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Feeling Ill in Summer

Feeling Really Ill in the Summer
This week summer hits London full force and while just about everyone I know is excited and looking forward to revelling in the sunshine, I have entered full scale survivalist mode. I’ve written about reverse SAD or the summer blues before, so it won’t come as a complete surprise that I don’t look forward to the summer months. However I’m currently in the middle of a relapse so I have to be really careful in the heat as it could have serious health consequences for me. I have some friends with ME who thrive during summer. This is the time of the year that they feel the best and I even have one friend who spends time abroad during winter just so her health is not adversely affected by the cold. But what about the rest of us who relapse every summer? Here I talk about how the heat and light affect me and what I do to survive.

Summer Sickness

This weekend I had to go across the road to the supermarket and pharmacy. I will be alone for the next week so can’t rely on anyone to pick up food items for me on the way home and even if a heatwave had not been forecast for the coming week, I would make sure I had everything I needed just in case I’m unable to get out. I decided I would go very early o+n Saturday morning when it would be cool and I could avoid the heat and the crowds. The trip went well and I got everything I needed. However, just after lunch I was hit with the most overwhelming fatigue. I had to lie down. I spent the rest of the day passed out in bed, barely able to get up and eat dinner. Sunday was pretty much the same. I find it impossible being out in the sun for very long. This weekend was extreme because I don’t usually get knocked out like that, especially when it is not even that hot, but here are some of the symptoms I experience after as little as 10 minutes out on an average summer day:

  • Light Sensitivity or Photophobia: Light has been an issue for me anyway, so I’ve gotten used to wearing sunglasses since I became ill in 2001. But when I’m out in the sun, brightness can be too much even with shades on. I bought a pair that is very dark and wide, so not much light gets in around the sides. However, I fear I need wraparounds.
  • Heat Intolerance: I am not good with heat. I do not even use any heating in my home during winter and find it very difficult to visit friends and family during the colder months as their homes are way too hot. So, venturing out on a summer day is a nightmare. I feel consumed by fire and my skin itches and burns. There are also a number of other symptoms which I think are related to the heat intolerance and I’ll talk about them next.
  • Dizziness and Headaches: The dizziness comes on very quickly when I’m out in the sun and I find myself feeling extremely light-headed. Even a short time in the bright light and heat causes headaches for the rest of the day.
  • Fatigue: The summer months are when my fatigue is the worst. Even if I don’t go out, the raised temperatures make me feel sluggish and weak. Everything seems harder and takes more effort and energy. I keep my flat very cool, but I feel the most comfortable in the cold.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Nausea is a real problem in summer. Sometimes, no matter what I eat, I throw up too, but luckily (if that word can be used for anything to do with illness) it doesn’t happen too often.
  • Dehydration: This may be due to the medicines I am taking, but I find no matter how much water I drink, and I do drink a lot of water, I still feel dehydrated. I’ve had diabetes checks, but I am not diabetic, nor do I have any other health issues that could be causing the thirst. I recently went to see a dental hygienist and even she commented on the dryness of my mouth.

The Sun is Good For You, Right?

No matter how ill I get in summer, I still get friends and family telling me that I need to get out in the sun. My own mother, who has seen me suffering in the heat and light, often tells me I need to move out of my basement flat to a place that has more light. After almost a decade and a half with this illness, I know what makes me worse and what makes me better. I get tired of hearing how I need more sun, more light and more heat. However, if ME has taught me anything, it is the patience to endure the unhelpful and totally unfounded recommendations of well-meaning people.

How to Survive the Summer

I try to stay cool and out of the light. I also know that it takes me a lot more effort to get the same amount done during the cooler months, so I have to be extra careful not to over-exert myself. Well, that is all I have been doing the past few years. But it is not good enough as I am forced to leave the house and it is not always easy to escape the heat.

I have recently been doing a lot of reading on adrenal fatigue and mitochondrial function. I read that many people have found that water alone is not good enough and can actual cause more problems and what is needed is electrolyte replenishment.

Do you have increased health problems in summer? What do you do to survive feeling ill in summer?

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Why We Need to Tell Our ME Stories

Why We Need to Tell Our ME Stories...
ME is regarded as an invisible illness. My friends and family can take one look at me and know when I am having a particularly bad day, but the actual symptoms and severity cannot always be seen from the surface. One of the most important things you can do as an ME sufferer is to tell your story. So today I want to tell you why we need to tell our ME stories and to talk about some of the ways you can share your experiences.

On most social media sites, depending on the friends and groups you follow, you’ll often see meme’s doing the rounds which urge ill people to think positively. The whole positive thinking school of thought especially as it used to shame, bully and further isolate ill people is something I feel very strongly about and it is something I plan to talk about in detail at a later date. But for now, I mention these meme’s in relation to the way they encourage ill people not to talk about their experiences. Here are just 2 quotes:

“Never own a disease. Reduce the amount of time that you talk about being ill. Refuse to allow illness a place in your consciousness.”
“Refuse to be ill. Never tell people you are ill; never own it to yourself. Illness is one of those things which a man should resist on principle.”

I can tell you this type of advice (if it can even be called advice) is not at all helpful. I know because I did it for the longest time. Instead, it was only when I accepted I had an illness called ME, began to read other people’s experiences and eventually began to share my own experiences with sufferers and non-sufferers alike was I able to free myself and begin to rebuild a life. If every sufferer followed the advice to resist their illness and not own it, there would not be anyone campaigning for more research into the illness nor would there be any charity organisations helping to raise awareness and support the ill. All ME sufferers would be locked alone within their illness without blogs, social media friends or forums in which to connect with others and to take solace from the fact that there are others in this same, rickety old boat. We would truly be invisible and while that would be great for everyone else, not so much for us. Pretending we’re not ill or that we’re happy with our lot is not going to achieve anything.

When I first became ill it was a struggle to deal with the all the symptoms my usually healthy body was exhibiting. But I can tell you one thing for sure, as hard as it was to deal with the fatigue and pain, there were other things that were so much harder to come to terms with. No-one around me understood how I felt. I was so ill, but my friends and family couldn’t grasp exactly how ill I was. A lot of this was to do with the fact that I hadn’t come to terms with my illness myself, and I didn’t have the health or the energy to help others understand that which I did not understand myself.

Even when I did come to terms with the fact that my body was riddled with an illness, I had such a horrendous time dealing with changes such as the loss of work and the state of my finances, but even worse was the social isolation. I felt so alone and some days I even questioned my sanity; could I really feel so ill and yet no-one could see it? I received little to no help from the medical sector.

What saved me was a book I read called ‘Verity Red’s Diary’ by Maria Mann. As the name suggests the story is a diary. It is a fictionalised account but draws on the authors own experiences with ME. I suddenly realised that there were other sufferers out there and to this day I thank Maria Mann for writing that book. I read the stories of other ME sufferers online, I corresponded with them and suddenly I was not so alone and misunderstood. That was the turning point for me. I felt more comfortable about talking about my illness with other people in my life and suddenly they began to get it. OK, so not everyone got it, but because I felt so much more centred within myself, those people who judged or were plain mean didn’t affect me anymore. Over the next few years I began to feel more comfortable about writing articles online about my life as a ME sufferer. After I realised the importance of sharing our experiences, I began this blog. It was scary at first, but two and a half years on, the blog has helped me so much and I’d like to think others too.

So let me break it down, here are the 4 main reasons you must tell your story:

  1. It will help you to make sense of what you are going through. Naturally we shy away from anything that has the potential to hurt us, so it feels like talking about an illness will hurt us more. But one of the things I have learned by sharing my experiences with others is that as ill as I am, as hard as my life is, I achieve a lot and am stronger than I ever imagined possible. This is true for just about every ME sufferer I have ever come across and I am sure it is true about you too.
  2. You will help non-sufferers to understand the illness. This is an important one because if you have even moderate ME your life will change and it is important that the people around you understand this. If you never talk about being ill or how your illness affects you, how will the people closest to you understand? When you’re not well enough to attend that family christening, or can’t do your share of household chores, how will others react if they don’t know the extent of your illness? Or worse, you’ll push yourself to do more than you can and end up making yourself more ill.
  3. Your story may help someone else. At the very least you’re letting someone else know that there are others in the same boat. The way you have dealt with your illness could help some else deal with theirs; even if you think you’ve been struggling. Even those struggles can give another person solace. You’d be amazed at how often when I’ve been with a group of ME sufferers talking about our shared experiences, more often than not we laugh at the stupid treatments we’ve tried or the silly things people have said. It’s not about spreading the misery.
  4. Yesterday I wrote about how the Conservative government has been targeting the ill for welfare and NHS cuts. ME sufferers are at the top of the list of people who are declared ‘fit for work’ or denied medical help. We have to show the world that we are very ill, but receive little to no help. Our very survival depends on this.

So how can you tell your ME story?

  • One of the basic ways is to feel more comfortable in mentioning your illness to friends and family. You don’t need to talk about it constantly, but next time a loved one asks how you are, tell the truth. It can be something as simple as “I’m on new meds for my muscle spasms which aren’t fun, and it means I’m have to rest more than usual.”
  • Share a comment about your experience on an ME sufferer’s blog post, video upload or social media status. This is easier because a fellow sufferer will not only understand where you’re coming from but will often appreciate the support.
  • Write a blog post yourself about your story or a single experience. You can set up a blog for free. If this seems too daunting or you don’t feel you’ll have the energy to maintain a blog, ask another ME sufferer who has an existing blog to publish your story. I would be more than happy to publish anyone’s story on my blog. Here’s an example that I just saw this morning ‘MerelyExisting is ME’ wrote a lovely guest post called We Are Warriors .
  • Make a video. You don’t need expensive equipment to do this as just about every phone has a camera or voice recording function these days. Again, if you’re not comfortable being in front of the camera or don’t have a camera you can just record a voiceover or even just use text to convey your story. If you’re too ill to even do this, ask a family member to record you for 10 minutes when you’re feeling particularly ill and upload it to YouTube with a line or 2 about ME, or make a compilation of before and after becoming ill with ME pics. Here’s a video that Tom has made to raise awareness about ME. Tom is not a ME sufferer, but his sister is, and he will be running in the Edinburgh Marathon to raise money for ME research.

So if you are able to, please try and tell your story. If you don’t feel able to tell your story at this time, help other people share theirs by reading their posts or watching their videos and sharing these on social media sites or with friends and family. I understand it’s not easy because some days just sitting up is a struggle let alone telling your story online, but take your time and do what you can. If I can help you, let me know and I will try. You don’t know who you can help with just a few paragraphs; you may even save the life of someone who feels very alone. You can be serious and honest, or talk about some of the sillier things that have happened. Just be true to yourself; there’s no right or wrong way to do it.

Do you have any other ideas of how ME sufferers can share their stories? What have you learned from hearing other people’s stories? Let me know in the comments section.

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What Can We Expect and Do to Fight Tory Persecution?

What Can We Expect and Do to Fight Tory Persecution

Last week on election night when I saw the results of the exit polls I felt such despair and grief I cried and cried. The darkness was so profound that I could not even bring myself to talk about it. What made it worse was the fact that I was not alone and when I looked at the tweets of other ME sufferers, they too were feeling exactly the same, in fact some people even feared for their lives. That may seem like some extreme hyperbole but I can assure you, they have good reason to feel that way. So here, finally, are my thoughts on the election results. We are ME sufferers, what can we expect and do to fight Tory persecution? I’m going to tell you.

I don’t really get involved in politics. What I mean by this is that while I have firm political beliefs and ideologies, it’s not something I choose to write about. So I didn’t discuss anything relating to the elections in my various posts and maybe I should have. In fact, in the run up to the election, I was more interested in May being ME Awareness month and I had planned to release a series of videos and articles to raise awareness of this illness. Despite my planning, I had to deal with a bout of food poisoning and then full blown flu in April, which I am still recovering from, so everything got delayed. But I made sure I had registered for my postal vote and I filled out the ballot paper and sent it off. It was a wasted vote because the Conservatives (whom I did not vote for) were assured a win in my area. Yet I still voted. I don’t want to discuss the reasons people should or should not vote or even the electoral system and the pros and cons of ‘First Past the Post’ or how this travesty was allowed to happen. These are things that are being discussed everywhere at the moment. I am more concerned with how the results of this election affect us as very ill people.

Why We’re Afraid

One of the very first things the coalition government did when it came into power 5yrs ago was to wage a war on the ill and disabled on benefits. We were all portrayed as lazy, scroungers and it was implied it was our fault that the country was in such economic dire straits. “We’re all in this together” we were told, while it was the most poor and most ill in society that were attacked. I don’t deny that economic reform is needed, but why start at the bottom? Why not start at the top? What kind of a government points the finger at the ill and poor instead of at the real culprits of the financial crash? I’m not naïve enough to say that things would have been much different under a Labour government, but the fact is that it was the previous coalition that came after us with a vengeance.

Here are just some facts about harmful changes that government has made:

  • The Under Occupancy Charge, also known as the ‘Bedroom Tax’, affects 660,000 families 63% of which have a disabled family member.
  • 33% of NHS Walk Ins, 66% A&E/Maternity Wards and 16% of all other types of A&Es have either been downgraded or closed. The Tories have overseen the worst A&E crisis in 11 years. Not since January 2004 have breaches of the A&E 4 hour target been as bad.
  • There are 477 fewer GP Surgeries, and a 4 fold increase in unfilled GP vacancies since 2010, partly caused by the £987mn real terms cut in GP funding. England’s GP to patient ratio has worsened by 3-4% as population increases. Of 27 EU Countries, the UK is ranked 24th for the number of working doctors it has per head of population (just 2.71 per 1,000 people).
  • They forced through a reorganisation of the NHS which has accelerated privatisation. Private Firms have been invited to bid for £18billion of NHS Contracts. Of contracts decided upon, private health have won 33%, 56% or 70% of those contracts depending on which statistic you place most stock in.
  • According to the UK Statistics Authority the government broke page 45 of their 2010 Manifesto to increase NHS Spending in real terms every year. According to the IFS, NHS Spending is falling 9.1% per patient from 2010 until 2018. The King’s Fund says the NHS is facing its tightest budget squeeze since 1979. And the Nuffield Trust said that NHS spending is falling steeply as a proportion of UK GDP.
  • Despite inheriting an NHS that enjoyed record satisfaction ratings, the coalition, by 2012, had delivered the largest every fall in patient satisfaction with the NHS.
  • A highly efficient NHS Direct has been shut down and replaced by a for-profit NHS111 service that botched its initial launch. 78% of the NHS111 staff who process 111 calls have no clinical expertise. This has caused all sorts of pressures, including additional admissions at A&E. It has been reported that there have been 22 deaths or serious injuries which were caused by failures in the launch of NHS 111.
  • S75 regulations, TTIP, and forced closures of A&Es take power away from the people and place it in the hands of unelected corporations. The government have insisted that healthcare will not be exempt from TTIP. They passed clauses to allow Jeremy Hunt to force NHS closures against the say of the local public, and diminish the court’s role in holding him accountable. He has also passed regulations to push commercial competition in the NHS much more forcefully. Needless to say, all of this is anti-democratic.
  • 9,746 Hospital Beds have been axed under the Tories. The UK now has one of the worst hospital bed to patient ratios in the world. 1,876 Mental Health NHS Beds have been cut and up to 4,000 Psychiatric Nurses have lost their job, and overall mental health provision has been cut by 25%.
  • The coalition ignored National Audit Office warnings that the Work Programme (which has twice been declared unlawful in a court of law) would fail and it failed to deliver jobs for 85%-91%% of participants according to the UK Statistics Authority. The Government’s £200 million Back to Work Scheme helps just 3% of the people it targeted said the National Audit Office.
  • After the coalition ordered private firms to toughen up the Work Capability Assessments, 158,000 were wrongly found fit to work , and had their decision overturned on appeal. 1,300 claimants died whilst being placed in the category to ready themselves for work. 68 claimants died while their appeal against the assessment finding them fit to work was still ongoing.

As I said, these are just some of the changes made by the coalition government; I detailed them here, because they have such an impact on ill people like us. I got these figures from ‘100 biggest failures of David Cameron’s Tories, May 2010 to Present’ and I would urge you to read the full list which gives so many details on detrimental changes to every aspect of our society along with links to evidence of where that information was attained.

Going Forward

David Cameron and his Conservative party now has a majority win and we know, for a fact that things are going to get worse. They have promised to make £12bn of welfare cuts. If they go ahead and do that, many people, not just the ill, will be hit hard. Things have gotten so bad for us in the last 5yrs and we are only assured that they will get worse. But we cannot give up; we have to keep fighting because for many of us it is a matter of survival. The most heart-breaking tweets that I read on Friday and over the weekend were written by ME sufferers who actually feared for their lives; they were not sure they would be able to survive another 5yrs. I have to admit that I am one of the lucky ones as I am not dependent on ESA or any disability benefits. I am well enough to be able to work on my writing, but my earnings are meagre and I survive on the generosity of family and friends. Not everyone has that luxury. I’ve been on Incapacity Benefit when I was truly too ill to work at all. The first sign that my symptoms let up, I went back to work and I had a major relapse which has resulted in me being unable to go out and get a ‘proper job’. I know dozens of ME sufferers and not a single one of them would take a penny from the state unless they really had no other option. More worrying are the changes to the NHS. The medical attention we require is not optional.

What Can We Do?

As ME sufferers we know all too well how our illness is regarded. We fight just to have ME recognised as a legitimate illness with doctors, let alone with those responsible for authorising benefits. People with more recognisable illnesses than ours are facing discrimination, and it doesn’t help that we’re expected to fight when most of us have our hands full just getting through the daily acts of feeding, washing and clothing ourselves. But we have no choice, we cannot allow anymore persecution. There are things that even the most ill sufferers can do.

Get and Provide Support

One of the worst aspects of this illness is the fact that we all feel extremely isolated as we do spend so much time in our homes alone. There is support available online. I have connected with hundreds of other sufferers on Twitter alone. This is important because it shows us that we are not alone. Personally, the anger I feel on my own, turns to complete outrage when I see so many people suffering. This might sound like a bad thing, but that outrage drives me to want to make a change. It shows me that I am part of a community of people and that with so many of us, there is something we can do. On my bad days, I really need that sense of community and understanding and I talk about what I am feeling and going through in large part in order to let others know that I understand what they are going through. So get and provide that sense of community and support by interacting with others as much as you can with other sufferers.

Get Your Story Out There

The media is very quick to make a huge show of the very small minority of benefit cheats and in How The Sun and Daily Mail Lie About CFS Cure Claims I looked at specific examples of how CFS was falsely portrayed in the press. We have to make our voices heard. We have to show the way that we are affected by our illness and the persecution of the state. We have to put faces to the horrors being I know, I know, we’re all ill and struggling, some of us so much more than others. But there are lots of ways that we can put a face to the horror and it is extremely important that we do. In fact tomorrow I am going to be publishing a more detailed list of things we can do to get our stories out there and the different actions we can take no matter what level the severity of symptoms.

Get Involved

Most of us can’t march through the streets with placards; we’re just not well enough! But there are others way to protest and fight for the things we want and need. You can sign up to organisations like ‘38 Degrees’ who are fighting to make the changes that we need. I have been a member for a while now and they have made significant changes. One campaign that I am particularly interested in is the Save Our NHS Campaign. You can choose to just sign petitions online, you can make phone calls for them if you feel well enough to do that, or if you or are a family member are more able, you can take part in organised protest marches. They also have details of local groups in your area that will be fighting to save your local NHS services. The e-mails they send out detail what needs doing where and even if you’re just able to send an e-mail to your MP, or share a story or campaign on social media to help get more people involved, you’re helping, as their past campaigns have shown.

Ask For Help

If you’re facing problems applying for benefits there are organisations that can help. I have friends who have successfully applied for or appealed unfair decisions for ESA and DLA using the guides and advice from Benefits and Work. It is not a free service (I have not used them personally, I do not work for them nor do I get paid for mentioning them here) and costs around £20 for a year’s subscription, but they do have a 7 day money back guarantee, so you can check them out and see if they can help. They’re an independent organisation and funded only by the subscriptions from their members. In their own words: “This complete independence means that Benefits and Work is free to publish information that makes it deeply unpopular with the Department for Work and Pensions, multinationals with an interest in benefits – such as Atos Healthcare, Unum Provident and Capita – and even other advice providers whose dependence on state and corporate funding may have made them reluctant to tell the whole truth.”

You don’t need to use this organisation, ask around online for what you need – there will definitely be at least one ME sufferer somewhere who has been through what you are going through and that will be able to offer a suggestion or advice.

It’s Not Over…

Yes, the election results were an awful blow and many of us have been licking our wounds these past few days. It would have been nice to even have a glimmer of hope that things would change but at least we know the beast we have to fight. We will fight because we really have no choice as the alternative is to die alone, poor, cold, ill and hungry. The elections may be over, but the fight to survive continues. I am the first person to admit that with our health struggles, even blinking hurts some days. We’re ME sufferers and we fight and struggle every day; we now have to translate that into some kind of positive change and we definitely will.

Can you think of anything else we can do to fight for our rights? Let us know in the comments below. Tomorrow I have a special post planned as it is ME Awareness Day, where I will tell you how you can help in the easiest and least taxing ways.

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