Let me set the scene for you. Your alarm goes off and you wake up, confused. You feel like you've gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson and somehow swallowed a desert in your sleep. Sound like your average Sunday morning hangover? Think again.
Today I thought I'd give you all a taste of what life can be like for someone with a chronic illness. It's important to remember that no two days are the same, and while this is an average day for me, some can be better and others may be much worse.
Waking up every morning in the midst of an amitriptyline haze ican be confusing and exhausting, and even though you've been in bed for eight or nine hours you've probably only slept for about six because the pain keeps you awake and when you finally do drift off the nightmares mean your quality of sleep is rubbish.
Next there's getting up and showering, which sounds easy enough, but you should factor in a break after your shower because it will have worn you out! On a particularly bad day, you might just have to call it quits and go back to bed.
Then there's deciding what to wear. Can you wear jeans today? No, probably not. Your knees may be too sore to be constricted by tight denim, and you can't wear anything that puts any sort of pressure on your abdomen. If your psoriasis is flaring then anything other than cotton is out of the question. Once you've decided on the uniform of leggings or tights, a loose top and soft, comfy uggs (because your toes and heels are too deformed thanks to your arthritis to wear tight, leather shoes) it's time to make the journey into university.
When moving to Sheffield I was faced with a choice: live at the bottom of the hill and walk up to university every day, so you can roll down at the end of the day when you're shattered, or do it the other way around. The thought of an uphill walk was too much for me to contemplate after a day of classes, so I chose to do my uphill walk in the mornings.
Fifteen minutes later, you're at the top of the hill, gasping for breath and puffing on an inhaler, while hoping that nobody can see you. When you finally make it to class, you're now faced with trying to find a seat close to the door so that you can get to the loo as quickly and inconspicuously as possibly if your stomach decides to cramp up.
Repeat this scenario a few times a day, and then it's time to head home. By the time you're home, you're ready to collapse and sleep, but no -- you've got more work to do and food to cook. Usually I can remedy this by napping and then making something simple like pasta or toast, because the thought of washing up half of the kitchen is exhausting.
Most people are under the impression that students party first and then work later. You wouldn't be wrong, but for some living with a chronic illness there can be no such thing as a spontaneous night out!
A night out may involve planning, strategic napping and, for those with bad joints, the hope that nobody expects you to wear heels. With so much focus these days being put on looks, it can be hard for someone who is chronically ill -- your stomach may bloated and your hair might be thinning due to your medication. You may have to ask yourself if this outfit will cover the scars you've been left with on your stomach since your operation? Even drinking in itself can harder than it should be -- sometimes just a mouthful of alcohol means that you've set yourself up to spend the rest of the night in the loo, or sometimes you'll be okay. There's no way of knowing until you're there.
The simplest of things for someone with a healthy body come with a hundred problems for someone with a chronic illness. Christmas shopping? Sure -- but rest breaks need to be factored in to keep your blood sugar up. Huge shopping centers are overwhelming for someone who struggles with mobility and joint pain -- shops spread over more than one floor are a nightmare, and all you can do is hope there are accessible lifts inside the store.
Fancy the cinema? You'll have to take into account the length of the film, as sitting in the same position for more than fifteen minutes may cause you more joint pain and stiffness (I learnt this the hard way after watching the Wolf of Wall Street!) and after all of that you have to get yourself home. It may seem bizarre to anybody else, but fellow arthritis warriors will know that this struggle is very real.
Going bowling can be a challenge as the balls may hurt your already painful wrists and even going out for a meal can be difficult -- if you live with IBD or IBS then there's nothing more terrifying than eating in public and being caught short if you can't find the toilet straight away.
On top of all of these situations, you may have to add in the crippling depression and self-hate that comes with having a body that doesn't work the way it should. Add in the constant guilt you might feel over the fact that your circumstances adversely affect those around you and you've got a fairly accurate picture of what life can be like.
For me, these are all real and daily choices that I have to make. This hasn't been written to make you feel sorry for me, or for anybody else who lives with chronic illness, be it arthritis like me or any other illness. It hasn't been easy but I have finally started to find peace and acceptance within myself, and I know that I am lucky to be surrounded by such loving and supportive friends and family, who always strive to keep me positive.
For many people this is our reality, and just because you do see us at the cinema or on a night out, know that every day presents a challenge in one way or another. I've heard before that you should always be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle that you know nothing about, and for someone with a chronic illness this is absolutely spot on.
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