for my friends too. They want me to be able to take part in activities but they don’t want to see me in pain, whilst at the same time they don’t want to have to miss out just because I have to. Something they don’t know is sometimes I really am okay with that. There has been and will be many more times where I will have to miss out on an activity, and that really is okay. It’s fine because I would rather miss out on something than be in pain for days just because I pushed myself. I have learned to weigh up the situation around me and decide whether something will be worthwhile in the end or not.

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That day was not one of those times though! I really wanted to see what was at the top of those stairs, not just for Aidan but also for me. I braced myself, and took the first step in what looked like a never ending staircase. It’s at times like these I really am grateful for my support network, Aidan being a major part of that. We have been a couple for just over three years and he is really great with regards to my condition. He has always been understanding and supportive since the day I told him.

Aidan is not exactly the sporty type but a large hill or a long walk would do little to scare him. He has a very curious nature and whenever we go anywhere he wants to explore. This means that sometimes I am left telling him to go ahead without me, something he will rarely do. It can be frustrating to watch him look longingly at a long walk way or steep hill and just walk away, both of us leaving unsatisfied. I want him to be able to do all that he can do despite the fact that I am just not up to things like that a lot of the time. I see his brother and his girlfriend play fighting and even messing with airsoft guns, having shooting competitions and I think, “Jesus I can’t even hold the gun never mind shoot it”, and honestly I often feel as though he misses out on a lot because he fell in love with me.

However on that day at the Waterfall Aidan pushed me, but I needed it. It wasn’t actually climbing the stairs that was bothering me as much as not knowing when the stairs would end! I was already feeling sore and tired, what if the stairs went on forever? Obviously that was an irrational thought but when you are there looking at the steps in front of you, you don’t think like that. You just think “I can’t do this!”
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I looked at his face and I saw his belief in me, as corny as that sounds. Knowing that he knew I could do it, I felt like I could. In fact I knew I could. Trust me I still moaned the whole way up, I panted like a dog in heat and I was sweating like a pig but I did it. Slowly mind you, but I made it to the top, I stopped plenty of times and was coached by Aidan but I got to the top. After that, I made it through the whole “yellow trail” which I must point out is the easiest walking trail but I still felt very proud of myself. The views at the higher points of the walk were amazing and though it took a lot of effort on my part and patience on Aid’s part it was definitely worth it.

Yes I have a lifelong illnesses that makes my bones ache but I am lucky that I can still walk, I can still climb. Yes, it is tough but someday I really might not be able to do these things and I am learning that it really is worth at least trying while I still can.  No pain, no gain!

You just have to remember that sometimes “You can do this!” you just have to try a bit harder than the people around which really makes the experience all the better.

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Telling The World

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‘What do you mean, How did I catch it? It’s not the common cold or an STD!’ I questioned my cousin. My sister and I, and our two cousins had met up in the village to go for a bag of chips and a catch up. I told them about my arthritis. Now that I knew what was wrong at least I could explain to people. It was easier than trying to explain that I felt sore a lot and for no apparent reason. Of course *Shane would ask something ridiculous. Although at least his reaction made me laugh, I mean I had to laugh at the fact that he thought this was something I could give him. That if he accidently touched me, or if I coughed close to him he might ‘catch’ it. It reminded me of when we were young children playing in the back yard and *Shane thought we would give him cooties because we were girls!

My parents had told my Nana, whose reaction was just as I had imagined.’ Oh the poor creator, oh god isn’t that awful. Well at least she wouldn’t be able to wear those shoes anymore. Those high heels are dangerous things!’ My aunts and uncles were very inquisitive about how I was feeling and if my medicine would help much, but in general they just expected me to get on with it. I liked that though if I’m honest. More than anything I wanted things to go back to normal and while they would never be exactly the same as they were at the very least they could be similar.

My younger sister was amazing! She gave me a huge hug when I told her and asked loads of questions so she would know how to help if I was having a bad day. There is only two years between us and we have always been close. At that time of my life I really needed her and she really came through. She had just the right amount of sympathy for me to make me feel like I wasn’t an idiot for feeling like my world had been turned upside down whilst having just the right amount of nonchalance to make me see that it wasn’t the end of my world… just a big change.

Telling my family wasn’t really what scared me. I knew they’d be supportive if I ever needed help. I knew that they’d understand if I needed to sit out on a family occasion or needed to walk a bit slower than everyone else. It was the dreaded fear that every 15 year old is possessed by at one point or another. What would my friends think, my class mates, the boy I liked at school? Would they think I was boring when I couldn’t jump that fence, or lazy when I’d come last in the fun run? (Which I walked)

My mam rang the school to talk my year head. She explained that packing my heavy books into my school bag and walking fast to my next class was sometimes going to prove quite difficult for me. That sometimes even writing would be hard as my fingers and wrists were very badly affected. I was in Transition Year at the time and my year head also happened to be my English teacher. I thought he was wonderful, I really respected him and still do and I loved my classes with him. Yet there was one day I had a fleeting moment of anger towards him that looking back was quite immature of me. He told everyone in the class all that my mam had said. That I had arthritis, that some of our more physical trips out would prove difficult if not impossible for me and that to make sure I didn’t need any help carrying my bag to my next class. He was just trying to help and make me feel as though my class mates would understand. I didn’t feel as though they would however. I felt like I was the ‘special’ kid who needed help. I thought they were all laughing, thinking, “this weirdo has a granny disease!” In hindsight, I don’t think any of them thought that. In fact most of them if I’m honest, didn’t care. I really shouldn’t have been so insecure, but at that age everything is, ‘a big deal’.

As I got older telling people wasn’t an issue. I didn’t exactly go shouting it from the roof tops or introducing myself as ‘Gloria, the girl with arthritis’ but I wasn’t so insecure about telling people. Most people are surprised and don’t realise that you can even be diagnosed with arthritis during childhood. I find friends are often very accommodating and don’t seem to mind opening bottles or even carrying a heavy shopping bag or two.

One encounter with a friend made me wonder though. *James was on my course for a year where we became quite friendly, about six months after the course was finished he began dating my sister *Kirsty. One night as we were all out in Limerick city, I happened to be quite sore, I couldn’t move my right arm without a lot of pain. I soldiered on and my sister was great. She carried my handbag, ordered any drinks I was having and carried them to my table. She also ordered my food and took it out of the bag, salted my chips and opened my curry sauce in Supermacs later that night. I was very grateful to her, I’d managed to have a good night out because of her and my friends help. However as we were leaving *Kirsty held out my jacket to help me put it on. I heard *James say something quietly to her. He asked her ‘Could she do anything herself?’ At first I was kind of taken back, nobody that night had complained about me needing help. I suddenly felt like a great burden. * Kirsty quickly answered him back telling him to get off my case, that I was sore and that arthritis can be very painful. He looked at her and me laughing… He honestly hadn’t known all this time that I had a condition of any sort other than a big mouth!

That got me thinking, my friends often carried most, if not all of the recording equipment when we went out filming, they helped carrying my shopping bags to the train station for me after college, they poured my tea from the pot at lunch and *James had seen all this and what? He hadn’t realised there was a reason they were doing this. ‘Oh god!’, I kept thinking, he just thought I was a lazy cow. He couldn’t have thought anything else, but that I was sickeningly lazy and made my friends do everything that required any sort of effort.

I have to say I was worried who else saw me as lazy and sometimes I still do. I often think is it better to be thought of as the girl who is being lazy or the one with the excuses?

I haven’t really decided yet……………….