What do you do when it all gets a little too much?

Ask for help.

Living with a long term health condition comes with many challenges especially when it is a condition that comes with unpredictability and triggers out with your own control. The challenge of trying to live a normal life is tiring and it can feel like a full time job just trying to stay well.

Recently I have hit that breaking point of what else can possibly go wrong with me. Asthma has ravaged my body, I am not just meaning the side effects from medication but the actual asthma and having attacks its self has also left its mark and continues leaving its mark from poor vascular access which has left me with a leg that doesn’t work properly, the mental toll on attacks and being in and out of critical care to most recently finding out that I have either had a hypoxic stroke during an attack or the other option is a lesion on my occipital lobe on my brain. An MRI scan is pending and will confirm but I have had a battery of tests to work out what it is. I am plugging for the stroke option as then at least it has happened and I have had no real adverse effects from it (but fingers crossed it is nothing at all- this would be super).

For the first time I have noticed the impact my poor health is having on just daily living. I recently went to the wrong out patient appointment in the wrong hospital, I totally forgot another appointment and then I cant remember if I have taken my drugs or not. I can guarantee some of the drugs I have taken because they are in my weekly box I get made up from the pharmacy. My brain just feels like it has been put in a blender, put on full and then poured back out. My leg then causes me to have multiple falls and this causes other injuries too!

This is not the life of a 34 year old that just had asthma!!!

I told my GP this today. Well she kind of guessed it as I tried to tell her about the eye hospital I just broke down. I could not help it but the news at eye hospital was the final straw. The year was meant to be focusing on getting my health back on track, getting control of my asthma so I can return to working in the hospital but now my body is in a worse state than it was when I stopped in Feb last year. At least last year I could walk without the need for a splint and a walking stick and could drive out-with the city!

So what to do from here?

My GP is really great and I am really lucky to have her. She gave me details for a new app that is out called Feeling Good. It is a program of tracks you listen to over a 12 week period which I think are similar to mindfulness. I will find out! I think once I complete the course I will write up a blog post for it. Anyone can get the app but some stuff has to be paid for unless you get a code from your GP surgery.

I like to try and keep myself busy as well. I take Ghillie out for a walk every morning come rain wind or shine I head out. This is really good as gets me moving, blows the cobwebs away and exercise releases endorphins so you get that little bit of positivity from it. Also I love seeing Ghillie running around having fun with the other dogs and I have made a few dog walking friends too- everyone is a creature of habit wether we think we are or not.

I need to remember that whatever is going on I am not being affected by it. Apart from some loss of my peripheral vision I have no other issues. I do need to acknowledge that my body is not ok but I have a lot of positives going on and events coming up that I am speaking which I am really looking forward to.

All these situations have given me some more drive to continue with my advocacy work as asthma is still so under recognised and not thought of as a disease that can be that bad. Asthma right now is destroying my body and I don’t want it to do the same to others.

Making tough decisions

I was so happy and excited when my Mum said we were going to be going skiing in January. (I have not skied in over 6 years now. Once my life, I ski raced, I did race training and was on the slopes whenever I could. I moved to Canada to pursue my dream career). I forgot all about my leg and the small issue I have with walking. I was so excited at the prospect of getting back on the snow back doing what I love.

Then it hit me.

I have a leg that doesn’t work properly. How the hell am I going to be able to ski?

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(last time skiing in Les Saisies having the time of my life)

Being me I was determined my leg was not going to stop me. I went straight onto the internet and was looking up the Ecole de Ski Francais to find out about para skiing. Still excited about the prospect of being on snow again.

Then first frost hits and I find the icy conditions a major challenge with my leg. Walking is even harder than it previously was. I had a few bad falls which mostly bruised my ego as I felt so embarrassed being a young person falling over doing the simple task of walking. Combined with this I had a bad chest infection which hit me hard mainly mentally rather than physically.

It hit me mentally as it brought back memories of that last bad attack and how hard it was on me and my family. I started to have all of these what if scenarios. What if….

  • I have a bad attack out in France and I end up in the same state again.
  • I have a fall skiing and it causes me a chest injury compromising my breathing
  • I have a fall skiing or someone skies into me and I don’t realise my leg is badly damaged
  • I get unwell out there
  • I get stuck going into the village and cant get myself back
  • I end up hating skiing because I cant do what I used to as skiing was my life
  • I get jealous of all the others out skiing all the runs I should be skiing but Im not because I am having to rely on other people to get me about

I just had all these what ifs. Some of them really trivial things and some of them more serious.

It took me a long time but I decided I really cannot risk going out to France in the state my body is in right now. I am not going to be going out with my family and instead staying here at home.

Im not sure what had hit me harder the fact that I am not going away with my family or that I have myself accepted that I cant do something and have backed down. I normally always try and find a way around my limitations find a different way of doing things or through pure stubbornness just get on with things. I feel weaker now. I feel like I don’t have the energy to fight myself to find those routes I used to. It scares me that I am in this position now.

I am going away up north for Christmas looking forward to getting away and recharging, taking stock of everything and making a plan for the future as life really has changed a lot.

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(Skiing with my Uncle Rob in the back bowls of Whistler. Enjoying life. This was the last time I skied. It was about 6 years ago).

SoulKraft Wellbeing Radio Show 10.07.19

Last night I had a totally new experience. I was a guest on a radio show. I have done radio interviews before but they have never been in a radio studio with the headphones etc on so this was all a bit new and exciting! To listen to the show follow this link

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SoulKraft Wellbeing Radio Show is a weekly show hosted by Lauren on Stirling City Radio. I was put in touch with Lauren via a mutual friend but we were also at the same school. Lauren’s radio show focuses on mental wellbeing and has a sub topic each week focusing in on part of mental wellbeing such as creativity. You can read more about Lauren, her blog and radio show here.

To say I was a bit nervous would be an under statement because I have never been the best with words when speaking about my own health. I can write it and I can speak about the surrounding topics such as asthma research, new asthma medications when giving presentations but the last few times when I have spoken about myself and how my asthma has impacted me I have ended up in tears in front of a whole load of people, so I was hoping I was not going to do that while on the radio. I have also never spoken about my view on mental and physical health. I have written about how a physical health condition has impacted my mental health but never really spoken about it and also not spoken about how I view health as a whole.

It was great to be able to speak to someone who has had such similar views on health but they come from a predominantly mental health condition where my initial diagnosis was a physical which has impacted on my mental health.

Reflecting back and listening to the show has been really cathartic and in a way given me a new lease on life and advocacy. It has made me realise that health is just health wether it is physical or mental. Part of me really feels that all this attention being given to mental health may just be stigmatising it even more now. There is a lot of press given to mental health because it is chronically underfunded but why is it. Mental health conditions just like physical health conditions sometimes cannot be prevented and sometimes can be prevented, all conditions can be treated with pharma input or using other approaches there is no real difference (I get that this is being very generalistic but when you get to the nitty gritty of all conditions they are complex and hard to manage.

I want to try and spend some time promoting the impact that living with a chronic (sorry Lauren) health condition can do to you holistically. I say holistically because that focuses on the whole person not just the one organ or organs that the condition effects.

Thank you again Lauren! If you want to listen to the radio show

 

Coping with allergic reactions

I have written a lot about my allergies and how the affect me. Being allergic to salicylic acid is a nightmare. It is in everything from fruit and veg to toothpaste. I have been salicylate free for a good 10 or so years now. On days where my asthma is not too bad I can manage food that has a low level of salicylic acid in it but even then I still react a bit but just break out in hives, go bright red, itchy and get a really productive chest and upper airways. This is with 3 different anti histamines onboard, a H2 blocker and oral steroids. I hate to think what I would be like if I did not take all of that and had a reaction.

The physical impact of allergic reactions is not great and the left overs hang around for ages, the itching particularly and then the exhaustion which is not helped by the extra anti-histamines I have to take when I do have a reaction.

For me the effect an allergic reaction has on me mentally is fairly significant. For example today I had a reaction when having my lunch. I had a lovely morning down at Cramond with Ghillie followed by some formal obedience training for Ghillie. The afternoon was full with meetings at the university. I had a reaction at lunchtime which knocked me for 6. I tried to get on top of it quickly so I would be able to make it to the university for my meetings but it didn’t work. I had to cancel and bail out of them. This is the part of having an unpredictable condition that I find so hard to deal with and cant find a good way to deal with it.

My main concern that I think about is what others think. I know I shouldn’t worry about what others are thinking and today of all days I should not have worried especially as the meetings I was meant to be at were with researchers from AUKCAR who all know about allergic reactions. You see so much and hear so much about people who say they have allergies to things but they don’t, it might be an intolerance or something just doesn’t agree with them but it is not a real allergy. This worries me so much as salicylic acid is in so much and I think people must think I am a fussy eater. I also have heard so many times from people who say their friend or family has allergies but they still eat things so it gives this false sense of what an allergy actually is. I have this fear that people think I am a hypochondriac when I wont go near stuff etc.

I don’t really know what I am trying to say other than my salicylic acid allergy is really difficult for me to deal with and having to cancel things at the drop of a hat due to a reaction is so frustrating as there is nothing more I can do to keep them in check.

In this day and age I just wish people would understand what a true allergy is compared to what disagrees with them or is an intolerance etc. It seems like everyone has allergies particularly gluten just now. In restaurants every other person appears to be ordering things that are gluten free yet then tuck into the bread or when they don’t like the taste fo the gluten free option they switch and just have the normal food. If it was a real allergy you would not be doing that, you would be avoiding the food like the plague.

One day I am sure I will be able to get a better handle on things and manage them in a way that I can recover from them quickly so I am not having to cancel plans so often.

A take away I would like readers to think about is how the person who is having to cancel things feels. I never do it because I want to, I cancel because I have to.

#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.

#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek2019

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This week is mental health awareness week. It officially started yesterday but it was a mega busy day so did not manage to get anything up here although did schedule an instagram live for 7pm tonight @just_TUX for anyone that wants to join. Mental health has always been a bit of a taboo subject and not spoken about but why shouldnt it be. It is as organic as any other disease. It can be diagnosed and treated with medication just like a physical condition is so why is it so taboo. I think it is because it affects behaviour and you should supposedly be able to control behaviours. Not wanting to belittle mental health symptoms but with physical health you cant control a coughing fit in asthma just like you might not be able to stop repetitive activity in someone that has OCD. It comes on out with your control so what is different.

My blog had touched on mental health and how it has impacted my life but I have not explored it in more detail. Living with a chronic physical health condition the Dr’s focus on the physical side of things, the medications and the numbers they don’t tend to spend a lot of time asking about how you are managing mentally. It almost feels like it is out their remit. They are there to treat the asthma exacerbation and get you physically better but it is not until something major happens that they then maybe just maybe take your mental health into consideration.

Today I want to focus on denial, I have spent so long in denial for both my physical health and my mental health. I am getting better at speaking about my mental health but still not very good at it! I can write when I choose too and feel able to publish it here.

For me I have gone through a bit of a rollercoaster with my mental health. Having had such severe asthma for so long and being in denial about how much it was impacting on my life. I wanted everyone to see I was fine, I was pushing my body and my mind to the limit but so many thought it was just asthma or others thought it was just asthma that was bad because I was assumed to be a irresponsible student. I maybe was not always as responsible as I could have been but reflecting back a lot of that I think is me being in denial about how bad my asthma was and how much it was dictating and destroying my life. I often wonder now if I have some input from psychology then how would things have been different.

I have constantly been in and out of hospital with my asthma, from being rushed in with blues and twos to the resuscitation room, even being life flighted from one hospital to another over in Canada, countless intensive care admissions, 4 month long hospital admissions, central lines, blood gases, arterial lines, bed bound, tethered to machines just to live but until 8 years ago I never had any mental health input. Then I had 2 sessions with a psychologist but I cant say it did anything but then 4 years ago I was forced to go to see a psychologist but it has taken a while for it to really be impactful and make a difference to me.

I look back on it now and wonder if I had had psychological input would my health be any different from what it is now. It might not be but I am sure I would have been able to deal with my health and the experiences of it a lot better. In saying this I am not sure wether I would have been in the right frame of mind to accept the help to try and understand my condition. My way of dealing with things was to pretend it didn’t bother me or when dealing with hospital I trained myself to forget about what happened in the hospital. It was the only thing I knew how to manage it. The experiences you go through as a young adult who cant breathe is so humiliating, when you cant go to the toilet yourself or be left alone because your breathing is so bad and your blood pressure plummets it is easiest just to blank it out and forget about it. This I think did not do me any favours. I still find myself relapsing back to those ways as I just cant deal with what’s happening and not feeling strong enough to process it all. It is a work in progress and always will be to try as I try to balance the psychological aspects of living with a physical health condition.

Some aspects of my life I think I am still in denial about my health and how it really effects me. I hope others can read this and know it is normal to be in denial, it is normal to not want to acknowledge how unwell you are or that you’re not having a good day. Its ok to not be ok and its ok to ask for help. Even if you don’t want to talk there are other outlets- I will tell you now punching things are not the way to go about it and only end up with broken bones in your hand so writing I would say is one of the best options. No one has to see it if you don’t want or even just one person that you feel close to or even distant too. Everyone can find an outlet.

Everyone will feel in denial at some point with their health and sometimes we relapse not denial but it is ok. There is help out there. We cannot all be perfect all the time but know that we can come out the denial when we just find the best way that suits us and we are ready to accept our body, our health and our mind.

Out of negative situations there is positives, its just about looking at life in a different way.

Back feeling confident

After a good few days feeling totally down in the dumps, sorry for myself and thinking the light that was at the end of the tunnel had totally gone out I am feeling more confident and the light is coming back and I don’t think all the hard work I have put in get better is wasted. It was still worth it and this was only a minor set back in a road to proper asthma control and good health.

To say I thought that I was back to square one would be an under statement. I had visions of spending more time off work and more time in hospital and even more time on high dose oral steroids. I was full of doom and gloom and felt the best thing to do was give up. I found it hard not to think like that given my past history for getting back on track and then it all going down the plug. I really didnt want that to happen again but almost felt it was inevitable.

I managed to change my mindset and think that this time I was stronger, fitter and mentally in a better head space that I can beat this and will get back on top and enjoying myself again. I can’t expect to not have set backs and unless I lived in a bubble I would not be immune to getting colds and infections so just need to get on with it and be sensible. After some vitamin C, early nights and anti biotics I am starting to feel better. I am finding my best time of day is the afternoon. First thing in the morning I am not so good and again last thing at night I get this hacking cough but nights are always a bit tricky for me anyway. For as long as I remember my asthma at night has always been bad so for it to be bad just now is not surprising.

I must add work I have done with a psychologist who looks in to coping methods for people with long term conditions has helped as well. Changing how I view set backs and not see them as failure has helped. I would often see a set back as failed to achieve control rather than a natural hiccup that comes with having a long term condition that probably won’t go away. Life is always going to have hiccups but it is how I deal with them is important to recovering and keeping well. Accepting that things happen and sometimes there is no control or no way to stop them but learn from what has happened and take positives from it.

It s easy for me to sit now and write this now but a few days ago I would never have been able to look to the good or rationalise this blip as I have today and I hope that I will in time be able to not see every dip as going back to square one but rather view it as it is.. a dip that will go up again and back to where I was and not a slippery downhill.

Its good to see things going the right way and changing the way I am thinking about it all. It has helped me cope a lot with it now.