#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek2019 Acceptance

In my first post for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek2019 I looked at dealing with being in denial. Wether that denial be of your physical health or your mental health, I am sure it is something we have all done. Tried to brush things off and say I’m fine. But what does saying fine really mean. To me now saying “fine” says a lot more that it means. To me when someone says they are fine it means they don’t know how to explain how they feel, or they don’t want to admit how they feel, or they don’t know how they feel. This happened just tonight speaking to a friend whose response to my how are you? was Im fine when clearly they were not.

I think we all just jump to I’m fine because we think it will not lead to anymore questions and we can move on to a different topic. Why do I think this? I used to be that person and still am sometimes. I would think if I said I was fine then I would be left alone to get on with things and could feel rubbish with out anybody pestering me. When I first started seeing a psychologist we spent a session talking about “Im fine” and why we use it. It was interesting to explore it further. It caused me a lot of pain as it brought up thoughts I didnt want to deal with, and made me realise my situation but now I look back and see I needed it otherwise I would still be telling people I am fine when I am falling apart.

Exploring the I’m fine became a lot more. It helped me accept my health. It helped me move out of a denial phase where I wanted to pretend to everyone I was ok. I didnt want to be the weak one who struggled to breathe or could work like everyone else. I didnt want a condition that can be considered by many as “just asthma” to rule my life and dictate it so if I didnt knowledge it to other people then everyone was happy as larry. All this did was hurt me more as no one else was getting more unwell or lonely because of my asthma and my health it was only me I was punishing.

Opening up and being able to explain how you feel is hard. I started off by trying to verbalise it but I found doing word clusters easier. I had 3 sheets of paper and each one contained a word: asthma, physically, and mentally. I also had coloured pens where I then wrote down how each word made me feel right there and then in one colour, in another colour I wrote down how i have felt in the past and then in a third colour I wrote down how I wanted to feel about the words.

This task made me accept my health both physically and mentally. It made me acknowledge that asthma is not just a physical condition but impacts you mentally as well. By treating each part in isolation I was never going to be able to really get to where I want to go. One each sheet of paper I had the same words particularly with where I wanted to be in the future. I had a common goal across everything and this is when I realised that to achieve that goal I need to look at every aspect of my health and how my condition is effecting me.

I found also that by doing this task I accept my health. I was able to see where I was and where I wanted to go. Rather than focusing on the here and now I was able to set goals for the future both short and long term. Goals which are achievable but also including some that are going to push me because you don’t want to make life too easy. Doing this meant I evaluated myself there and then, how I was feeling, what I needed to do to keep me stable or what I needed to do to change the situation I was in if it was a bad day. Accepting that you can have bad days is a big part of this but to accept bad days I found I need to have strategies on how to fix these bad days. It was not about looking for a fix such as a cure but looking at things that can still be done and achieved despite you not feeling well. For me a big part of not feeling well was feeling like I was failing. If I was not well enough to work or when i cut my hours cut down I found myself sitting at home thinking I should be at work just now but am not because of my lungs. Accepting that this is where I was at that point and doing something to change it even though I am not able to change my lungs I can change what my brain is doing. For me that is being involved in research. No matter how unwell I feel I will always be able to be involved in research.

One of the other big things about moving from denial to acceptance is evaluating yourself. You are going to have days where you slip back into the Im fine I don’t want to talk about things from time to time but if you can reflect back on why you felt like that. It might be that it was the people you were around you at the time and you did not want to share your feelings with them. This is ok. Everything has to be done in your own pace. Some people maybe able to reflect on themselves and feel they can shout from the rooftops about their condition and how it makes them feel where others cant tell a sole. Everyone is different and everyone has their own way of dealing with it.

I would be really interested to hear about how others found self acceptance of their health when they had previously been in denial about anything being wrong with them. I am always intrigued as to what skills others utilise to help them.

The above is just my experience. It might not be right for anyone else, but I found this is how I got my head around things and accepting how my asthma is impacting on life and how I felt about my asthma, the impact it has on my physical and mental health too.

One thing I want to get across this week is that a physical health condition is not isolated to just the physical body, and a mental health condition is not just associated with your mental state. They all over lap with each other and to truly get the best management for you everything needs to be looked at not just the condition in isolation.

Getting over the stigma of wearing a mask in public!

It has been a busy few weeks with a number of trips down to London. Last year when I had a few trips to London there was a clear deterioration in my asthma when I was there. My peak flow dropped substantially and I was constantly feeling tight, wheezy and just couldn’t get my breath or settle my breathing. I took all the precautions I thought I could- such as increasing my treatment, pre medicating before going out and about in a bid to stop my airways getting more irritated. It was interesting to see the drop by almost 150 l/min in peak flow between arriving in London at night and the next morning it was down. It really did not take long at all. What did take a long time was getting my peak flow to come back up. It was not until I had been back home for about 5 or 6 days that my peak flow returned to normal. (The trip I am talking about to London was ironically a research meeting to discuss air pollution on lung health!)

Knowing I had and will have many more trips to London I knew I couldn’t expose my lungs to that level of irritation again and couldn’t afford to let my peak flow drop and need more medication to get back on track again. If I did not do anything then I would be on this rollercoaster every time I was in London or other heavily polluted cities and my lungs really don’t need it.

After some research I decided to purchase a Cambridge mask with a carbon filter in it to protect my lungs from the air pollution when in London or else where.

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I need to point out here that there is a lot of people out there wearing masks such as this or the vogmask which also has a filter in it but it is VERY important to realise that these masks will not protect you from bacteria or viruses. Often there are posts on social media of people wearing these masks in hospital to protect them due to suppressed immune system. They don’t work for that and the companies state that too. Only high grade surgical masks will protect from bacteria or viruses.

I was really apprehensive about wearing it and thought I would get funny looks, pointed at and comments made, but one fo the people I was with in London told me to put it on and my breathing was more important than what other people think. So I wore it and got on with it. I really was not sure how much it would help, if it would help at all or was it just a waste of money.

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Since purchasing the mask and wearing the mask when out and about in London I can say it has been worth spending the money. I was very skeptical and part of me still is as both London trips recently were very close together so I am not sure how much might be just that my asthma was not too bad. Once arriving in London the next morning my peak flow dropped by 50 l/min but it also stayed stable throughout my time there rather than moving around the place. I had some low grade breathlessness, coughing and chest tightness but nothing massively concerning that gave me too much cause for concern. Once back home my peak flow did pick up a little bit but I cant directly attribute the initial drop to London but I think what I can say is that wearing the mask with the filter did impact my lungs and kept my lungs stable. I have had 2 trips now with the mask and things have been more stable as a result.

I am still trying to understand just how much the pollution impacts my lungs but clearly it is as when wearing the mask there is a marked change from pre mask and a change for the better. Unfortunately I will not be able to avoid going to London as there are so many things down there with regards to research etc but using the cambridge mask has made a difference and has added a little bit more security for y lungs and reduce the risk of exacerbation as a result of pollution. I am not sure how much the pollution in Edinburgh effects my lungs but it might be something to consider and perhaps wearing a mask in Edinburgh night help too.

I cant reiterate enough though that these masks are not hospital grade and will not protect against all viruses and bacteria etc. It is a carbon filter. The website does say it filters bacteria etc but speaking with medical professionals and different lung charities they do not support their use for bacteria and viruses protection.

The Verdict!!

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I have been fairly quiet recently mainly because I was terrified. I have had 3 doses of Mepolizumab and was due to attend clinic and see my consultant for the verdict and find out if I am staying on it or not.

The good news is that I am staying on it for now.

Clinic went well. I am so glad that I had that horrific hospital admission that made me decide to change consultant because it has been the best thing I have ever done. It has come with some issues but overall it has been one of the best things I have done.

I had lung function and FeNo both of which were marginally better but what I have noticed is that I am more stable overall. Recording my peak flow has been super helpful and I can identify what causes were when they dropped whereas before I had no idea and it was all over the place. I would love my peak flow to increase but I am happy for stability over gains (gains are unlikely due to the fibrosis in my lungs now).

The other difference this consultant has decided on is with regard to my steroids. Previously it has been a rush to get me down to the lowest dose possible and see how I go but that has always ended up badly and I spend more time on higher doses and it felt like I was on a rollercoaster all the time. Now, as much as we want to get me down to a reasonable dose and hopefully off prednisolone (wish me luck) we are acknowledging what has happened in the past and he kept me on 20mg which felt like ages (3 months) and then alternating 20mg and 15mg daily (2 months) and now I am to stay on 15mg until February March time and then we will readdress reducing it further.

So many people have asked me if I think the mepolizumab is helping. It is so hard to stay. I think it must be as I have been more stable but I worry that this is due to the prolonged prednisolone and super slow reduction but what I am hoping that it is a combination of both. I guess the time to tell what is doing what is if I get unwell (touch wood I don’t) and I can see how quickly I can respond to treatment and not need invasive treatment. I am aiming for this as know hospital is going to happen as my consultant has said this. He said he would have no worries about admitting me to hospital if either he or myself thought my asthma was not great.

We are also changing one of my inhalers. For the first time in as long as I can remember I had an outpatient clinic where my medications were reviewed and we looked at what I needed to keep taking and what could get binned. The only change he wants to make just now is removing the seretide inhaler and replacing it with Relvar a newer once daily preventer inhaler. He wants me to continue taking some extra fluticasone at night to tide me over as I still have quite significant dips in my breathing at night.

Im happy I now have a plan. Know roughly what is happening with my asthma and asthma care. Over the winter period I will be seen every 2 weeks. Monthly clinics with my consultant and then in-between I will be up with the asthma nurse specialists getting my injection and review there. Also should there be an issue I just have to call in.

The one thing out of all of this which I cannot let go of is why did it take throwing my toys out the pram and move consultants to be able to get in control of my asthma or have a plan to get control of it. I just want answers and I know I won’t get them but I am now trying the treatments I have been asking about for a good number of years. I know dwelling on it won’t help but when its your life that has been suffering it is hard.

2nd dose of Mepolizumab in the bag

Thats the second dose of mepolizumab done and dusted. Now to wait till next month for my next injection next month.

So many people have been asking me how I feel and if the new drug is helping or making a difference, or ask me when I will start noticing the benefits. Its really hard to tell. I am feeling some positive effects from it I think and there have been a few side effects but nothing major.

The most telling sign is that I have noticed my peak flow has been increasing and I have not been in my red zone since the 19th September. That is a full 10 days. It may not seem like a great achievement and many will not agree with me for being excited that I have gone ten days and not dropped my peak flow but the nature of my asthma has meant that my peak flow is all over the place and so has my control been. I must say my asthma control has not been poor through my own choice and I have tried desperately hard to keep it n control. I have not managed to get into my green zone since June but I am happy with that. Better to be stable and sitting in my amber zone stable than jumping up and down with readings all over the place. I think slow and steady is the way to improve….it has after all only taken 14 plus years to get to this point.

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Other than looking at peak flow results and keeping track of how much salbutamol (both nebuliser and inhaler) I am using how do I actually feel? DoI feel different?? It is hard to say. My prednisolone dose has not been reduced and has been kept at the same dose since I was discharged from hospital in April. I am finding it hard to identify if feeling well and pretty stable is because of the steroids or due to the introduction of the mepolizumab. Once I have my 3rd injection I am hoping my consultant sticks with his plan and we can start the slow process of reducing the prednisolone. I am aware I won’t get off it (or may get off it and converted to hydrocortisone due to adrenal failure) but lower will suit me just fine.

Since starting the mepo I have not been to bad with side effects. After the first I had a bad headache the first time but the second dose was not as bad. A bit of a sore head but nothing to major. The one thing I have noticed and I am not sure if it is coincidence or what but I have been waking up in the morning feeling like I am drowning or choking on the amount of phlegm I have on my chest. I have always had a bit of a productive chest- it goes with the territory of having lung disease but this is different. I am still not sleeping super well but I am wondering if that because I am sleeping slightly better and not waking up so much the phlegm is building up rather than me waking having a cough moving all the stuff and then settling back down. I guess the good thing is that all the movement of phlegm means I (fingers crossed) won’t be as susceptible to a chest infection and may notice them quicker as everything is moving so will see the colour changes. Although this is good that I am moving stuff in my chest I find in the morning I am having to do more saline nebulisers and a lot of physio to move it and it has often made me sick because of it. This is a minor price to pay though in terms of side effects.

With this medication as I have said before I won’t see improvements over night but will over time and I think I am starting to see them. The other thing I have noticed and finding it more and more is that people are telling me how well I look and don’t sound as bad which is probably the best part. The past 3 weekends have been jam packed full of different things- mainly lacrosse and by the end of each weekend I have been on my knees longing for my bed but I have managed them. I have managed to spend these weekends on the side lines of a lacrosse field, or in the middle of a lacrosse field coaching  with either Edinburgh Uni or Scotland (Scotland is just goalkeepers and assistant manager). A lie in over a weekend would be lovely and in the past weekends have been all about recovering and getting myself prepared for the next week of work but I have been able to use these weekends to do what I love and not suffer at work. Don’t get me wrong it was so hard to get up on Monday but I think most people find it hard to get up on a Monday morning for work so being what I called “normal” person tired is awesome.

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One thing I am very thankful for is having people around me who can keep me grounded and don’t let me get ahead of myself. I have always been someone who will try and do the long distance run before I can jog let alone walk so even though I may get grumpy at people holding me back I do appreciate it. Coach Dave at Scotland Lacrosse knows when to reign me in and make sure I just take it easy and ensures I just walk or rest when I perhaps am going full steam.

I have an excitement in my life just now something that I have not had in a long time. I look forward to being able to plan things in advance and not worry that I may need to cancel or not be well enough to attend. I am aware that there will still be times when my lungs just stop me from doing what I want but through this I have also learnt to appreciate life, not take it for granted and just live for the moment.

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New drugs, new start?

I haven’t written in ages and I apologise for that but I really did not know what to write and how to write without getting myself angry and upset as I feel the last 8 years have just been a total waste.

I wrote a while back about changing consultant and hospital because I was really finding the relationship I previously had with my consultant was no more and my health was getting worse, I was getting put on more and more drugs and constantly riding a rollercoaster of feeling well and being on high dose steroids to feeling rubbish because my steroids were reduced.

So lots has happened since switching consultant. My first appointment I finally felt someone was going to do something to help. I was put forward by my consultant at their MDT meeting to see if another consultant would agree to me being a candidate for mepolizumab. Due to the cost of the drug you need meet certain criteria and have a second consultant agree to it. Thankfully another consultant agreed and the wheels were in motion for me to start.

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I didnt really know what to expect. Its not like other drugs you get by injection like any sickness or steroids where you notice a difference pretty quickly. This one it can take a few weeks before you notice positive effects from it but Im not sure what I will feel and what the positive effects will be. Will it be the nights are better and I won’t wake up so much needing meds or will my peak flow be increased or able to do more during the day with less symptoms??

Time will tell how it goes. For me because of the steroids I am on they are going to use my maintenance dose of steroid a marker for effect of the mepolizumab so if I can reduce this then we can move forward and continue on the mepolizumab but if I cant reduce them without my chest getting worse then I won’t stay on it and will be back to square one and trying to find something else to help me.

Speaking to the nurse they seem to have had really positive effects and not many people have had to stop. Also the side effects have not been too bad apparently. A bit of a headache and back pain seem to be the most common. My head has been killing me but it is easing off and if that is the only side effect I cant really complain because a headache is the least of my worries as the pain and suffering from my chest over all these years far out weighs a sore head!!!

There is deep seated feeling of anger in me which I need to get over but I just cant shake this feeling of having wasted my time with my old consultant. Everyone told me she was the best but I guess the best is not always what works and it really didn’t for me. I asked so often to try different things anything to try and get some stability even asked to stay on the higher dose of steroid as I knew this was what my lungs were happy with but it was always a no and just had to persevere and would get there. Clearly that didnt work as every attack I ended up in ICU or HDU and so much time off work. If it was not for understanding bosses I would be out a job and have no purpose or aim to try and get myself well. I am really angry that it took a horrible admission to hospital and me essentially getting so upset that I was getting no where and people asking me if I had tried x,y and z and all I could say was no and they look quizzically at me like I am mad because my asthma is so uncontrolled yet I have not even been considered to trial some of the more medications till now.

I need to keep myself grounded though. Even though the results of this drug in others has been fantastic I really don’t want to be disappointed and pin all my hopes on it to then be totally devastated that it doesn’t work or it doesn’t work well enough to justify keeping me on it. Even with the best results there can be from the mepolizumab my lung issues won’t totally be cured as the years of uncontrolled asthma have caused a lot of airway remodelling and scarring which cant be reversed.

Fingers crossed the next three months are full of good things and I can stay on the mepolizumab as I desperately want my life back or even just some of my life back where I don’t have to spend all the time I am not working resting to make sure I am then able to work the next day.

Will keep updating as I go and if I see effects from it.

Whats your reality??

The other day I picked up my medication from the pharmacy and laughed when the handed me over a shopping back but then went back for another one!!! I know all the people in my pharmacy well and will always have a chat with them but I have never really told them whats wrong with me. They know I have asthma but they don’t know much about it etc, until the other day when I hadn’t been in for a while. I collect my dosette box weekly from them and will get a top up of inhalers etc every so often. She asked where I had been so I told her I had been in hospital and thats hy hadn’t been in. She was shocked. She said she didnt realise just asthma could do that to someone. I went on to explain a bit more about it and how it impacts me and explained what all the meds I take are for. She said she ha wondered as didnt think asthma could be like that. She said it must be hard but its life. Life for everyone is hard at times but it is what you make out of it.

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I have days where I really resent having asthma and wish I could go back to primary school I think P3 was when I was on just one preventer and a reliever and that was it. That would be wonderful but then what would I have achieved in life if I didnt have the difficult asthma. I am sure I would be proud of my life but Im not sure I would have done nearly half of what I have done and a lot of it is because of my asthma such as publishing an article in the BMJ, playing for Scotland in the Home Internationals, be back as a goal keeper in lacrosse, speaking at so many events, speaking on a masters course at Edinburgh Uni, being a nurse, being development director for Lacrosse Scotland, being a PPI lead for AUKCAR, being a RaP volunteer at Asthma UK. None of these things I would have done and I also would not have met some fantastic people on my way and made some great friends. I am thankful for my asthma to have given me these oppeturnities inspire of also giving me some of the hardest times in my life and living with the fear that it could kill me one day. (but then as my mum says you could cross the road and get knocked down by a bus so you never know what is runs the corner!!!!

I would love for a day when my breathing is a little less challenging and a little less limiting but I think in a small way I am glad it has shaped me the way it has.

The reason I wrote this out was because I just picked up my meds as I wrote in the start and I organised them into my cupboard to make them all neat and so I know what is where. I was getting lost with the meds and what I was taking when. It was over whelming but my pharmacist has reduced that a lot by sorting my meds out weekly but they were also all in a box just chucked in so never knew what I had and what I was running out of. Now they are neat in a cupboard which I can close the door on. Closing the door- after some carful tetris packing because it wouldn’t shut the first time round, made me think about what we hide from the outside. What is our own reality and what is the reality that we allow people to see. My life on the outside is very different to life in my flat. I find when I am at home I am resting and doing treatment to allow myself to go out and about and be with friends or coach or something else. It is like two polar worlds- one which is in preparation of going out or the recovery of being out and then the being out and doing things. Its keep the private and the public separate until you read this and realise that asthma is not just asthma but it is much bigger. It is life changing, life threatening, life limiting.

 

But take each day as it comes and rise to the challenges that are thrown at you and achieve what you dream of achieving as it is always possible it just has to be achieved in different ways with some imagination sometimes. For instance I always wanted to play lacrosse for Scotland but never did I think it would be achieved by being in the goal, I thought if it was to happen it would be playing out field.

Good things come to those who wait.

Life is for living not watching it go by in front of you!

 

Returning to work in a fog of smoke.

I have been back at work now on a phased return and it is going fairly well except for one part. When my chest feels tight I do find it a bit of a struggle to get from the car park to the hospital. The staff car park is the furthest out from the hospital and includes crossing the road that circles the hospital. It is not to far only about 400m probably but when your chest is tight it feels like a marathon.

To compound this staff seem incapable of waiting until they are either in their car or off the hospital site before they light up they cigarette and go on their way. I see them walking out the hospital cigarette and lighter in hand before they are even out the building- it is almost like you can see them itching to light it which they do as soon as they are out the building. It appears that they cannot survive without their nicotine that they don’t have a care for who is around them all they are focused on is lighting up and getting their fix not worrying about the effect they have on others as long as their cravings are satisfied.

I guess I am more sensitive to triggers now than I ever was before because of the attacks I have had since the start of the year- they terrified me and still haunt me. My lungs are still twitchy so any trigger will make me feel tight and wheezy. When I was off sick I longed to go back to work to have a purpose to the day and get back to the job I love but how can I do the job I love when getting into work I can only describe as running the gauntlet not knowing what I am going to have to go through just to get from my car and into safety of the hospital. This really hit me yesterday when I had 3 people in front of me smoking as I left the hospital to get to my car. I had to wait outside in the cold until they had moved far enough away that their smoke had dissipated and was no longer a threat. To me smoke is as much of a threat as a dangerous patient if not worse. You can’t call security for help from someone smoking but you can for a dangerous patient. I don’t mean to trivialise a dangerous patient but to me right now smoke is more of a danger to me than anything else. I don’t want an attack triggered- the fear of another asthma attack like I had grips me so hard I can’t shake it off.

I know you can’t go around dictating what people do but what I have huge difficulties with is that the hospital is meant to be a no smoking zone and there are signs everywhere which are just disregarded and no notice is taken of them. Many of the people I see out smoking are nurses. The same caring compassionate profession that I am in yet they really don’t actually care for those around them. There is nothing worse than being a patient and having a nurse come off their break smelling of smoke and you are sitting in a respiratory ward and could quite easily be set off just by the smoke that is lingering in their hair or on their clothes.

I think my issue that I have trouble accepting is that I did not choose to have my lungs like this. I am trying to do all I can to stay well and achieve what I want to do but I see all these people who choose to smoke and are choosing to do damage to their lungs and other peoples lungs. I do remember once I was subject to one persons smoke which caused me to have an asthma attack and go to hospital- the nurse’s smoke that caused the asthma attack was the nurse who ended up looking after me. I found this really hard.

I have rambled a little bit here but I am just so frustrated that by trying to work and get to work I am risking my own health to get inside the building. I have asked to move carpark to one that is closer so that the gauntlet I have to run is shorter and therefore the potential risk is much less but this is yet to happen and Im not sure if it will happen. It is a very small request but it does make me think what is the point of pushing myself to work when those around don’t want to try and help. To put it bluntly if those who smoke think about those around them and perhaps smoke only where they are meant to they would not effect other people, they would reduce the number of people who end up in hospital and therefore reduce their work load making their life easier.

This is a little bit off the deep end but its how I feel.