Decisions, Decisions, Part I: Employment

As my regular readers will know, at the end of last year I made the very difficult decision to leave my job as a litigation lawyer and move into a more policy-focused role without any litigation element. It was a big change, and it felt like a big loss. As much as I adore my new job, there are certainly elements of my old job I miss. Most of all, I am sad that the decision wasn’t one I could make because I wanted to, but because I had to.

Now, as my endo and adeno continue to cause trouble, I’m faced with another decision – reducing my hours.

Today, I want to talk about how you make these types of decisions. I highly recommend using a journal to write down your thoughts on this, or to talk at someone. I find it helps solidify my reasoning and makes me think it through logically and thoroughly.

Basically, there are a lot of questions to ask yourself.

First, and most obviously:

1) Can you physically do it?

Whether you are asking this about the number of hours your are working, the type of work you are doing now, or the type or work you are looking to move into, it is the most basic consideration. If you cannot get through a full day without the pain driving you to your knees, or sending you to the bathroom to cry multiple times a day, or forcing you to take serious painkillers that compromise your ability to do your job in other ways, it might be time to rethink your current work.

When thinking about this, don’t just take into account whether you can struggle through a work day. Think about whether you can get through a work day and still have the strength to feed yourself, keep yourself clean, and complete those basic necessities of life? Life does not begin and end with work, and if a full-time day in your current role results in you collapsing into bed fully dressed as soon as you crawl through the door every day, that job is not working for you. Some days like that are a reality for many people with chronic pain, but if that is the majority of your days, it is not sustainable and you will end up in a really, really bad way.

2) Are there changes you could make that would let you keep the status quo?

Now, it may be that cutting your hours is the change that lets you keep your job, but other things might work too. If you work in a standing role, such as at a checkout, and you find that painful, could your employers give you a chair? If you have an office job that involves sitting all day, could a sit-stand desk help? Would a heatpack at your desk make a difference? If you struggle more in the mornings, could you start and finish work later, or vice versa if your pain is worse in the evening? Is there any way you could work from home for a day a week?  If you have to wear a uniform, are there allowances that could be made for a stretchier waistband or more comfortable shoes?

Remember that the Disability Discrimination Act mandates people making reasonable adjustment for disability (see section 5). If you aren’t sure that what you are asking for is reasonable, or your work is saying it isn’t, consider a chat with a lawyer. Legal Aid commissions around the country have helplines for free advice, and many lawyers will give you a free initial consultation or do the first 15 minutes for free.

Please note that the above is not legal advice.

Ultimately, though, if there isn’t an adjustment that will do enough to let you stay where you are, that’s another sign it may be time to move on.

3) Can you afford it?

Sadly, this is the worst question, but it is one of those horrible realities that ultimately dictates what you choose. It can put you in an awful situation where your body can’t physically afford for you to keep working, but your family (or even just you) can’t afford for you to not. Let’s not pretend that the DSP is a lot of money, even if you can get it, and Newstart is even worse.

That being said, it is still a relevant consideration. If you have a marketable, flexible skill, there might be things you can do to supplement or create income outside of Centrelink. For example, if you are fluent (and certified) in a second language, you could pick up some translation or phone interpreter work. If you have good English skills and can work at a computer, editing or transcription might be good. If you are a superb knitter, perhaps there is an Etsy store in your future. With all of these, though, bear in mind that your income is reportable to Centrelink and may reduce your payments accordingly, so assess whether it is worth it for you.

If you don’t have a skill or the energy to market it, what else can you do?  Are cheaper accommodations an option (noting that moving is a big deal even when you are healthy)?  Are you eligible for government housing or rental assistance? Are there any costs you can cut down on?  These are not nice questions to ask, and I hate the idea that people have to go through this, but it is a relevant consideration.

If you know that you cannot physically work any more, but also have no idea how you can possibly afford not to work, speak to a disability advocate, social worker, or community lawyer.  Ask what funding options there are and what you need to do to qualify for them.  Get as much medical evidence as you can from your treating team.  I can’t guarantee that things will be fun or easy (in fact I can almost promise it will be agonisingly frustrating), or even that you will be able to find the answer, but it will help inform your choice.

What are your other options?

If you are considering a workplace change rather than unemployment or a reduction of hours, what are the options for you to move on to?  Is your prospective employer likely to be flexible?  Will the new job suit your needs?  Will you enjoy it?  Seriously, mental health is important.  You want to like your job, especially if you are spending a lot of time doing it.  Will the new job allow you to grow and advance?

These questions are, sadly, less important that the physical and financial needs, because, well, you need to be housed, fed, and capable of standing up.

 

None of the above will give you an answer, but I hope that asking yourself these questions helps make the decision a little clearer in your mind.  It may also help you justify it to other people (not that you should have to, but there are always judgemental people).

Have you had to make a decision like this?  How did you decide in the end, and do you feel like it was the right call?  Let me know in the comments.

The Magic of Music, Part 1

Music is such a powerful thing. Done right, it can invoke such strong reactions in the listener. It completely changes the tone of a scene in a movie or tv show, can get you moving on a run, or make a long drive a little more exciting.

Guess where I’m going with this.

That’s right, an endo playlist!

Sometimes, you want some songs that resonate with the pain and loneliness. Sometimes, you want something to offer hope, or buoy up your fighting spirit. Below, I’ve set out five songs that I love to listen to when I’m having a bad time.

Because this is a really huge post, I’m splitting it into two.  Keep your eyes peeled (what a weird phrase) for part 2 and another five songs shortly.

1) Head Above Water, by Avril Lavigne

I have been an Avril fan since I was a little quasi-emo teen. This song is definitely not classic Avril, but it really showcases her amazing vocal talent regardless. Written in the depths of her fear and hopelessness as she battled Lyme Disease, you know listening that this woman gets it. There’s despair, there’s hope, there’s pain, there’s resignation, there’s a cry for help. It has it all.

I’ve gotta keep the calm before the storm
I don’t want less, I don’t want more
Must bar the windows and the doors
To keep me safe, to keep me warm
Yeah, my life is what I’m fighting for
Can’t part the sea, can’t reach the shore
And my voice becomes the driving force
I won’t let this pull me overboard
God, keep my head above water
Don’t let me drown, it gets harder
I’ll meet you there at the altar
As I fall down to my knees
Don’t let me drown, drown, drown
Don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me drown
So pull me up from down below
‘Cause I’m underneath the undertow
Come dry me off and hold me close
I need you now, I need you most
God, keep my head above water
Don’t let me drown, it gets harder
I’ll meet you there at the altar
As I fall down to my knees
Don’t let me drown, drown, drown
Don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me drown
Don’t let me drown, drown, drown
Keep my head above water, above water
And I can’t see in the stormy weather
I can’t seem to keep it all together
And I, I can’t swim the ocean like this forever
And I can’t breathe
God, keep my head above water
I lose my breath at the bottom
Come rescue me, I’ll be waiting
I’m too young to fall asleep
God, keep my head above water
Don’t let me drown, it gets harder
I’ll meet you there at the altar
As I fall down to my knees
Don’t let me drown
Don’t let me drown (don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me drown)
Don’t let me drown (don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me drown)
Keep my head above water, above water

My favourite line: “So pull me up from down below, cause I’m underneath the undertow.  Come dry me off and hold me close, I need you now, I need you most.”

Listen when: you feel like no one understands

2) Heart Full of Scars, by Rebecca Black

This song isn’t about chronic illness, but it had such a fighter vibe. It’s about someone just owning their situation and doing what they need to get through it. It always peps me up a bit.

Stop
Don’t tell me how to feel
These scars will never heal
Overnight
I’m just searching for what’s real
It’s hard enough to deal
With life
Learn to say f*** it, take my time
Life’s a bitch but I’ll make it mine
Make it, make it, make it mine
Learn to take it as a sign
If you don’t like me, get in line
You won’t break me, break me with your lies
Sometimes you bleed for who you are
It’s hard to love with a heart full of scars
I won’t feed into your dark
I’ll keep loving with a heart full of scars
(Heart full of scars)
You’re never gonna keep me down
Doesn’t really matter what you’d say
I’m not living for yesterday
(Heart full of scars)
I’ve figured out how to turn it around
I’m learning how to bend, not break
A full life is give not take
(Heart full of scars)
Done with doubt and overthinking
Wait for it to sink in
I’m enough
Sick of try’na to be your perfect
The pain is never worth it
Never was
Learn to say f*** it, take my time
Life’s a bitch but I’ll make it mine
Make it, make it, make it mine
Learn to take it as a sign
If you don’t like me, get in line
You won’t break me, break me with your lies
Sometimes you bleed for who you are
It’s hard to love with a heart full of scars
I won’t feed into your dark
I’ll keep loving with a heart full of scars
(Heart full of scars)
You’re never gonna keep me down
Doesn’t really matter what you’d say
I’m not living for yesterday
(Heart full of scars)
I’ve figured out how to turn it around
I’m learning how to bend, not break
A full life is give not take
(Heart full of scars)
O-o-o-o-oh
O-o-o-o-oh
O-o-o-o-oh
O-o-o-o-oh
O-o-o-o-oh
O-o-o-o-oh
O-o-o-o-oh
O-o-o-o-oh
You’re never gonna keep me down
Doesn’t really matter what you’d say
I’m not living for yesterday
(Heart full of scars)
I’ve figured out how to turn it around
I’m learning how to bend, not break
A full life is give not take
(Heart full of scars)

 

Favourite line: “I won’t feed into your dark, I’ll keep on loving with a heart full of scars.”

Listen when: you need a pep up after someone gives you a hard time about your illness (even if it’s you)

3) Full of Grace, by Sarah McLachlan

Darling of the late 90s, Sarah McLachlan specialises in heartbroken, wistful songs. Full of Grace probably isn’t about endometriosis, but it perfectly captures the devastating impact endo can have on relationships.

The winter here’s cold and bitter
It’s chilled us to the bone
We haven’t seen the sun for weeks
To long too far from home
I feel just like I’m sinking
And I claw for solid ground
I’m pulled down by the undertow
I never thought I could feel so low
Oh darkness I feel like letting go
If all of the strength and all of the courage
Come and lift me from this place
I know I could love you much better than this
Full of grace
Full of grace
My love
So it’s better this way, I said
Having seen this place before
Where everything we said and did
Hurts us all the more
Its just that we stayed, too long
In the same old sickly skin
I’m pulled down by the undertow
I never thought I could feel so low
Oh darkness I feel like letting go
If all of the strength
And all of the courage
Come and lift me from this place
I know I could love you much better than this
Full of grace
Full of grace
My love

Favourite line: “I know I could love you much better than this.”

Listen when: you are sad about your relationship and want to wallow a bit (may make you sadder)

4) Where My Heart Will Take Me, Russell Watson

Like most people who know this song, I first heard it in the title sequence for Star Trek: Enterprise (a hugely underrated series, in my humble opinion).  It is very different from the title sequence of any other Star Trek, but I love it.  The sequence itself is a tribute to human innovation and our explorer’s spirit (as is the fan-made version above), but that’s a story for another day.  This is about the song.  It’s a song that always fills me with hope, courage to continue, and makes me think that maybe something better is just around the corner.  It inspires me to keep going.  It’s just very positive.

The original title sequence was a very truncated version of the song – the one I’ve put here is the full version.

It’s been a long road
Getting from there to here
It’s been a long time
But my time is finally near
And I can feel the change in the wind right now
Nothing’s in my way
And they’re not gonna hold me down no more
No, they’re not gonna hold me down
‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart
I’m going where my heart will take me
I’ve got faith to believe
I can do anything
I’ve got strength of the soul
And no one’s gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I’ve got faith
I’ve got faith, faith of the heart
It’s been a long night
Trying to find my way
Been through the darkness
Now I finally have my day
And I will see my dream come alive at last
I will touch the sky
And they’re not gonna hold me down no more
No, they’re not gonna change my mind
‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart
I’m going where my heart will take me
I’ve got faith to believe
I can do anything
I’ve got strength of the soul
And no one’s gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I’ve got faith, faith of the heart
I’ve known the wind so cold, I’ve seen the darkest days
But now the winds I feel, are only winds of change
I’ve been through the fire and I’ve been through the rain
But I’ll be fine
‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart
I’m going where my heart will take me
I’ve got faith to believe
I can do anything
I’ve got strength of the soul
And no one’s gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
‘Cause I’ve got faith of the heart
I’m going where my heart will take me
I’ve got strength of the soul
No one’s gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I’ve got faith
I’ve got faith, faith of the heart
It’s been a long road

My favourite line: “I’ve got faith to believe I can do anything”

Listen when: You need someone to believe in you

5) Healing Incantation, sung by Mandy Moore in Tangled

I’m a big fan of Disney, and Tangled is, if not my favourite, definitely near the top of the list for me.  It’s so pretty!  Flynn is so funny!  Gothel is so wicked!  Rapnuzel’s hair!  The lanterns!  I love it.

Anyway, this song really, really resonates with me.  When she sings it, I think along with it like a prayer.

Flower, gleam and glow
Let your power shine
Make the clock reverse
Bring back what once was mine
Heal what has been hurt
Change the Fates’ design
Save what has been lost
Bring back what once was mine
What once was mine

Favourite line: “Bring back what once was mine”

Listen when: You really, desperately want healing

 

The Financial Impact of Endometriosis

Last year, the SBS programme Insight did a segment on endometriosis, estimating that it costs Australia at least $7.7 billion per year.  Our problem uteruses (uteri?) are bad for the economy.

The impact at an individual level, though, is arguably far more devastating.  Not in dollar amounts, perhaps – the idea that I would ever lose out on $7.7 billion dollars is estimating just a smidge high – but in terms of what it costs us as a percentage of our expenses.  Now, as another financial year winds to a close, seems a perfect time to discuss that.

(I want to apologise if I’m slightly incoherent.  I have another cold and I’m muddle-headed, dizzy, nauseated and slightly rambly, and my hands keeps trembling so I’m making some exciting typos.)

I don’t have super statistics about what endometriosis costs each sufferer.  I can only really talk about how it effects me, and the anecdotes I hear from others in the community who mention missing work, having to quit jobs, etc.

For me, missing work is by far the biggest impact.  I burn through any paid sick leave I have extremely quickly.  If it isn’t endo pain, it’s an infection or illness because my overburdened immune system can’t stand up to even the most pathetic germs.    That means that on days I don’t work, I don’t get paid.  Currently, my Prostap injection has failed me, and I’m home sick yet again because I can barely stand up and I’m so swollen that clothes actually hurt.  Also, the abovementioned cold.  I’ve made it to work one day this week.  That means I’m looking at another pay cycle at effectively half pay.

Of course, for sufferers who can’t work or can only work part-time or in casual roles, the financial impact is even worse.  I’m very lucky to have a good job with a good wage.  Many people can’t say the same.  Some have the fight of their lives to try and get the Disability Support Pension, which is not much, and have to live off Newstart in the meantime, which I understand is considerably less and puts you below the poverty line.

Regardless of whether I get paid or not, the cost of my Prostap is $358 every six weeks.  I’m fortunate enough to have private health insurance, so I get $100 back.  (It’s worth noting that Prostap is on the PBS if you have prostate cancer, so it will only cost $48 then.  If you have endo, no PBS benefits for you).  Add to that the cost of the hormone replacement therapy, which is $50-$100 monthly depending on the pharmacy.  I have actually stopped taking it because I didn’t find it that helpful, but it was an additional cost for several months.

Then, of course, there is the cost of surgery.  If you pay privately, you are looking at thousands.  If you go on the public waiting list, you could be waiting over a year depending where in Australia you are – more time with more pain and therefore more lost income and more money spent on pain management.

In between surgeries, there are multiple appointments with doctors and specialists.  Bulk billing doctors are a treasure, but if you can’t get those and don’t have a healthcare card, it’s usually at least $40-$50 per visit after the Medicare rebate.  If you need to keep going to the doctor to get medical certificates, new prescriptions or things like injections (such as Prostap or Zoladex) that adds up very quickly.  I’ve put off doctor’s visits and even buying medications before because of the cost.

Tax time is generally the only time you get a break.  My absences usually result in me being overtaxed and getting a bit back at tax time, but that’s one lump sum a year.  If I get anything back this year, it will be going straight to paying off some debt, and anything left over I will spend on wild items like moisturiser, because I’m currently scraping dregs out of jars rather than spending out on something like that that I view as a luxury, even though my face might crack and fall off without it.

I do want to finish on a slightly more positive note, though.  These are some methods I have used to try and minimise the impact on my savings.  They won’t work for everyone – you have to a) have savings, and b) have enough to put into them – and I’m by no means a financial planner, so please don’t take them as gospel.  I acknowledge my privilege here in that I am relatively well-off, and I beg you not to try and do things you can’t afford because of the idea that if you aren’t saving you’re a terrible adult.  If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it.

1)  I budget by percentages and priorities, not dollar amounts

I carefully budget what my pay will go towards.  However, because I can’t guarantee I’ll be getting the same amount each week, I allocate percentages rather than figures.  If I say I have to put $500 towards savings a week (a pipe dream even at full pay) then I’m going to be struggling when I need to pay for petrol and groceries but only got paid $600.

My biggest percentage goes towards the mortgage, with smaller percentages for my savings account (to be touched only as a last resort), my emergency account (to be drained before I touch my savings but only if I have nothing left in my spending account), and charity (I can’t engage in much else in the way of service or activism, and giving to charity is a vital part of helping me feel like I’m making a difference despite that, so it’s non-negotiable).  I budget a particular percentage for paying off debt, but since it is to my parents and they are Very Nice People they are happy for me to not repay them if something else comes up like a vet bill (thanks Max) or unexpected medication or a small pay, so I have a little leeway that fortnight.

2) I quarantine my savings

As described above, I have two savings accounts – one for actual savings, which gives me a higher interest rate as long as I make regular deposits and don’t remove money from it, and one for emergencies, which has lower interest but allows me to remove money as needed.  I top both up at each pay with the same amount, but will always take from my emergency account first.  If I don’t have to take from it, great, I’ll earn more interest than I would with the money in my spending account, but if I do, it’s there and not being spent on other stuff.

I have absolutely got to the point before where I’ve blasted through my spending account and my emergency account (usually when big bills coincide with big medical issues) and touched my savings before, but this helps minimise the chances of that happening.

Of course, if you don’t have the income to split like this, this may be a terrible idea.  If I get paid a really small amount, I will skip putting stuff in the emergency account and put it in savings instead.  If I get paid even less than that, neither account gets a dollar.  You’ve got to be flexible with any system and put the money where it needs to go.

3)  I pay attention to my super

I was lucky enough to attend a financial planning seminar for women in law last year, and one thing that was emphasised is that women, particularly young women, don’t pay enough attention to their super.  One the poorest demographics in Australia currently are old women, who often have very little or no super and who have not taken an interest (or not been allowed to take an interest) in their own financial matters.  You should always be in involved in your own finances.

In terms of super, the advice given was this – if you are with a solid super fund, which most industry funds tend to be, and you are many years away from retirement age, don’t be afraid to put some of your money (not all!) in the higher risk option for your super fund.  The risk is relatively low, because it isn’t all your money and you are many years away from needing it, and the payoff can be high.  As you get older, move it all into lower risk options.  This will hopefully maximise the amount you get at retirement in a way that doesn’t expose you to unnecessary risk.

I stress that this was advice given to me by financial planners, not something I’m just saying.  It is entirely at your own risk if you do this and I’m not personally advising it (or advising against it).  It is something I do, however, because I want a good retirement to make up for the difficulties I’m having now.  That’s when I imagine I’ll actually have the health to do fun stuff, and I’d like to have the wealth to back it up.  Don’t sue me if doing this fails for you.

4)  I do my best not to feel guilty when I can’t meet my financial goals

So, this one is no use as a savings tip, but it is super important.  Financial pressures are real and they suck.  Often we have to give up on things we want and abandon or delay savings goals in order to pay the bills or buy food.  I avoid articles about “how I paid off all my student debt and owned seventeen houses by the time I was 25!” because they are usually a) written by someone with no idea how privileged they are and b) make me feel bad, not motivated.  You really can only do your best.

 

How has endo affected your finances?  How do you do your best to combat it?  Let me know in the comments!

 

Lifeline’s Response

A few weeks ago I wrote a letter to Lifeline about one of their Australian ads (you can read it here).  They have now responded.

The email reads:

“Thank you for providing your feedback about the Lifeline HOPE billboards.  I am so sorry that they have made you feel the way they do, this is certainly not our intention.  We had aimed to provide a strong message of hope, which is the undercurrent of all our communication campaigns.  To date, I have received plenty of positive feedback about this campaign, your feedback is the first negative, but it has weighed on me heavily. Thank you for taking the time.

The intention behind the poster was that people would see the ad and be encouraged to hold on with HOPE for whatever the reason may be that they need it.  In doing so, I had hoped to encourage a more compassionate Australia. For those in chronic pain, I had hoped to impart hope in the continuing advancement in scientific discovery and the dedicated medical teams who are working in the field. The furthest thing from my intention is to cause anyone harm or to experience isolation.

Ella, this ad placement has been provided pro bono, so I am unable to change where it is placed or how often.  I can give you the undertaking though that the next iteration of  posters I am given the opportunity to post I will ensure there is a different hopeful message.

I am sorry for the distress this has caused you, I hope my response will give you some solace.

Kind regards

Ina”

Ina is the National Manager of Communications and Public Affairs for Lifeline.

Whilst I still think the ad is deeply insensitive and demonstrates a lack of thought, and I don’t buy the “continuing advancement in scientific discovery” thing (anyone with a chronic illness knows that waiting for medical advances is about as hopeful as waiting for a tsunami in the Gobi Desert), I am gratified to have received a reply.  I also very much appreciate the apology.  I do hope that they bear the message in mind and give thought to those of us with chronic pain in future ad campaigns.

I strongly encourage anyone with the spoons to call out ableism or exclusion when they see it.  People without intimate experience of disability or chronic pain don’t even think to double check on whether their language or actions are inclusive – goodness knows I rarely did prior to actually having endometriosis and working to educate myself.  Every time we point it out is hopefully a time the other person goes away to think about it and takes the time to educate themselves and change their behaviour in future, and hopefully become an advocate for us as well.

Keep on keeping on, endo warriors.

Sorry for Being a Slacker

Hello, gentle reader.  I apologise for the lack of posts of late.  Like most people with a compromised immune system during flu season, I have managed to acquire myself my very own pet illness.

Thankfully, in this case, it isn’t flu.  It was a cold, and then it turned into another sinus infection, and it has just stayed that way for two weeks.  I anticipate that I will get at least one more before we kiss August goodbye, and I would not be surprised if I get multiple between now and then.

The super fun part of the infection, you’ll be surprised to learn, has not been the horrifically sore, swollen throat, the aching in my face that feels like goblins are trying to shove my eyes out of my sockets, or even the crushing exhaustion (I’m kind of used to that anyway).  It hasn’t even been the joint aches.

It’s been yet another disappointing encounter with a doctor.

I used to see this wonderful doctor at my local bulk-billing place who has consistently fixed every problem I have taken to him.  I trust him deeply.  Unfortunately, he only sees patients on a walk-in basis now, and I needed to actually book in.  I saw one doctor who is quite nice and who gave me the good antibiotics, but a week later I was still sick and getting worse so I went and saw another dude because the first doctor wasn’t available.

That doctor prescribed me weaker antibiotics, told me to use a treatment my favourite doctor had specifically told me was not beneficial and was possibly harmful, and then:-

  1. Said, “You don’t want a hysterectomy, we won’t do that for you” (I do want one);
  2. Told me there’s no need to go to the UK for a doctor because we have plenty of good ones here;
  3. Recommended a doctor who previously told me I couldn’t possibly have endometriosis so soon after my first surgery (I did);
  4. Told me that if my Australian specialist had refused to perform TPPE (he didn’t even know what it was) that’s because the surgeon knew what was best for me;

and just generally did his best to make me feel guilty about taking my medical care into my own hands with absolutely no understanding of what it took to do so.  Ok, that’s unfair – he was trying to be thorough and ensure that I was seeing someone for my endo – but he was unintentionally extremely condescending and made me feel like I had to defend my choices to change doctors and go to the UK to get surgery I literally could not get in Australia.

It’s another lesson in “if you don’t know the full story, stop judging.”

Yesterday I got sick of the weaker antibiotics not working and my sickness continuing to worsen, so I went as a walk-in and saw my favourite doctor.  He gave me the good stuff again.

Thank goodness for the good doctors.  Boo to the bad ones.

Save These For Future Use, Part 1

Last week I shared some quotable quotes I found on Pinterest about life with chronic illness.  Visitors to my Pinterest board, however, will also see more than just funnies and sads.  I like to save things that really capture some of the more difficult aspects of endo and chronic illness that I sometimes really struggle to articulate myself.  I’ve rounded up 10 of my favourites that you may find useful to keep around for when words fail you but you still need to explain something.  Because this post is very long, I’ve split it into two groups of 5.

Just a heads up – because I am doing image descriptions for all of these posts, this is going to look even longer than it is.  Just skip the descriptions if you don’t need them.

1)  A pain scale we can all understand

Chronic Pain Scale

With this image I’m just going to summarise the useful part, which is the pain scale (it’s surrounded by tumblr posts of people describing their issues with the conventional scale).

“10 – Unable to Move – I am in bed and can’t move due to my pain.  I need someone to take me to the emergency room to get help for my pain.

9 – Severe – My pain is all that I can think about.  I can barely talk or move because of the pain.

8 – Intense.  My pain is so severe that it is hard to think of anything else.  Talking and listening are difficult.

7 – Unmanageable.  I am in pain all the time.  It keeps me from doing most activities.

6 – Distressing – I think about my pain all of the time.  I give up many activities because of my pain.

5 – Distracting – I think about my pain most of the time.  I cannot do some of the activities I need to do each day because of the pain.

4 – Moderate – I am constantly aware of my pain but I can continue most activities.

3 – Uncomfortable – My pain bothers me but I can ignore it most of the time.

2 – Mild – I have a low level of pain.  I am aware of my pain only when I pay attention to it.

1 – Minimal – My pain is hardly noticeable.

0 – No pain – I have no pain.”

I know I’m not the only one who has gone to hospital, been asked what their pain is out of 10, where 10 is the worst pain imaginable, and thought, “how does this help anybody?”  My 10 is not the same as another person’s 10.  It doesn’t convey the actual effect of the pain on my body.  It doesn’t take into account that I have a really vivid imagination, so I’ll never rate it at 10 because it might get worse and then I’ve just broken the scale.  And is the scale linear or logarithmic?  HOW DOES IT WORK?

Now, I don’t think the scale above is perfect, but I think it might be really helpful for people with chronic pain to use as an outline for their own.  You could make a little flashcard and take it to hospital with you, so you can show it to medical professionals and make sure that you are on the same page about what the numbers mean.

In addition to making sure you and your treating team understand each other, it provides you with a consistent reference point, and it also helps demonstrate that you have actually thought about this and aren’t exaggerating.  Like many people with chronic pain, I push through it on a daily basis and the people around me have no idea that I am dealing with, say, a level 5.  My face doesn’t crack, my posture doesn’t slump.  I carry that through to hospital, where I am quiet and calm externally even though I can barely think.  I will giggle at things on facebook to distract me and make my mum watch cute cat videos with me.  I can fall asleep despite really bad pain, because pain is very exhausting.  I know that it consequently reads as me exaggerating when I say that my pain is an 8.  Having this scale allows them to know that I am not plucking numbers from thin air; I have outlined the effect the pain is having on me and made a considered decision about where it is.

Better yet, wouldn’t it be great if hospitals had charts like this so we know all the doctors are operating off the same scale?

2) What being able to work really means

A tumblr thread that reads:

mmmyoursquid: |People love to talk about whether or not disabled people can work 

but if you can work just fine and your disability is destrying your ability to have a life outsdie of work (because work takes all your energy and more)

Dead silence.  Nobody cares.”

eenymeenypia: “File this under, of you can be active for 4 hours? You can work part-time. Um no, I have to get ready for work (30 min) to get to work (15 min) get home from work (15 min) feed myself all day (30 min) maintain myself, my home and my life (15 min, yeah right), which leaves 15 min for work and absolutely nothing else.

chameleonchild: “This is so accurate, back after I’d relapsed I wanted to try and go in for one class at school so I could still stay in contact with the education system. I let slip during a meeting that I managed to drag myself to that I could manage about 4 hours aof activity a week, which the teacher sprang on to mean I was being lazy for just trying to get to 1 hour class. Never matter that it was 30 minutes travel, that I would have to get washed and dressed, that I would probably still need to recover for 3 days from it.  

Far too often abled people see the things they do as “non activities”, they don’t realise that for many disabled people these things have to be carefully planned and measured, and sometimes they simply can’t be done.

mmmyoursquid: “reblog bc the non activities thing seems really important words.”

I think this possibly sums up the concept of spoons in a way that is even more understandable for the average person.  On your average week, my life is to go to work as many days as I can manage, drag myself to the gym twice a week if I’m lucky, and spend the weekend recovering.  Some weeks I have to attend out-of-hours meetings (and some weeks I can’t manage it).  If I’m having a period of real wellness, I will join my husband in a daily dog walk.

Notice the things I’m not doing here – cooking, cleaning the house, or shopping for groceries.  Basic household stuff.  If I want to have a shower or bath, I’m definitely not walking the dog.  The only reason I manage to bath after the gym is because I get a temporary adrenaline high, which I often pay for afterwards.  I tend to only socialise on long weekends or when I’m having a really, really good week.

I am lucky.  I have more “useable hours” than many people.  However, I honestly don’t remember how I used to manage to do so much between leaving work and going to bed.  It baffles me that other people use their after work hours for more than resting and watching Star Trek.  Health and vigour seem like wonderful things.  I seriously worry for my fellow endo-warriors, though, who need to apply for the DSP, but can manage three hours of activity per day and are therefore assumed to be able to work three hours per day.  Our society puts far too much focus on productivity and not nearly enough on quality of life, even in our allegedly laid-back Australian culture.  The idea of lifters and leaners glorifies those who push through pain and exhaustion, and is of course perpetuated by those who don’t know what chronic pain and fatigue is actually like.

3) Changed lives

Image reads: “I think one of the most emotionally hard things to come to grips with, in terms of chronic illness, is wondering who I would have been without it.  I was walking a specific path that got 130% re-routed when I got sick.  And it feels like I’m in this bizarre, alternate, half baked version of my real life.  And as much as I desperately want to get back on the track I was on before, even more, I want to know where that path would have led.  Who would I have been?  What could I have been?  We always wonder what we’ll be when we grow up, and I feel like I was robbed of ever finding out.”

I think this is a really good way of explaining to people why chronic illness makes you sad.  You are in mourning for the person you could have been, or thought you were going to be.  I think it can be a tricky concept to explain.

I remember that my life was pretty much going the way I wanted until 2016, when my immune system basically packed it in and caused massive absences for around 4 months because I just got sinus infection after sinus infection, and then it carried into 2017 when my first operation went wildly wrong.  It delayed my progression from paralegal to lawyer, and then prevented my movement from civil lawyer who did family law stuff to full-time family lawyer, which was the course I wanted to take, and then took me out of litigation entirely at the end of last year.  Now I’m facing the possibility of a child much earlier than I wanted, followed by a hysterectomy.  Whilst I have enjoyed the new job, I would love to be able to go back to where those two futures branched off and see what lay down the path I couldn’t take.  Would I be making a name for myself as a good advocate?  Would children still be a distant one-day?  Would I have been able to travel the world like my husband and I wanted?

4) The in-between

it sucks too because nobody believes you. you are so alone and you have no peace no relief. At some point you even consider  suicide as your way to peace.

Image reads: “A chronic illness phenomenon

I think there’s this weird phenomenon in life, specifically in the chronic illness community.  It’s a place some of us get stuck in – the in between.  A place where you’re too sick to function in the “able world” but at the same time you seem to [sic] healthy for the chronic illness world.  You almost faint but you don’t.  You’re always in pain it’s relatively tolerable.  You’re not bad enough to qualify for surgery even though you’d benefit. You forget everything but you don’t lose time.  Your heart rate is too high to be normal but not high enough to be critical.  Your BP is low but not THAT low.  You try to find answers but seem relatively okay to doctors so they don’t want to run more tests.  You’re stuck in a place where you almost wish you were sicker so you could get helpful treatment.”  

This one goes out to everyone with endo who has been curled up on the floor with a heat-pack crying from pain, but hasn’t gone to hospital because they know doctors won’t really do anything.  This one is for everyone who has left an appointment feeling utterly invalidated or like they are over-exaggerating because their pain is just serious enough to change and ruin their lives, but not serious enough for the doctor to bother with.  This is for everyone who has wished that their ovary could explode or their uterus produce actual fireworks so that someone might take them seriously and help.

I’ve been in the in-between – I live there, I think – and it just sucks.

5) It is more than pain

Image reads: “It’s not the pain, it’s the not knowing when it’s going to stop, it’s the suffering, it’s the way people look at you as if you’re find, it’s the medical professionals not believing you, it’s the drug induced dulling of the senses, it’s the longing to do what you used to do, it’s the loss of mobility, the loss of dignity, the loss of self worth, it’s letting down your nearest and dearest when they need you, it’s the dark and lonely nights when sleep eludes you, it’s the long and lonely days when movement is difficult, AND then there’s the pain on top of it all”.  

Have you ever tried to explain what chronic illness is like to someone and then thought, I cannot possibly convey this?  I think this little post does it pretty well.  I don’t think people get that it is sooo much more than just pain.  I’ve had to take days off when my pain is actually relatively tolerable, because my other symptoms are just so overwhelming that I can’t function.  Fatigue is the biggest one.  I’ve had days where I have turned my alarm off and fallen asleep again before my hand has even left the button, and then woken up and been so exhausted I literally can’t move, even though I know that time is slipping away and I’m going to be late.  I’ve had to take days off where my drugs are working ok, but I’m experiencing all the horrible side-effects and I can’t act like a human being.  I’ve had to take days off where the pain is mild but the swelling is so huge I literally can’t bear the sensation of clothes pressing on it and so I couldn’t get dressed.  Once I had to turn up to work (when I was still in litigation) in a floor-length black maxi dress because it was the only thing I had that was loose enough not to cause problems but wasn’t pyjamas.  I couldn’t go to court or see clients, of course.

Chronic illness is a pile of problems, little and large, and one day I might just have to sit down and list them all out because I feel like that is the only way to properly explain the frustration of it.  In the meantime, I think this little tumblr post does a very good job.

 

I hope that this collation of posts and images will be helpful for you in conveying a better understanding of chronic illness to friends, family and treating teams on days when you can’t find the words yourself.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Why Easter Matters to Me

CW: It’s an Easter post.  It inevitably talks about religion, suffering and death.

I’ve written before about my faith, but today I want to talk about why Easter specifically matters to me so much as a chronically ill person.

(Before I jump into it, a quick note on the cover photo for today, which is a person in a giant rabbit costume staring out over a shadowed landscape under a cloudy sky.  I have absolutely no idea what possessed someone to take this photo.  It is not quite the crosses-on-the-hill image I was looking for, but it is so strange I couldn’t help but use it.  I love it.  I have so many questions.)

To any of my readers who have somehow escaped hearing what Easter is in the Christian calendar, it is the celebration of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection three days later.  In Christian canon, Jesus is the sinless son of God in human form, with all human frailties and weaknesses, who experienced the full range of human emotion and physical pain.  He began his ministry and around 30, and was eventually put on trial and killed after stirring up a whole lot of trouble amongst conservative Jewish elders, mostly by calling them hypocrites who cared more about the appearance of holiness than actual connection with God, and doing forbidden things like hanging out with prostitutes and healing people on the Sabbath.  After being beaten, humiliated, whipped, crucified and stabbed, he died, was buried in a tomb with a big old rock in front of it, went to hell for a few days, then rose again and did some more preaching before ascending to heaven to sit at the right hand of God.

Here are some of the things from the Easter story that stick with me more than ever as a permanently sick person:

1) Jesus knows what I am going through

As noted above, the idea that Jesus became fully human means that he experienced hope, despair, exhaustion, frustration and disappointment just as I do.  He also experienced fear, and a desire to not have to go through with more pain and suffering.  In the garden at Gethsemane, when he was praying prior to his arrest, he begged the Lord to “take this cup away from me.”  I know exactly what it is like to ask that question.  I don’t know what is coming in my future as clearly as Jesus did, but I know that there is likely to be more bad stuff.  Jesus has felt that and asked for it to be taken from him.  There’s no shame in me doing it.

He also experienced unimaginable agony.  Endometriosis has sometimes made me feel like there is a monster tearing my uterus apart from the inside, but I’ve never been whipped, starved (except for colonoscopies, but that is different), refused any liquid but vinegar, and hung on a cross for hours, which historians tell us is a truly horrific way to die.  Jesus knew pain.  He knew how it feels like it will never end, like you can’t go on, like there is nothing but that pain.  He understands intimately how I feel when my pain is bad.

2) Jesus didn’t get better either

Ok, I know that sounds weird, but hear me out.  Sure, Jesus may not have had a chronic illness, but from the moment his trial began and the pain started, there was no respite.  He did not get a break from pain and privation.  His pain ended only with his death (and then he went to hell, so he probably got a whole new kind of pain there).

Now, that may sound really bleak, but it is a lot less frustrating and a lot more realistic to me than people saying, “This too will pass.”  The whole point of chronic pain is that it doesn’t pass.  Sometimes, we just endure it until we die. However, when it doesn’t we sometimes feel as if we are doing something wrong, or worse, get treated as if we are.  I’ve written before about how Christians will sometimes treat other Christians as if their ongoing illness is somehow evidence of sin.  But there was no relief for Jesus, the man who never sinned, so I’m not doing something wrong by failing to be healed.

In this lifetime, it didn’t pass for Jesus, and it may not pass for me.  But, that’s ok, because…

3) It does get better after that

This is probably where I’m losing the non-religious folks, because I can understand how anything “after death” can sound a bit wacky to people who believe you die and that’s it.  The big promise of Easter, though, is that we don’t die and that’s it.  We die and are reborn in heaven.  We don’t suffer any more.  We experience such incredible joy that it is as if we have never suffered.  I used this CS Lewis quote in my last article, but I’m going to use it again here because it sums it up so well:

That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. ..And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.

Because of Jesus, my place in heaven is guaranteed and I will one day have healing that will make my pain-free days on earth look like poo.  I will be healthy again.  I will know peace and energy and absolute, perfect love.

4) I’m worthy as I am

Jesus wasn’t crucified alone.  Two actual criminals – thieves – were hung on either side of him.  One of them turned to Jesus and said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Now, I’m no angel, but I don’t steal things.  I’ve never been convicted of a crime.  I’m not an adulterer.  Jesus forgave people who were.  He will and constantly does forgive me.

I’m being a little long-winded about this, but bear with me.  In this world, we have to do a lot of things to be accepted – to be viewed as worthy.  The chronically ill are often told that they aren’t good enough, or aren’t trying hard enough.  Spiritually, though, none of us are – all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, after all – but Jesus doesn’t care.  He loves me and thinks I am just as worthy as any more able-bodied person.  His forgiveness grants me a place in heaven regardless of whether I meet society’s standards of what constitutes worthy or not.

 

Do any of my Christian readers have a different take on the Easter story, or get a different kind of comfort from it?  For all my readers – join me in being so damn grateful for a four-day weekend, plus ANZAC Day later this week!  I loved stacked public holidays.

More Quotable Quotes

A while ago I did a post on 10 quotes that really summed up some of the experiences we have with endometriosis/chronic illness.  Recently, a lot of similar quotes have been popping up in my Pinterest feed, so I thought this might be a good time to do another one of those posts.

1)  “When I finally find a pain-free position…but then I have to pee.”  

All the damn time!

The quote is superimposed on an image of James Van Der Beek ugly-crying.

This one doesn’t really need an explanation, but boy, is it true (and frustrating).

2)  “Fake it til you make it doesn’t work with chronic illness”

MS, Fibro, Lupus, and the list goes on and on.... Chronic Debilitating Painful Illnesses

Image is a tumblr post by thatchronicfeeling.  It reads:

“‘Fake it till you make it’ dosen’t work with chronic illness.

Instead, the options are:

‘Fake it till you are so ill you can’t get out of bed’

‘Fake it till you have a flare’

‘Fake it till you have a flare, continue to fake it till you’re hospitalised’

OR

‘Accept that you have one or more chronic illnesses, adapt accordingly and look after yourself.'”  

I suspect most of us are guilty of trying to fake it til we make it far too many times, largely because there are enormous societal and economic pressures to do so, even though we know it doesn’t work and isn’t conducive to long-term health.

3) The Most Annoying Thing

Indeed, I still try though. Now and then, PIZZA!!!

Image reads: “The thing that kills me about chronic illness is that you can do everything right and still be sick.  You can be on the best medications, eat the best food, exercise seven days a week, sleep eight hours every night, and still be sick.  You can follow every rule, do everything your [sic] supposed to, and still be sick.”

You’re telling me.  I flew halfway around the planet to get the best surgery currently available only to discover I have another underlying condition that the surgery can’t treat.  I sleep ten or twelve hours some days and I’m still fatigued beyond enduring.

On the other hand, I did go to my Bangladeshi friend’s house the other night and eat all the high-FODMAP food, but honestly, if you could taste her mum’s dahl, you’d eat it if it killed you.

4) Of Mice and Men

Quote, 'Of Mice and Men'

Image is a quote from Of Mice and Men: “It’s just a constant battle: me against my body; my passions and my dreams and what I want to do with my life, against what I’m physically able to do.”

This really hits home.  As I write I’m supposed to be at beautiful Pearl Beach catching up with a dear friend whom I don’t see nearly enough.  Instead, I’m at home in my pjs because I couldn’t handle the journey.

5) I want to be enough

Chronically ill person

Image reads: As a chronically ill person, I don’t want to be told I can do anything if I put my mind to it.  I want to know that what I can do is enough.”

Absolutely.  It doesn’t matter how determined I am to be a prima ballerina when I can barely make it to the gym twice a week through fatigue and pain.  Rather than being told “you can do anything!”, which kind of rubs it in our faces that we can’t, tell us that we are doing really well as we are (because we are).  

6) Surprise!

Funny because it’s true

Meme of a cat face on a background partitioned into six shades of blue.  Texts reads:

“Me: so what are we going to do with my life?

Body: It’s a surprise!”

It sure it, body.  It sure is.

7)  Waste of spoons

Said every person who is chronically ill.

Image reads: Why waste spoons on shaving your legs?

I’ve had many a day in between laser sessions where I have thrown out my skirt or dress plans in favour of trousers because shaving requires far, far too many spoons.

If you can’t bear the sensation of leg hair want to know more about removal options, have a squiz at this post where I evaluate the pros and cons of a few different choices.

8) Competing Desires

yes

Image reads: I am a person who wants to do a lot of things trapped in a body of a person who wants to sleep a lot.

Never a truer word was said.

9) A Fully Functioning Body

Image result for funny chronic illness memes

Image is a tumblr post by thefairiegirl.  It is a picture of a shocked lego-person in glasses with the text:

“When I see someone with a fully functioning body:”

and the lego person says, “I’ve always wanted one of those.”

Wouldn’t it be nice?

10) Fatigue

"You don't know what fatigue is until you've had to rest after taking a shower." Life with chronic illness. Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Lyme Disease.

Image is from someecards.  A vintage image of a lady in a bathtub on a blue background, with text that reads: “You don’t know what fatigue is until you’ve had to rest after taking a shower.”

I mostly take baths now for that exact reason, and I still have to rest afterwards.

What quote resonates with you the most?

If you enjoyed this post and want to see more of these quotes, follow me at https://www.pinterest.com.au/bubblesinthebrain/ and look for my Endometriosis board.

Secondary Conditions: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

I’ve written a lot about endometriosis.  I’ve also written about some of the “side-effects ” people with endo often suffer, such as back pain, digestive issues, and gastritis.  Now I want to write a little series on other chronic conditions that often appear alongside endometriosis.  Today, it’s myalgic encephalitis (ME), better known as chronic fatigue syndrome, aka CF or CFS.

Like most chronic illnesses, chronic fatigue can be mildly described as a massive pain in the posterior.  It’s exactly what it sounds like – extreme exhaustion that varies from sporadic to constant.  Have you ever had glandular fever, and had that dreadful, bone-aching exhaustion that drives you back to bed, on the verge of tears from sheer tiredness, just two hours after a 16-hour sleep?  I’m told its much like that.  In fact, chronic fatigue can often develop after a bout of glandular fever.  In other words, to describe CF as mere constant tiredness is inaccurate.  It’s crushing.  It doesn’t get better with rest, and it gets worse with lack of rest.  My own bout of glandular fever has given me a healthy fear of chronic fatigue.  I’ve never felt so horrific and disconnected in all in my life, and I only had it for nine months.  CF can be limited in duration, but it can also last for years, or for a lifetime.  Anyone of any age can contract it, even children.

This exhaustion may be the only symptom sufferers endure, but others may experience headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, light-headedness, aching muscles, joint pain, sore throats and tender lymph nodes, as well as trouble remembering, concentrating, or forming sentences (brain fog).  Unfortunately, most of these are also symptoms of glandular fever or even influenza, so it is worth speaking to your doctor to rule those two out.  Glandular fever can be confirmed with a simple blood test.  Indeed, excluding other conditions, such as anaemia, is the only way to arrive at a CF diagnosis, as there is no one test to confirm that you have it.

There’s also no known reason as to why people develop it.  Like most of the illnesses I’ve discussed in this series, it appears to affect those of the XX persuasion more than the XYs.  Its onset it sometimes linked to physical stressors, such as infections, imbalanced gut flora, and hormones doing wacky things, as well as just plain stress.  However, we’ve yet to identify a single factor that guarantees you’ll get it, and having any or all of the above doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to.

As you can imagine, the impact of severe chronic fatigue is devastating.  It can totally prevent normal socialising, normal functioning – normal anything.  It leaves people without the strength or energy to do much more than maintain the physical functions, and I’m told even that can be a stretch on bad days.  Even those less severely impacted suffer the impacts on their work and social life, particularly as it can strike at any time of day.  For those whose friends or family suffer it, prepare to extend a lot of patience, sympathy, grace, and practical assistance wherever you can.

So, what’s the good news?  Unfortunately, it isn’t that there’s a cure.  There isn’t.  There’s also no one treatment.  Really, the news isn’t that good.  Treatments are largely changing lifestyle factors – ensuring a healthy diet, planning your day around periods you tend to have more or less energy, pacing yourself carefully, and practising good sleep hygiene, including avoiding caffeine or naps late in the day.  Gentle exercise may help some, but for those who suffer Post-Exertional Malaise (an increase in exhaustion after activity) will probably not benefit.  Symptoms such as headaches etc can be treated with painkillers.

The most important thing, as I understand it, is having support.  Supportive friends, a supportive workplace, but most of all, support from people who get it.  I think that’s true of most chronic illnesses – to have even just one person who knows what it’s like can be a huge relief.

Do you have chronic fatigue?  What was the trigger for you in developing it?  Do you have any coping strategies you can share?  Let me know in the comments.

 

Secondary Conditions: Fybromyalgia

I’ve written a lot about endometriosis.  I’ve also written about some of the “side-effects ” people with endo often suffer, such as back pain, digestive issues, and gastritis.  Now I want to write a little series on other chronic conditions that often appear alongside endometriosis.  Today, it’s fibromyalgia, aka fibro, FM, or FMS.

Before I carry on, I just want to apologise for this post being a little tardy – I’ve been very sick with a nasty, persistent cold and some rather bad flare-ups, so I haven’t had any energy to spare for writing this week.  I suspect there will just be one post next week as well, so bear with me for a bit whilst I recover.

Of all the chronic conditions that people with endo often end up with, fibro is probably the one I fear the most.  The reason for that is that my endo pain is generally confined to my torso, and at worst may cause shooting pains in the legs.  Fibro is just pain everywhere.  All over.  Muscles, joints, bones, the whole shebang.  Imagine that – pain embedded in your skeleton.  It can be limited to just a few spots on the body, true, but it can also effect the whole body at once.  People who have fibro have described it to me as hellish, rendering them completely unable to move.

In addition to pain, it can cause such delightful symptoms as tingling, muscles that twitch, cramp or go suddenly weak, headaches, dizziness, generalised weakness, sensory overload, impaired concentration so bad you can hardly string a thought together (aka brain fog), insomnia, restless sleep, intolerance of hot or cold, stiffness, irregular periods, depression, bowel troubles, bladder issues and more.  Doesn’t it just sound like a hoot?

Of course, the best part is that, just like endometriosis, we don’t know what causes it, and there is no cure.  We do know that stress exacerbates it and there seems to be a link between onset and physical trauma, but not all physical traumas cause fibro and not all people who suffer from fibro have experienced a physical trauma.  We also know you’re more likely to suffer from it if you’re a woman (80-90% of sufferers are female).

Because of the wide variety of exciting symptoms, fibro can be difficult to diagnose.  There’s no conclusive test, even through surgery.  It’s mostly a case of ruling out other causes for pain.  Unfortunately, this can often result in delays of diagnosis for sufferers of fibro.

The treatment is also difficult.  Mostly, it’s lifestyle management, like identifying and avoiding triggers (difficult to do when triggers can be things like, well, moving).  Many doctors recommend physio and gentle exercise, such as water-based exercise, yoga, or tai chi.  It’s also recommended to eat well, avoid stress (lol) and get plenty of rest (extra lol). (I note that I am laughing at how they make that sound so easy, not the idea itself – lots of rest and minimising stress are important in battling any chronic condition). Unfortunately, some things that can cause flare-ups can’t be avoided, such as weather changes (yes, seriously), and travelling.

There are medical treatments as well.  Some people can get along well with panadol and ibuprofen, but others may need to resort to stronger drugs like pregabalin and gabapentin.  Like treatment for endo, it can get expensive quickly.

The connection between endo and adeno and endo and PCOS probably seemed quite logical, but why have I linked endo and fibro?  Well, because studies suggest people with endo are more likely to suffer from fibro.  We’re also more likely to get chronic fatigue, a condition we tend to have in common with fibro sufferers, and which I will be writing about next.

I live in deep admiration for people with fibro, especially those who also suffer from endometriosis.  I have a really hard time sometimes just dealing with one condition.  I know how deeply it impacts every aspect of my life, from my relationships to my job.  Fibro just seems like…what fresh hell is this?  I know how you get through it – you have to, and do you do – but I am in such awe of your strength and willpower.  Keep fighting, my friends.

Do any of my readers have fibro?  I would love it if you could share your experiences with diagnosis, treatments, and just life with fibro generally in the comments.