Chronically Ill and Hopelessly Ambitious.

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‘I am so sorry’ I half sob down the phone. ‘I hate doing this, I really do’. At the other end of the phone is my boss getting the call for the 2nd or 3rd time this month that I cannot make it into the office today. Luckily I have a very understanding employer and I am never lead to believe there is any anger there when I am unable to work.  Still I feel it myself, I curse my broken body and wish I could just be well enough to make it into work.

Before I could even legally work I had already been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Naively as a teenager I couldn’t imagine why or how this illness would affect my career or my working life.

I was always going to be something or someone, I always wanted a career as a teacher, a writer, in marketing or PR. I was the weirdo who enjoyed school work and thoroughly believed that boredom should be classed as a form of torture.

I never stopped for a minute and thought how hard it would be to work for me. Even when I was missing school because I couldn’t physically get out of bed. I always assumed it would get better at least better enough for me to hold down a job.

It has improved from when I was 15, but I can have a flare up at any time and for a number of days or even weeks. Some days I can work through it others I simply can’t. It is not the way I wish it was. I envy those who call in sick once in a blue moon or have the option to ‘pull a sickie’.

I wake up some mornings and wish I could feel fulfilled by a life in at home, now work just me and Philip and Holly or Jeremy Kyle and the other stars of day time TV to keep me company.  That’s just not me.

I remember when a friend a couple of years younger than me was finishing exams and I asked what he’d like to do once he was finished. He answered ‘Go on the dole.’. I was so jealous of his lack of ambition in that moment. I wish I could be content in boredom and living off social welfare. I wished my only ambition was a lack of ambition.

Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of people who cannot work I was one of them for some time. However I think people have the wrong idea about us who are chronically ill. We want to work, we want to have high flying careers and climb the career ladder.

We don’t want to call in sick time and time again each time feeling guilty, anxious and unsure as to how your colleagues and employer must feel.

We want to be a success either keeping the job and status we had before we were ill or gaining that despite the fact we are ill.  We are fighters and it is only when we are physically and mentally unable that we won’t work. Won’t is the wrong word can’t is what it is.

The frustration of knowing that on a good day you can rock your job, you are on top of everything and you are willing and able to work your butt of. But on the bad days your mind can do all that is needed but your body doesn’t want to corporate.

I am lucky to have the Boss I do, I am sure it is frustrating for him too but he would never let me know. Not everyone shares my good fortune. Still, then I would look to other jobs, to alternatives to a more understanding employer or taking a break until you are well enough.

Please don’t lose your ambitions even if you are too sick to work now, that may not always be the case. Don’t give up on your dreams, hopes and ambitions…..but tailor them. Recognises that it may take you longer, it may be a harder road you have to travel but that will make you all the more successful when you get there.

That is what I have to believe to get through it. Today is a bad day, tomorrow I might take over the world. Keep going. Your chronic illness won’t give up and neither should you.

 

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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.

 

Why it’s important to be Thankful even when you have a Chronic Illness.

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My life changed when I was 15 and it wasn’t something I ever wished for but it happened. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis or RA for short. It meant a lot of horrible things, sleepless nights, pain for the rest of my life, limitations my peers would not experience and lots of visits  to the doctors, needles, medicine and loads of blood tests!

Like I said it wasn’t something anyone would ever wish on themselves or another but it happened and as I have grown older and have accepted my illness I have learnt a little bit about what it gave me.

Not only has my illness made me a strong person who have become a fighter but it has shown me in life how the little things are the most important and family and friends will get you through anything.

Because we feel so isolated, like no one understands our pain and like people judge us we can sometimes forget how much the people we love do for us. Will they ever truly understand if they are not ill themselves? No. Will they often say things that hurt us or make us feel as though we are not doing good enough? Yes. But do they mean to hurt us? Do they mean to make us feel like a lesser person? No.

When someone is ill, everyone thinks how it must be for that person. And I have been there it’s tough and every day of your life will be tough, you will have to fight and your life once you become ill will change. But so will the life of the people around you.

Your partner will have to help more but not only that they will feel helpless at times. When you are curled in a ball crying on the bed in agony they will be in their own discomfort. The person they love is in pain and there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. Your children will not be able to play as roughly with you, you won’t be able to go on as many mad nights out with your friends or work as late as you used to. Our illness unfortunately doesn’t just affect us but those around us.

However, there is a light in all this. That even when our problems effect our loved ones, they try to help, they try to understand and they try to not let it affect our relationships.

I have so many people to be thankful for. My mam and dad who took me to hospital appointments and held my hand when I wailed in pain, who sorted my medicine and took time off work to look after me. To my aunts and uncles who not only helped out with the hospital runs, babysitting my siblings when I was stuck at an appointment all day but who also supported my mam and dad emotionally as they worried about my health.

I am thankful for my sister who was just 13 when I was diagnosed, who helped me dress in the morning and take my socks off at night. Who cuddled me as I cried and who always reminds others to slow down and wait for me.

I am thankful for my partner, Aidan who accepted me for my who I am illness and all. Who rubs my back when I’m fighting back the tears and who is patient with me when I struggle with basic daily tasks. Who helps me dress when my hands are too swollen to function and who makes me laugh to try and distract me from my pain.

I am thankful for my brother and father in law who show me their affection in the form of fires and hot cups of tea to keep my bones warm. Who carry my shopping in from the car or open jars for me when I am unable.

I am thankful to my sister in law who is always trying to find ways to help cure me or make me better with natural remedies. I am thankful to my little brother who named me as his Role model because at just 12 he saw what I was going through.

I am thankful to my friends who do all they can to understand my illness and who are the biggest supporters of my blog. They carry my bags when I am too sore and only show understanding when I have to back out of plans. Who make me feel ‘normal’ and don’t treat me as a something that is easily broken.

I am thankful to my little nephews, niece and my littlest sister who make me laugh so much I almost forget about the pain. They get me blankets and give me cuddles when I don’t feel well and ask me questions in a bid to understand why my bones are different to others.

This illness takes so much from you and at times it can be hard to see any light at all. But the love people show you, the care they give you when you are unable to care yourself…people need to stop seeing that as a loss of dignity and instead see it as something beautiful to behold.

Not everyone will understand, and you may lose some people on the way. But those people were not needed in your life if they could only accept you as a healthy person. No one chooses to get sick, no one’s chooses to be in pain. Those that choose to cut you out and who don’t even attempt to understand your new life are not meant to be in that life.

Why not say thanks to those that show you love and compassion. They might not be going through what you are but that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing their best.

Thanks for reading,

The Girl with the Old Lady Bones.

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……………….