Fly Free

It happened gradually. So gradually, that I didn’t even realise it was happening until I was unwittingly set free.

Cages – used to keep animals and people controlled. These days you can find beautiful ornate bird cages, with intricate detailing so beautiful that you forget its original purpose.

That’s the kind of cage I imagine that I was in. It seemed so beautiful from the outside, that I barely knew it for what it really was.

I used to be a dreamer… I wanted so much from the world. I wanted to try everything, do everything, go everywhere. I wanted to travel to ancient and foreign lands, have hundreds of different careers, move to the other side of the country – I wanted to continue to learn and grow. I wanted to experience everything that this beautiful world had to offer.

So, why couldn’t I follow my whims?

I’ll start with a broader reason… Relationships. Now, before I go on, I’d like to point out that I’m not saying “I hate my ex – he trapped me in a bubble.” Not in the slightest. This isn’t a reflection on any one person, but a simple fact that relationships mean your decisions need to be made with consideration of another person…Duh! So, all those possibilities become smaller, especially for me as someone who has always put my partner first. I’m not sure that I’ll ever grow out of that. I would sacrifice what I wanted if I knew it would make them happy. I wouldn’t speak up – and that was the beginning of my gilded cage, a beautiful cage I built for myself. I got myself to a stage that I hardly even knew what I wanted.

Friendships – a lot more freedom there than in a relationship, but your happiness in said friendships is based solely on who you actually decide to become friends with. “Friends are the family we choose.” Clique, but oh so true! I had toxic friendships for years… They were clipping my wings and caging me in, and I didn’t even know it. Meeting my ex was a blessing in more ways than one, because he taught me the importance of standing up for one’s self, and the importance of cutting people out of your life who are a type of poison for you. Cutting out those people (as harsh as it sounds,) cut out some of the bars to my cage.

The next reason is money. Yep, so many problems in the world are caused by money. But I never grew up to put value on it. Money is to live, nothing more. At my first job, I watched my boss (a small business owner) place his happiness on how much money he made that day. I saw his darker moods, his scary temper, but I also saw his kindness and generosity when things were going well. His moods affected all of ours. It made us feel anxious, like we were walking on eggshells. If we didn’t sell enough that day, his mood would visibly sour.

And I didn’t understand, not at all. I mean, to a certain extent I would understand the stress of running a small business and the worry that can cause, especially during times as difficult as these. But not when every dollar and cent defined your happiness. If any of my friends or family came up to me right now, struggling and desperate for money, I would give everything I could to them, every cent if I had to. Because those people are what I value most, not money. This became an issue in my previous relationship, right from the very beginning. His ambition was inspiring to me, I was always proud of that – but his value on money didn’t align with mine. And I found myself feeling smaller and smaller, actually shrinking and using my cage to hide the pain that I felt like I was only worth the money in my bank account.

Now, that’s a terrifying thought. What’s even more terrifying is that I let it happen. I got in my cage and shut the door, because that’s where I felt safe.

I always felt the need to apologise, often laid awake at night anxious about money – anxious that my partner would stop loving me if I didn’t earn enough. But the greatest and heaviest expectations came from myself, from my own insecurities. I can’t blame anyone but me. I jumped into my half-built cage and hid there willingly. Not wanting to voice my opinion, not wanting to cause confrontation… Simply not wanting to lose him. For that, I would have done anything.

The next issue became my health… This is probably the biggest reason, hence being the reason for this blog. Feeling trapped in my own body, like a bird being shoved into a shoe box. I couldn’t breathe, I was scared to move, for fear I’d hurt myself or make things worse. I was flailing in the dark, having no idea what was happening on when things would get better. At one stage, I even got a false positive for a rare type of tumour – a test that took an extra two weeks to complete to find out that it really was false. That was the longest and loneliest two weeks of my life – because I made it that way. I didn’t lean on those who cared about me the way I should have. I caged them out, at the same time as caging myself in.

My health has been a trip! What started as what seemed like a panic disorder, turned out to be dangerously high blood pressure and tachycardia. It developed from there – fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, chronic daily migraines, dizziness, malaise. I would work all week and sleep all weekend. My world shrunk further, and my health continued to build my cage towards completion. What I could do on any given day, relied solely on how my body felt. That thought was utterly suffocating. I craved answers, I craved my choices back, I craved understanding. What I found was loneliness. The kind of loneliness I’d never experienced before – I believed this was my fight… Me against my body, me against the world. So, I shut out the world. I let my fatigue drag me down, let me physical capabilities define me, let me value diminish based on the lack of income I had coming in.

The next is mental health. This is a big one for many people, especially at the moment. Our mental well-being is so important, and so complicated, that it has a way of grabbing hold of us with both hands and not letting go. Feeling good, feeling happy, has it’s own way of making us feel free. But when we’re struggling, we’re trapped in the M5 tunnel at peak hour – seeing no light at the end and feeling like we’re moving in slow motion. That’s exactly how my anxiety makes me feel, and I know a hell of a lot of people could related to that. My anxiety hit me hardest with my health. Approximately six panic attacks a day – yep. That panic had gripped my heart and I never seemed to feel any relief.

The day that my doctors discovered that my then-current panic attacks were caused by a physiological response rather than psychological… Well, it was somewhat a relief – and yet, somehow made me feel even more caged in. I felt even more trapped in what my body was doing to me – because not only was it affecting me physically, but it had now gripped my mind too.

The final bar to my cage was the concept of moving out. I always thought I’d move to WA, live with my friend. Go where I wanted, when I wanted. But being in a relationship changes your priorities, means having to compromise (which I was more than happy to do! Not forced to.) However, I wasn’t the one fronting the money in our goal to move out – which I felt strongly limited my opinion in the matter. So, I shut down further. Stopped speaking up, went with the flow, pushed my unhappiness and claustrophobia in the situation way down until I didn’t feel a thing.

My cage was finished – complete with a beautiful brass padlock. And I couldn’t blame anyone but myself.

Now, this isn’t meant to make me sound like a victim, this isn’t meant to say that I wasn’t happy in my relationships or friendships, or in my career, or in life. This isn’t meant to say that I have any regrets. Because I don’t – not one.

It’s meant to be about choice.

We all have it, whether we choose to admit it. We have freedom – we just need to actively choose to fly towards it, not hide in our seemingly beautiful cages. That’s where I went wrong – my choices, or rather ignoring my choices, had ultimately locked me away.

This year has been a shit storm – for everyone in the world. But during this time, I’ve found strength in sorrow, forgiveness in anger, empathy in pain. Most importantly, I found my freedom again. Because, ironic as this sounds, choice was forced on me. I was put in a situation where I actually HAD to think about what I wanted, for the first time in a long time. I was forced to drop my own expectations of myself, step back, and see what I really wanted, where I was really meant to be, all along. This year I became a dreamer again. I became a bird soaring through the sky instead of hiding in a cage.

In loss, I found myself. Self-love, putting yourself first, isn’t ugly – it certainly isn’t selfish. It’s necessary. I know that now. I built a cage for myself, and I’ve spent the last year tearing down my beautiful self-made prison.

My final statement is this – the reason my self-built cage was so ‘beautiful…’ That’s easy – it was beautiful because I was still happy. Blissfully unaware, as they say, but never truly content.

And now…? Those obstacles are still there, but not holding me back.

Now I feel like I’m really starting to soar.

Photo by Guillaume TECHER on Unsplash

We Need to Talk

Let’s talk about chronic pain. I mean, big whoop… Man up, right?

NO!

Let’s go for some empathy here… Ladies – imagine having bad period cramps all month long. Guys – imagine being kicked in the balls and being told that lingering pain is going to stick with you every day for the rest of your life. Ever broken a bone? That pain is here to stay! Got a bikini wax? Yep, you guessed it, that pain becomes chronic.

Now, that’s not reality (praise Jesus!) But let’s just think about a pain that we get, and then imagine it never going away… Ever.

Enter stage left – chronic pain! Enter stage right – medication overuse syndrome, causing even more chronic pain. A vicious cycle of pain.

Pain, pain, pain.

… Did I mention pain? 😉

It’s something so easy to overlook. I even did it myself for many many years, before the universe kicked me in the ass and said “Dear Laura, we think you could use some daily pain. Please see attached. Kind regards, The Universe.”

Slowly, but surely, I started to understand. And regretted every single day that I lived in ignorance, that I scoffed at people ‘complaining’ about their pain. Well, I got my comeuppance for that, let me tell you!

But in all seriousness, the affect that chronic pain has on all aspect of a person’s quality of life, as well as mental health, is a really freaking huge issue. It SUCKS! 

I’m a happy, positive, and bubbly human. But when that pain hits… BAM! I’m irritable, down in the dumps, and straight up pissed off. Not to mention the anxiety and panic attacks! Because being able to do everything I used to do on a daily basis would be pretty darn sweet, but apparently too much to ask.  *Face palm*

The frustration is real, it’s constant, it’s debilitating and confusing. Do I stay in bed and rest? Do I try walk it off? Do some stretches? Heat therapy? Magnesium oil? Pain killers…? All of the above (most likely?)

Let’s talk about loss. Every little thing that you stop being able to do, or stop being able to do as often. Loss of jobs, ability to exercise, ability to socialise, ability to drink a bottle of wine and not pay for it for a whole week… Let’s talk about relationships – the ones who have stayed and the ones who have left. The friends and family that patiently sit on the sidelines, trying to be supportive, while also incredibly frustrated.
And I feel for them – because we all want so desperately to have someone to blame, but lacking that element. Wanting to point a finger and scream at someone until all that frustration is out and you feel SO much better. They wish they could blame me, but know very well that it’s not my fault. I often wonder if I’d feel better if they did blame me – if that would ease the inexplicable and unrelenting guilt I feel.

What about all the times that I wish to God that I could work off my frustration and anger during a flare up by going for a jog or bashing the crap out of my boxing bag, but my pain prevents me… LOL – universe kicking us in the balls again, am I right?!

So, you lie there, resting, using any type of therapy possible to get through the pain, while suffocating in a plastic bubble of frustration and anxiety. You literally can’t breathe, can’t think, can’t focus, can’t even verbalise how you’re feeling to your loved ones – because you’re being thrown around in a huge dumping wave, thrashing, trapped in a reality that not only isn’t fair, but should never have been yours to begin with.

I’m in pain almost every single night when I’m trying to sleep – did you know that? My hips, my knees, my legs in general… Occasionally my elbows and/or my head. My medications make the day time pain less of an issue, but it’s always there. Simply being repressed by medicine.

Does that sound restful? Let me answer that for you… It’s not.

Guys, how are your balls feeling? Ladies, picturing that bikini wax? I hope you’ve kept that in mind while reading this. I hope it’s given you even a small amount of understanding for what chronic pain sufferers deal with almost every single day of their lives – all while attempting to act normal, for fear that everyone will abandon you if they knew the truth.

Because those people? They’re what keeps them going. Don’t forget that.

The Unexpected Side Effect of Chronic Illness

We often hear about the symptoms of chronic illness and chronic pain. Muscle fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, nausea, stomach & bowel disturbances, skin issues, chest pain, fatigue, malaise, and many many more.

But what’s often not mentioned is the emotional toll any chronic illness takes on every person who suffers. In particular, the guilt that comes with it.

It seems strange to say – I mean, why would you feel guilty for something you had no say in? But it’s an unfortunate and common side effect of chronic illness or pain.

No one actually wants to be a burden. No one wants to hold other people back. So we do exactly what we shouldn’t do – we spend all day apologising to others for our illnesses and our limitations. For the reason we can’t work full time, or work at all. For the reason we need extra rest. For the reason we can’t do too many physical activities. For the reason we can’t get out of bed that day. Our illness, that we can’t help or control, makes us feel invalid and like we’ve lost all value – and ultimately makes us feel guilty.

Did we do something to deserve this? Could we have taken better care of our bodies before this happened? Is there something more we could be doing to feel better – to be better? Should we listen to all that unsolicited advice, spending every extra penny we have on controversial treatments and natural methods that may or may not work?

What’s the right answer for this predicament we didn’t see coming, the ‘sure thing’ cure we haven’t tried yet. I swear, if you just tell me what it is, I will do it!

But that desperation for an answer to ‘fix’ our bodies does nothing to ease our mind of the guilt, or the fear that maybe it really is all in our heads. We still feel bad every single time we have to cancel any social plans. We still feel bad when friends just start forgetting to invite you, because you rarely show up anyway. We still feel bad when we’re on date night and have to leave early when our bodies start to fail us, or planning a 5pm early bird dinner just so you can be in bed by 8pm. We still feel bad about all the limitations that come with any outing. We still feel bad making plans at all, knowing we may have to cancel. We still feel bad for all the extra responsibilities other people have to take on at work in our absence.

Our limitations, become their limitations.

I still feel bad when my close friends and family, or my boyfriend, says “it’s okay,” when I cancel or pull out of plans. And they mean it. It really is okay, they understand my reasons, they sympathise. So why does that just make me feel worse? More guilty. Like maybe I’m taking advantage of their love for me. Like I’m hurting these people that care for me so much that they have unlimited patience when it comes to my struggle for my health. I’ve just wasted their time and ruined their plans for the day, but somehow it’s okay. But it’s not okay… Not to me. Never to me.

Guilt. All consuming, occasionally debilitating, and most of all, unexplainable… And the symptom we often don’t talk about. But it’s there, devouring us from the inside and causing more conflict in our minds than we care to admit. Do we put our health first, or do we just push through that activity that we know will just cause us more harm afterwards? Am I being selfish for choosing rest when I need it?

I can answer that, confidently and surely…. No, you are not being selfish for looking after your health. I know that, yet I still question it daily. Maybe it’s time to stop apologising for something that we cannot help, that we did not ask for, and that we are doing everything and giving everything to try to fix. Maybe over time, that guilt will be a light shadow in the background of our minds, rather than consuming it. But most of all, the moment we stop apologising, is the moment we show others that we don’t care what they think. That we know we didn’t ask for this or want it, and that we will not continue to say sorry simply for being sick.

…Easier said than done, right?

How Do You Feel?

  • “Are your migraines gone yet? Maybe you’re just tense.
  • “Oh your struggling with fatigue? Man I’m tired too, it’s been a busy week!”
  • “Muscle pain? Probably from lack of exercise.”
  • “Have you tried NOT taking all those medications? Maybe they’re the issue.”
  • “How are you… Are you better yet?”
  • “Are you depressed?”

I hear a lot of questions in my day to day life that are based around my currently chronically ill body – some often accompanied by unsolicited advice. But I was asked a question today that really took be by surprise.

My doctor asked “how do you feel?” Yes, that’s a reasonably normal question to ask someone who is chronically sick, especially for a doctor. So I answered my standard “same old. Migraines have improved but still have good days and bad days health wise in general.”

“No, no. How do you FEEL? As in, how does all of this make you feel… Emotionally.”

Oh.

Well…

That’s actually a tough one to answer. I’m often asked how I feel, but physically, and usually followed by unsolicited and unhelpful advice or judgement. Like they’re asking out more out of habit than actually caring to hear the same thing day after day.

Is “I don’t know” a sufficient answer? If I think too hard about my actual feelings around my illness, my brain literally empties itself of all memories, knowledge and feelings. POOF! Gone.

I mean, for the last 10 years I’ve suffered chronic pain to some degree or another because of Endometriosis, while enduring 6 surgeries and countless traumatic treatments that were unsuccessful, all while having people ask me if I really NEED all those surgeries (because hey, I’m just doing it for fun right?) And then there’s the mystery illness that has taken over my life over the last two years that I like to call the WTF disease – which has caused no end of pain in probably every place on my body at some stage, caused fatigue so bad that I sometimes can’t even think past a brain full of fairy floss, hospitalised me in the ER twice because of suspected heart attack or stroke due to dangerously high blood pressure, caused me to have to resign from a job and a company that I loved… Oh and basically made me hate my body and everyone around me that asked stupid questions follow by useless and unsolicited advice.

So, I guess if you wanted me to really sum it up… I’d say I was pretty darn pissed off. And yet, also somehow grateful for the changes it has made in me.

Now there’s a mind-f**k for you!

But back to the point. My doctor bought about a very important issue that I constantly keep allowing myself to forget… my emotions and my mental health. I may not be mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean I should neglect my emotions and allow myself to become that way. But more than that, that not only myself, but also everyone around me, continue to overlook the profound effect these kinds of chronic illnesses can have on a person. After all, I’m not Super Woman… As much as I’d like to tell people that I am.

A person should always be viewed holistically – as a whole. Mind, body, and *insert your belief here*. I may be physically and chronically sick, but should I only be viewed that way? No, I really shouldn’t. And yet, I’m just as guilty of it. Sometimes when you’re drowning in one issue, and allowing everyone around you to drown in it with you, you forget to view someone as an entire human being.

I’m not just my pain or my illness, I am also my mind, my personality, my feelings. And having someone not only see that, but genuinely care about it, meant the world to me. I needed to be asked that, more than I often realise. People often tell me they’re frustrated for me, but don’t actually ask or realise that I am exactly ten million, five hundred sixty two thousand, seven hundred and one times MORE frustrated than they are… Because I’m the one living it.

I’m a happy, bubbly and always-smiling-too-much girl (to the point where I’ve got early onset crows feet,) but that doesn’t mean I’m not feeling other emotions on a deeper level, I just don’t always show it.

So, it’s time to be real. How do you feel?

The Importance of Sharing Your Story

Being open about your life isn’t easy, especially if there’s a stigma involved. However, it’s necessary. How else do you break a stigma, if not fearlessly sharing the parts of your life that you’ve been taught by society to keep hidden?

You may be wondering what the point is. If some people don’t understand, don’t care, or simply judge, why would you want to share that part of your life? Whether it be your struggle with mental illness or physical illness, the battle is equally harsh and personal.

Well… There’s a reason a lot of people have a huge lack of understanding about so many illnesses, and it’s because WE are scared to speak out about it. Yes, some people will judge. Yes, some people will get tired of you complaining. But, to put it simply… Fuck what they think! The world isn’t meant to be all light all the time. We are not only valuable when we smile or when everything is going well.

If you ask those people who are judging, those people who are getting ‘tired’ of hearing you complain, I bet you any amount of money that they’re spending their days complaining about their own issues, that are simply different from yours. Therefore, they can’t understand. That is not your issue, it’s theirs. That shouldn’t stop us from trying to raise awareness, trying to build understanding in a society where there is very little.

So many of my blog stories have been hard for me to write, and I have no doubt they have received quiet judgement. But more than any judgement I’ve received has been some amazing feedback from people saying how much they needed to hear what I’ve written about. And those comments, knowing I’ve helped someone in a similar situation, means everything. It’s the whole reason I’m doing this.

I had one friend share her story about diabetes. She was worried at first and wasn’t sure if she wanted to put her name to the story, but then overcame her fear and did it anyway. She said what a release it was. And because of that, not only has she possibly helped other people, but she also helped herself.

So I’m putting a call out to everyone who has struggled with a chronic physical or mental illness to come forward and share your story on my blog. Anonymity is completely fine and completely understandable if you prefer. But share your raw story for the world to hear, for the people who have had similar experiences to you. So they know, and you know, that we are not alone in it.

Help me to raise awareness and break the stigma. ❤

How Am I Supposed To Love A Body Like This?

If you want to include both my battle with endometriosis and with an autoimmune condition, I have been fighting my body, and medical professionals, for ten long years. Ten years of chronic pain, chronic illness, and chronic anger towards my body for never giving me any relief.

With Endometriosis comes not only extremely painful periods, but also back pain, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, extreme mood swings, pelvic pain all month long, fatigue, general malaise – and the list goes on and on.

With my autoimmune condition comes chronic fatigue & malaise, severe chest pain & palpitations (occasionally landing me in the ER,) tachycardia, panic attacks, muscle pain, joint pain, chronic migraines, brain fog, muscle weakness, rashes, and just a general lack of discomfort and feeling like shit to be honest.

So, how does one love their body, when their body only ever causes them distress and discomfort on a daily basis? It’s not easy – it usually feels impossible. I spend so much time pushing through the pain and illness every day, that I’m left feeling extremely pissed off and frustrated with my body. Why can’t you be pain free for just one day? Why can’t you let me live my life? Why do you have to take everything from me? Why can’t you give me a break?

One day it occurred to me, as I looked at myself in the mirror, that I had started feeling separate from my body because I spent all of my time fighting it. It was no longer a part of myself, but instead a monster that I had to slay. That one thought shocked me. This sounds ridiculous, but I stood there and had to touch my arms, my face, my neck, my stomach, and my legs, just to feel connected to my own body again. To remind myself that it’s a part of me and that I still need to love and care for it.

So started my self care regime. Pilates twice a week, higher quality skin and hair care, meditation, walking every day, and most importantly, attending each doctors appointment with the goal to fight FOR my body, rather than against it.

It’s not really enough just to dutifully take our medications, just to push through pain and deal with the frustration and anger, to let ourselves hate the very part of us that keeps us alive and who we are. Our broken bodies aren’t actually stopping us from living our lives – they’re giving us the ability to keep living it, even if limited.

So keep caring for your body, no matter how broken it may seem. Stay connected to it and keep loving it. Nobody can love and fight for our bodies like we can. ❤

The Social Anxiety that comes with Chronic Illness

I don’t trust my body – not even a little bit. I don’t know how I’m going to feel at any given moment. It’s unpredictable, to say the least.

Now, you might be thinking, “isn’t that the same for everyone?” To some extent yes, but not like this. I’m sick every single day to some degree. Maybe it will just be mild fatigue and a lingering headache, maybe my chest pain will get so bad I’ll end up in hospital, maybe my fatigue will leave me bed ridden… I have absolutely no idea.

I can’t make plans, not really. I accept plans with the usual “but it all depends on how I’m feeling on the day.” Because, let’s be real, I have NO idea if I’ll be able to make those plans or not. In fact, I’d say it’s more likely that I’ll have to cancel. Which fills me with no end of anxiety and guilt.

I love my friends, I love my family, I love my boyfriend. I WANT to spend time with them – and yet, my body doesn’t always let me. My Pilates instructor even took me off weekly lists, and assumes I’ll just turn up when I’m able.

This is frustrating for everyone, including myself. ESPECIALLY myself. I’ve seen friends distance themselves, stop inviting me anywhere, and just lost friends in general. They’re not bad people, they just didn’t understand and took my flakiness for not caring, and I don’t blame them one bit. I understand that chronic illnesses are hard for people to understand unless you’ve been through it, I really do. BUT, it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

This is the social battle every person with a chronic illness must go through at some stage. Do we go to that social event, knowing that we will pay for it tomorrow, and probably for days to come? How do we pick and choose which social engagements to go to each week, how can we spread them out? Why, oh why, can I not just have my body back so that I can go to ALL social engagements and not have to lose sleep over this petty shit anymore?

It really goes beyond that though. It becomes a deep fear to even leave the house. You start thinking about things no one else would. Like – how can I leave at any given moment if I need to without drawing attention? How far from home is this plan, if I get a migraine how long will it take me to rush home? If I go to that persons house, will my stomach rebel against me and leave me in a deeply embarrassing situation? Do I have all my medications, comfy clothing, water bottle? Then if we do end up going, it’s rare we even have fun because we’re too busy worrying or pushing through whatever symptoms we’re dealing with that day.

It is so damn EXHAUSTING!

And so, we stop planning anything. We stop even accepting plans that are further than a half hour drive from home, or any plans that might be over night. We simply stop making plans.

How lonely is that?

To the Chronically Ill Mother

Yesterday I was babysitting my niece (1) and nephew (3) all day. I loved hanging out with them, but I got a new insight into what it’s like to have kids when you have a chronic illness.

Children never stop. Ever. They’re little balls of energy, addictive and adorable, but oh so exhausting after a while! I can honestly say that the longest and most stressful day at work never amounted to a full day looking after little kids. Not in the sense that it was stressful, but just how much it takes out of you.

Now, my glimpse at life as a mother was tiny, but told me so much. I probably managed to go to the bathroom once all day, and had to eat quickly while they were distracted with their own food. I cooked dinner with my niece in one arm while trying to allow my nephew to help prep the veggies without hurting himself and without actually letting the food burn. Then I gave them both a bubble bath after changing the nappy of my 1 year old niece, that was so full that I just couldn’t believe such a little human could produce so much poop!

The noise – they were ‘chatting’ and making noises all day, while constantly demanding attention and forever moving. They wanted to go outside, then inside, then outside. Then eat, poop, play, watch TV – rinse and repeat!

For all mothers out there – I have the utmost respect for you. I can’t wait to become a mother myself, but man I could see the struggle you all go through on a daily basis. Any man that says “you were at home all day, why didn’t you get anything done?” – I will personally kick you all in the balls.

Now, to the mother with chronic illness – that’s a whole other level of respect I have for you! To the mothers suffering with an autoimmune condition, chronic fatigue, diabetes, arthritis, even cancer – you are an absolute SUPER MUM! To suffer through daily fatigue, pain, nausea, digestive issues, chest pain, dizziness, insomnia, and a whole other gigantic list of issues, and STILL be able to push through all that and look after your children in the way they deserve. You deserve a god damn medal!

You don’t have time for yourself, not even a second. Not when your little babies are demanding all of it. You put yourself second ALWAYS, and I think that takes incredible strength. Self care has probably become a distant memory for you, but I still feel like it’s so important, no matter your circumstances. You need to look after yourself, to be able to look after your little ones.

For everyone else out there without children – I think it’s important to offer some support and have some more understanding on what mothers in general go through, let alone mothers who are chronically ill. Offer them an extra hand, watch their kids for half an hour while they shower and wash their hair – every little bit helps. Offer them the self care time they so desperately need. This goes for all mothers, not just the chronically ill.

But pay extra attention to those with chronic illness or pain. Extra attention to how they’re coping mentally as well as physically. I myself spent the entire day today in bed recovering, and my condition is no where near as severe as some others.

To the chronically ill mother – I see you. I think you’re incredible. Please don’t feel guilty for something you cannot help, please see that you’re doing an amazing job and pushing through so much more than anyone should have to. You’re a good mother and you’re a strong woman.

Feeding the Stigma

This is entirely my fault. For two years I have been suffering with health issues and chronic widespread pain, spending thousands of dollars on appointments, tests, medications, hospital visits and surgery. Unable to work full time or have a normal social life.

And apparantly unable to let my own family in on this huge life changing illness. Whoops! 🤦‍♀️

I made an assumption. A stupid one. You know what they say when you assume, right? I did that. I made an ass out of u & me. Or them and me, if you want to get technical.

My mum and dad knew most of the details, so I had just assumed they would have let everyone else know. I kept the details close to my heart, not wanting anyone to know how much I was really struggling, but hoping my parents would give them the general gist.

Apparently they didn’t. And so, two years after this all started, my brother and sister-in-law asked me why I had resigned from my job and what was going on with my health. When I mentioned my migraines, my possible Lupus diagnosis, my brother asked if that’s the reason I go to bed insanely early, like a light bulb just went off in his brain and everything suddenly made sense. Because guess what? Everything suddenly DID make sense! When you actually explain the facts to people, first hand, everything falls into place. Funny that!

Now, after that conversation, I realise that I’m guilty of exactly what I’ve been ‘preaching’ against! Not talking openly to my own family for fear of judgement and simply hoping someone else would do my dirty work hasn’t done me, or them, any favours. Sure, judgement is a part of life. So why are we so scared of it? I think that’s a hard one, because we don’t want to know the people we love the most don’t understand what we’re going through. That’s so damn isolating!

But they didn’t judge, even if they didn’t fully empathise with my situation. They just wanted to know, to understand. Because they’re my family, and they love and care for me. It seems so crazy to me now that I didn’t trust in that.

I’ve heard people say there’s no stigma with chronic illness, only with mental illness. But I disagree. There is a stigma, if there wasn’t I wouldn’t have been so scared of judgement. That fear had come from somewhere, and it caused me to hide what I should have been sharing as abundantly as possible. The stigma is based around chronic, invisible, undiagnosed illnesses. Am I making it up? Bunging it on?

Every time someone asks me how I am, genuinely wanting to know if I’m okay, my response is always “I’m okay. Same old.” I kick myself every time. What does that even mean?! Same old? REALLY? Just tell them the truth, that I’m struggling with migraines and I’m tired of pushing through. That I’m desperate for a break. That I’m trapped in a body that’s constantly in pain and all I want to do is live my life. That I HATE that I had to quit my job.

THAT’S the truth I should be telling. So why is it so difficult? My fear is damaging not only to myself, but to everyone else.

I’ve been totally honest with all these strangers via my blog – but not with my own flesh and blood. Maybe it’s easier to face being judged by strangers, than by those we love. Maybe it’s less scary – less hurtful. But I am causing harm nonetheless. I am unintentionally feeding a stigma.

Well… No more. I AM SICK. I am a barely functionally, chronically sick person. I go to bed at 5pm because I’m bone achingly tired and I’m trying to beat my migraine by going to bed before the pain gets too bad. I avoid social outings because I’m scared I’ll have to leave early which either forces my boyfriend to have to leave early with me or forces me to either explain the truth to everyone or make up a lie. I’m not sure which is worse. I can’t work full time because I’m physically and mentally exhausted from having to push through daily pain. I’m terrified of doctors visits because I’m tired of being told that they can’t figure out exactly what’s wrong, and I’m embarrassed every time I have to explain that fact to everyone else waiting to hear my diagnosis. I’m dead broke, partly because I can’t work enough and partly because doctors, medications and tests are SO expensive. I hide my pain and fatigue until it’s really bad simply because I’m tired of complaining. I hide pain from my own boyfriend who just recently said “how come you don’t get migraines on weekends?” Ha! Well, I do. I just medicate more and push through it more so that he won’t see the full extent of how broken his girlfriend is. Even though I know he’d understand, I’m scared that maybe one day he won’t anymore. I work every day to protect myself both physically and mentally.

I’m a sister, a girlfriend, a daughter, a friend. I’m a person – and I’m chronically ill. Welcome to Laura in real life.

The Importance of Mental Health in Chronic Illness

For most people with a chronic illness, there comes with it a care plan that includes multiple specialists. One of these specialists is a psychologist. This makes complete sense, given the toll it takes on the person, body and mind.

However, I hadn’t really been thinking much about it lately, just going along with the flow. Going to each doctors visit and every specialist like a good little patient, without really thinking about what each of them means in my care plan. I hadn’t received the answers I needed from any of them, so I stopped expecting anything from them, and in turn stopped reaping any benefits.

I just kept going to the appointments, adjusting my medications as instructed, doing whatever else they told me, in a numb like zombie state. I thought I had simply accepted my lack of diagnosis and was going on with life, but really I was avoiding feeling that constant frustration, disappointment and guilt.

With my health condition (which may or may not be Lupus) comes many symptoms and many obstacles – the latest being chronic (almost daily) migraines. Even if I don’t have a full blown migraine, I do have some degree of head pain or malaise. If you have never had a migraine, imagine something that caused you horrible pain… Like menstrual cramps or being kicked in the balls (sorry boys.) Now imagine feeling that pain on varying levels daily… It would become kind of hard to think about anything else, right?

That’s what I realised was happening to me as I sat in front of my psychologist after not having seen her for 3 months. I realised in all my effort to look after my physical health, I had actually forgotten something just as important – my mental health.

Now imagine this – I’m sitting in front of a highly experienced clinical psychologist, with 24 years of experience and a PhD. After approximately 40 minutes of her trying to find out what’s been going on in my life and how I’d been feeling, she actually laughed at how difficult it was to get an answer. She was so stumped that she actually laughed, in a very awkward way. I’d once been told many years ago by a different psychologist that getting information from me was like getting blood from a stone. In this moment, I finally understood her frustration.

Now, let me be clear, I wasn’t intentionally being difficult. I’m a very honest person. If I had known how I’d been feeling lately, I most definitely would have shared it with her. But the thing is, I hadn’t thought about it much. When she asked me how I’d been feeling, the only answer that came to mind was physical pain – which wasn’t actually what she was asking about. But when I tried to think about emotions in regards to any situation we had just been talking about, my mind actually went completely blank!

We did get somewhere in the end, she managed to get one emotion out of me and we managed to get to the root of it. All in the last 5 minutes – proving what a skilled doctor she is! But the entire session did actually highlight one major issue to me, and probably to her. That I was not looking after my mental health in the slightest. I was… I AM, so consumed by my physical health, and in my chronic pain, that I completely overlooked my mental health.

That is an incredible mistake – one I’ve never made before. I was genuinely shocked by this revelation.

This highlighted for me the importance of managing your mental health, even while in the midst of a physical health debacle – ESPECIALLY while in the midst of a physical health debacle. Both physical and mental health go hand in hand, and one most certainly can affect the other.

This brings me briefly to the topic of trauma. One would expect trauma to come in the form of a car accident or abuse – but it can also come in the form of an illness. During or after a trauma, people can experience a kind of ‘numbing’ effect (I don’t know the exact clinical term.) This is something I’ve experienced in the past, so I was deeply surprised that I had slipped up and forgotten to focus on something so important.

This is something that should be remembered not only for those suffering from any kind of chronic illness, but also for their loved ones. There is a VERY good reason why psychology plays a part in our care plans, and it’s not something we should be taking a part in just for the sake of it. If you’re going to look after your health, look after ALL of it. If you’re going to check in on someone suffering from a chronic illness, ask them how they’re feeling emotionally also. It may just be the reminder they need.