2018 Favourites

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Well, we’ve made it to the end of 2018: a year which has caused the British population to overdose on Brexit, we had the Beast from the East and the hottest summer in forever. Baby Shark made us want to spoon our eyeballs out and the I’m A Celeb Class of 2018 gave us the ultimate body confidence song, I Like My Bum.

I’ve really enjoyed writing about my monthly favourites, throughout the year, so it only seemed right to reflect on the whole of 2018 and the things that I’ve loved.

Books

My stand-out book of the year has to be I Am Thunder: And I Won’t Keep Quiet by Muhammad Khan. Put simply: this book was amazing, literally the only fault that I could find with it is that it finished too soon. Despite this book again coming under the YA category of fiction, I honestly feel that everyone needs to read it. Muhammad Khan is a teacher in a British secondary school. He is also Muslim and writes about growing up as a British Muslim in the 21st century, having been inspired by media reports of the three Muslim girls who fled east London to join the so-called Islamic State. Since first reading this book in May, I have gone on to re-read it numerous times, each time picking up different aspects of the plot that I hadn’t noticed when reading before. I’m really pleased that Khan is releasing his second book in early 2019.

Another book which I have to mention is We Are Young, the latest book by YA author, Cat Clarke. Having only discovered Cat Clarke this year, I very quickly made my way through all of her books and it is a close call between We Are Young and Girlhood over my favourite Cat Clarke book. We Are Young was emotional, raw, powerful…I could continue. What I loved most was that Cat writes about mental health in such a sensitive yet balanced manner. She doesn’t sugar-coat how difficult being a teenager can be and We Are Young also touches on the government cuts to mental health services and youth services and how this impacts on the most vulnerable in society. I can’t wait until Cat’s next book is out. No pressure Cat!

A book that hasn’t featured in any of my previous monthly favourites posts is Vox by Christina Dalcher. This book was extraordinary, so much so that I read it in one sitting. It’s very unlike any books that I normally read, but I was drawn to it because of the linguistic and neurolinguistic element in it. In dystopian USA, women and girls are limited to speaking only one hundred words a day. This is measured by a word counter which is fitted to their wrists, speaking over one hundred words means that the bracelet emits an electric shock, which then intensifies. Think 1984, with a neurolinguistic twist, I really loved it.

Films/TV

Like most of the British population, I was obsessed with Love Island and still feel that there is a hole in my life, come 9pm, as it’s not on TV to watch. Despite this, however, I will fully admit that Love Island is not a healthy representation on society and it highlights many issues, with how women are viewed and treated. I wrote a blog post about The Problems With Love Island, where I talked about being a feminist and if watching Love Island makes me a bad feminist. I don’t necessarily agree with the behaviours shown by some of the people in the villa, but Love Island was a winner for some summer evening TV viewing and I will be remaining loyal, babe to it.

Obviously I can’t write about my yearly favourites without mentioning Strictly Come Dancing. As always, I have loved loved loved this series, especially with the added controversy and drama. Stacey and Kevin were well deserved winners, having had the SCD journey, with Stacey going from complete novice to a talented dancer.

My stand-out TV programme of the year has to the The Bodyguard. Being a huge fan of Line of Duty, also written by Jed Mercurio, I had high expectations of this series and I was not disappointed. It. Was. So. Good. Although not to be watched in the middle of the night when you’re home alone. The twist in the final episode was outstanding…is Julia alive or not?! Roll on series two.

As for films, the ones I’ve loved the most are Ladybird, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and Wonder. 2019 is looking good in terms of film releases and I’m especially looking forward to Toy Story 4 and Lion King.

Spoonie Favourites

The Body Shop has to have a mention here, as their skin care has (mostly) kept my skin in reasonable condition, when I haven’t felt eel enough to properly look after it. A lot of the time, I don’t have the energy to spend ages and ages doing my makeup or having a long beauty regime, but at the same time, I don’t want to get into a downward spiral of not making any effort. Products which deserve a mention are: Tea Tree Anti-Imperfection Night Mask is specifically formulated to care for blemishes and imperfections whilst you sleep and the hydrating face mists which saved my skin from heat induced sweats over the summer.

Another spoonie favourite from this is Tesco jeans. Okay, stay with me on this one. I have really short legs – being just over 5ft is a bit of a curse in that sense – so I find buying jeans a very painful process. Once I find a brand that I like, that’s it, I’m on a convert and buy all the jeans in different colours (I say different colours and I mean dark blue and black). They are so comfy, they fit perfectly, with a slight stretch which is perfect for when my hips and knees swell up, or when I’m bloated. Plus, they are so much cheaper than my usual Jack Wills/Oasis/Top Shop jeans and they wash well as well, which is always a bonus. I’ve lived in Tesco jeans, since discovering them earlier in the year and I’m so impressed by the longevity of them. They’ve faded slightly but for the most part, they still look as good as when I first bought them.

This year, I invested in a memory foam pillow. Where has this been all of my life? Thanks to EDS, I have endless issues with my back, neck and ribs and need a pillow which offers support and it fairly firm, to support my wonky bits. It hasn’t completely resolved the issues, but being able to sleep with my neck and shoulders getting more support has made a difference.

Since I was a teenager, I have struggled to varying degrees with stretch marks. Oh I know, the glamour, but I’m nothing if not honest. Skin issues go hand in hand with EDS, so I’m always going to be more prone to the little buggers and I know that so many people also have stretch marks. But that doesn’t change how they make me feel and how much they knock my confidence. After using a combination of bio oil and Palmer’s Cocoa  Butter and not noticing any difference, I did some research and came across Udderly Gorgeous Stretch Mark Oil by Cowshed. Whilst it was developed with pregnancy in mind, it has also had a good write up in improving stretch marks in general. It smells so much better than bio-oil, is less greasy and is absorbed more quickly. It hasn’t got rid of my stretch marks (that would be asking for a miracle) but they have improved: they aren’t as red or deep.

 

Odds and Sods

My first Odds and Sods yearly favourite overlaps with Spoonie Favourites. Last year, I stumbled across Spoonie_Village on Instagram. Run by the lovely Hayley, there is also an etsy shop, where you can buy all sorts of spoonie related items such as postcards, stickers, notebooks and calendars. I honestly can’t praise Hayley enough, her illustrations have made me smile during some really dark times this year and I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings.

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Over the summer, I was well enough to travel up to York, where I spent the best three years at uni, to catch up with old friends an lecturers. York itself is a beautiful city, with individual and unique shops that I could happily spend way too much money in. I’m able to look back on my week in York and remind myself that 2018 hasn’t been all bad, and I’m very lucky to have such supportive friends, dragging me through the tough bits.

My final favourite is the general blogging community over on Facebook and Instgram. Through this community, I have met so many like-minded people, learnt how to develop my blog and writing for an audience and had the space to talk about content and what people want to read about. Big thanks to the people who give up their time to facilitate the groups which allow this to happen, especially Amy, Pippa and Jenna.

 

 

 

 

Knowing When To Take A Break

When I first started blogging, way back when, around 2011, my main focus was mental health and living with various mental health conditions. My blogging was very much anonymous; I was so scared about sharing with people who I knew in real life what I was going through out of fear that I would be judged or that they would think differently. University completely changed my perspective about mental health. I realised that it wasn’t a battle that I needed to fight alone and, more importantly, that other people also struggled with mental illnesses.

Talking about mental health is still something that I am passionate about. The mental health system in the UK is very broken and it is failing so many people. I can’t change that, but I can advocate for people and remind them that they aren’t alone. I’ve seen both sides of the mental health system: I’ve been a patient and I’ve also been the professional, supporting service users and fighting to get them the help that they need and deserve. The number of people being failed really worries me. It worries me personally, as I have been failed by the system and it worries me as an ex-professional who had to fight on behalf of vulnerable young adults, to simply access a referral into mental health services.

A lot has changed since 2011. I am (for the most part) open and honest about my mental health. But, saying that, my own mental health has been forced to take a bit of a back seat, especially over the last year, as my physically health deteriorated to the point that it took over my life. Things as I knew them suddenly became very different and it was something totally out of my control.

I have been having therapy for just over three years. For about two years of that time, I found it a really useful process and I was getting a lot out of the sessions and was learning new coping strategies that I could implement into my daily life. As my physical health worsened, this changed the way that I worked with my therapist. I would frequently turn up to sessions so exhausted that I couldn’t function, a large chunk of the session would be a debrief on the week’s hospital appointments, whether I’d stayed out of hospital, if anything drastic had changed. Without realising it, my therapy sessions (which I am paying privately for) have become a space for me to talk about my physical health, completely ignoring my mental health. My physical health is important, it impacts my life daily and at the moment, it is very unpredictable. But my mental health is also important and I have been neglecting that and the reasons why I am in therapy in the first place.

So, I guess you could say that I’m going round in circles. Therapy can’t cure my physical illnesses and I am doubtful that it can fully “cure” my mental illnesses. It can, however, give me the skills to cope, manage, survive and pick myself up again when things go wrong.

During one sleepless night (painsomnia is fun) I ended up thinking about what I am getting out of therapy. The answer was not much. Because I have been so focused on trying to stabilise my physical health and was fixated on trying to avoid hospital, I hadn’t realised that I had slowly and silently slipped backwards in terms of my mental health. I have been anxious, really anxious, probably 90% of the time. This has manifested in an increased number of anxiety attacks, nightmares, my heart feeling like it’s going to explode and so much sweat. Gross but factual. My safe haven of my bed has been where I have wanted to hide much of the time and it has taken a lot of effort to go against that instinct. I guess I can be thankful for the many hospital appointments that forced me out of my bed, my pyjamas and my house.

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For me, anxiety goes hand in hand with OCD rituals and again, without realising, they have also worsened and I am more dependent on them, in order to feel safe and less anxious.

Relapses happen. They are part of life and I know that being able to recognise this slippery slope is positive.

This week I made the decision to take a break from therapy. Not ideal, you might be thinking, given what I have said above, but I think and hope that this is also a positive step. I was honest with my therapist and said that I felt that the sessions were becoming too focused on EDS, gastroparesis, Addison’s and all the other fun things that my body does. I am not addressing the reasons that I am in therapy and that has been the case for too long. Those reasons aren’t ever going to diminish or become less problematic if I continue to ignore them, either consciously or subconsciously. I am a pro at changing the subject and I think my therapist needs to be stricter at forcing the difficult conversations because I can’t do it for myself. It won’t be a long break and it was agreed on the condition that I made contact with my therapist if I needed to.

I’ve been here before and I know the feeling of “stop the world, I want to get off” will pass. As anyone with a mental illness will confirm, sometimes you will have days when you feel on top of the world and able to take anything on. Other days aren’t quite so great and you end up feeling frustrated and demoralised about life. And moments when I feel like that are when I need to take a break and re-evaluate things, without piling hideous amounts of pressure on myself.

For much of 2018 I have felt like a massive failure. I haven’t achieved my goal of moving out and as the year has progressed, it has become more and more unlikely that I will be able to fly the nest any time soon. I am crazy jealous of people who are living independently. Rationally I know that I need to be at home, financially I can’t afford to move out and I also need too much help with regards to my health to live alone.  I’m not working and the whole universal credit process destroyed my soul a little bit, so much so that when I get an email or text from them, I want to be (and often am) sick. Classy. But I know that I can’t work, even the pleb who met me once for my fitness to work assessment agreed with that. I’m not well enough, but I am taking tiny steps forward to engage in the workplace again.

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I used to hate it when people told me to be kind to myself. My counsellor at university ended every session by saying “go well out there” and looking back, that was possibly the best thing anyone could have said to me. I’m not going to succeed in everything I do, life doesn’t work like that. All I can do is try my best and “go well.” And yes, I need to be kind to myself, particularly when the world doesn’t feel like it’s being very kind.

We’re All Winners and Losers

Being diagnosed with a health condition, be that short term or long term, can make you re-evaluate your life and what you value as important. If you had asked twenty year old me, before diagnosis, I would have told you that my priorities focused around education, work and being self reliant. At that age, I was just starting my PGCE degree in primary education and I was very much striving to be an outstanding teacher. And I was, but as I became more unwell, being an outstanding teacher was coming at the cost of me constantly fighting infections, being really unhappy and stressed, not having a life outside of university and placements. But ultimately I was left feeling like my best would never be good enough, because my best was slipping because of my health.

After six gruelling months of teaching training, I made the decision to leave my PGCE degree, to focus on my health. At the time, it was a tough decision to make and it came down to how unhappy I was, more than considering my health, but as the months after university progressed, it became more and more apparent that my health wasn’t stable enough to cope with the demands that teaching expects of you. I still miss the idea of teaching, since I can remember, I had wanted to be a teacher so I felt very lost in a world where I was directionless.

Fast-forward a few years and whilst I might miss the idea of teaching, I am so glad that I stopped training before I was forced to stop. Since then, I have left another job because of the demands on my health, much of it due to working shifts and not being able to form a decent routine or get enough sleep. I thought that having official diagnoses would mean that managerial staff would be more understanding over my physical limitations, as well as the other odd things that my body can do as a result of EDS and its friends. I was perhaps naive in that thought: having a piece of paper stating that I have EDS doesn’t automatically ensure that people understand life with a chronic illness, more so when it is invisible.

Earlier in the year, I talked about being offered a job in children’s social services, in the early intervention team. It was my dream job and something that I had been working towards since leaving university. I had to kiss goodbye to that job because of how unwell I’ve been and I’m not going to kid myself into thinking that one day I will be able to go into that line of work. I really do hope that one day I can return to work but realistically, it won’t be in early intervention work because my body won’t cope with the demands, hours and stresses from the job. It’s not just my own health or life that I have consider, I need to think about potential families I would be working with. They need continuity and that’t not something that I can offer.

Similar applies to my inner dream of working in the police force. For all the reasons that I’ve stated about, it’s not a practical line of work and let’s be honest, I wouldn’t even get close to passing the medical tests.

I now spend my days writing, reading, sleeping and sometimes I go a bit wild and sit in the garden. I have to plan my life around when I have medical appointments to try and ensure that I’m as well as possible to attend them, but chronic illness is unpredictable so even the best laid plans go wrong when it comes to attending appointments. I speak to friends every day. But I still feeling lonely, even though I’m not alone.

I’m probably making life with chronic illnesses a bit shit and yes, at times, it is. But there are positives, even if they aren’t glaringly obvious.

I’ve met some really wonderful people who also have chronic illnesses. We are an odd bunch; we don’t do the conventional things like go to the pub or go shopping all day. You’ll probably find us in pyjamas, watching rubbish TV or having a group nap. But that kind of support is invaluable, as is the understanding. We are unshakeable, nothing is too gross to talk about and we can symptom share without sounding like we are losing the plot. Our medical knowledge is extensive: why ring 111 when you can consult a spoonie friend?

I’ve also developed a new gratitude for the days when I’m well enough to do something. Planning things takes a lot more effort and energy. Days when I can spontaneously leave the house and few and far between but when I am able to, it feels amazing and it leaves me feeling like a normal twenty something woman again.

Younger me imagined that I would be a teacher and whilst that hasn’t happened, I do feel happy being able to dedicate more time to writing and raising awareness about chronic illnesses. I’ve been given opportunities to write articles for charities or other blogging platforms and was recently nominated for two WEGO Health Awards, for best in show: blogging and rookie of the year. You can find out more and vote for me here.

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I’m getting opportunities which I would not be able to follow up on, if I was working, which is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.

That doesn’t take away the uncertainty or the fact that some days are just shit, but I find it is so important to try and focus on the things which are positive and make life easier to contend with. Health anxiety isn’t ever going to go away, scanxiety isn’t ever going to not be there and as much as I wish for it, I’m not never going to be 100% healthy and stable. I can’t go on week long benders but I’m a pro at watching a whole box set in a day. It’s the little things that make up life.

Effective Treatment Pathways For EDS

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One of the hardest things that I have found, since being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is that there isn’t a clear treatment pathway or anyone overseeing my care. I am speaking as someone living in the south of England, this could well be different in other parts of the world and treatment various depending on where in the UK you live. This means that I don’t have anyone officially overseeing my care and treatment and instead, my treatment is scattered across numerous hospitals and departments and places in the country. I live in Oxfordshire, but receive treatment in London, as well as Oxford and I am under many specialists including physiotherapy, cardiology, infectious diseases and fatigue clinic, gastroenterology (in Oxford and London), rheumatology, urology, genetics and orthopaedics.

Very often, patients with EDS who are over the age of 18 have little or no care within the NHS. Healthcare workers and providers have no access to formal training, resulting in patients needing to self fund private care with the few specialists available, in order to manage their multiple,painful & life threatening disabilities.

I am really fortunate in the respect of being able to afford private treatment, but that cannot be a forever option because I don’t have an endless supply of money. I have to self-fund my physiotherapy treatment and have been for over five years, because on the NHS, I am only entitled to six sessions before being discharged. EDS is a chronic and incurable illness, which will not and can not be made better with six sessions of generic physiotherapy. My physio is amazing and was the first person who picked up on the possibility of me having EDS; I would be lost without her, I need regular and intensive physiotherapy to keep my body moving and to try and reduce pain. Think of it as a car needing a service or MOT to make sure it’s working, only I need physio every two weeks, not once a year.

Likewise with gastroenterology, I have paid to see a private consultant in London because I was receiving such poor treatment in Oxfordshire. My local gastroenterology consultant hadn’t heard of EDS and mis-diagnosed me to that very reason, and it was only because my mum and I pushed for further tests that I was finally diagnosed with gastroparesis. Currently, this is being “managed” through medication and dietary changes, only I am not getting better and the risk is, the longer I am left like this, the harder it will be to access other recognised treatments for gastroparesis because I won’t be well enough.

More recently, I ended up in urinary retention, which was later discovered to be due to a kidney infection. I have suffered for years with kidney infections, the first one being when I was on a French exchange, where I ended up in hospital. Unfortunately, GCSE French doesn’t extent to explaining to a doctor this awful and unexplainable pain, but I could tell them that I lived with my mum and rabbit and that my favourite subject was English and that I did the hoovering at home.

There is a link between EDS and urinary retention, which I tried to explain when I was in hospital, whilst having three nurses peering at me down below, trying to shove a tube into the urethral opening. It really is as fun as it sounds. No-one was particularly bothered about the fact that it was likely that this was happening due to the fact that I have EDS: in simple terms, because I have EDS, I am extra stretchy, which includes organs etc. The bladder expands anyway when it is full, but it had over expanded meaning that it then couldn’t contract and empty. Again, really fun.

I found that having a catheter fitted incredibly traumatic and I was all for yanking it out myself, after consulting Dr Google and Dr YouTube, about self removal of catheters. The trauma aside, I was also very concerned about the risks of having a catheter, as an EDS patients. Because our bodily make-up is different, there is an increase risk that once a catheter is fitted, the bladder ceases to function normally, therefore becoming dependent on a catheter.

There is no continuity of care. I am lucky to have a GP who is on the ball and supportive, but being under over nine hospital departments can become confusing, especially when people have conflicting views and options and more so when professionals don’t know of or believe in EDS. Trust me, it’s a real thing. Each time you meet a new professional, you have to explain everything because there is so much which could be as a result of EDS. Having a designated health care professional overseeing care would make a huge difference to patients like me, but also friends who I have met who also have EDS and other chronic illnesses.

Why am I going on about this? Because, simply, it needs to change. No other disease in the history of modern medicine has been neglected in the way that Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome has been.

A government petition has been set up, to try and improve healthcare for patients with EDS and more importantly, to improve on education of EDS and its different types, so that medical professionals are more aware of it. It is thought that only 5% of EDS suffers are diagnosed, with only 31% of people diagnosed in under ten years from when they first became symptomatic.

This has got to change. Please take two minutes out of your day to sign the petition. It might not seem like much to you if you don’t have a diagnosis of EDS or know anyone with a diagnosis, but for EDS patients, this could be life changing.

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Universal Credit Saga – Part Six

I’m going to try and keep this short and sweet. Having been away for the past week, I got home yesterday to be greeted by numerous brown envelope letters. I’m not a great fan of these types of letters, they fill me with dread and give me all the anxiety so I decided to ignore them and open them when I’m less exhausted. So, this morning was the morning that I did some adult admin, including opening the dreaded letters because even looking at them was making me feel a bit ill.

One of the letters was from universal credit and gave the decision of my work capability assessment. I’m not joking when I say that I’m writing this with teary eyes: I have been granted universal credit. I have been deemed ill enough to not need to be job searching or attending interviews and I don’t need to attend work commitment meetings anymore. It honestly feels like a huge weight has been lifted and I have been fully validated over a situation which I should not need validation for.

Obviously this is not an Oscar acceptance speech but I wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who has dealt with the crying, ranting, swearing, anxiety attacks and all the negativity associated with universal credit. The system is a bastard and has made the last few months of my life utter hell. But this fight isn’t over completely. Yes, I am truly thankful that I have won against the most broken system possible but that is not going to stop me speaking out at how unjust the system is and how it’s failing the many, not the few.

Discrimination against invisible illness has got to stop.

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Universal Credit Saga – Part Five

Welcome to your latest round-up on all things universal credit. Grab yourself a cup of tea or something stronger and get ready to find out more on the mind-fuck that is applying for universal credit.

Last week, I had my work capability assessment. I had a bit of an anxiety meltdown the morning of the assessment, basically crying because if the assessment doesn’t go my way, I am royally screwed. I think a lot of my fear stemmed back to validation and the fact that essentially, my future financial security, sanity and hopes were pinned on the decision of a stranger, who had never met me and that decision would overrule any made my medical professions, who are involved in my on-going care. As a result of my meltdown, my mum offered to come with me to the assessment, but would stay in the waiting room. This eased my fears slightly and off we trekked to the assessment centre, in the pouring rain, with me feeling like I was going to vomit. Plastic bags were packed just in case, although vomiting everywhere would only have strengthened my case.

The waiting room was typically British, only with more mobility aids and a smell of damp because we all resembled drowned rats. Everyone was moaning because the assessors were running late: two people lost the will to live and rearranged their appointments and the children belonging to the family who (I can only assume) thought that a trip to a health assessment centre was akin to a day out at the zoo, tried to pretend that their lives hadn’t ended during the hours waiting for their dad to finish in his assessment.

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Anyway. I was eventually seen and was in and out within half an hour. I was asked how my disability impacts on my day to day life, was told that I looked tired (no really?!) and was then asked if I could perform various movements: reaching up, making fists and then touching the floor. Hypermobile me excelled at this – my shoulders popped in and out as I reached up and I freaked the assessor out with how easily I could touch the floor, with my palms flat.

And that was it. I went home, got into bed and slept a solid 14 hours before rolling out of bed and going to a GP appointment.

Fast forward to today and I had the unenviably fun task of going to the job centre and handing in my latest fit note. I thought that it was going to be a simple case of handing it in and then leaving, but oh no, today I had the added fun of not only meeting a new work coach (I think my last one binned me off, can’t think why…) and then going through all my work commitments. Now, at this point, I would like to remind you of the phone call I received a few weeks ago, whereby I was told that all my work commitments had been switched off because I’m not fit to be working or searching for jobs. It would seem that my joy over someone having some common sense was short-lived: my work commitments haven’t been switched off and actually, I am still meant to be spending at least two hours a day job searching and keeping my CV up to date.

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I am so bloody confused.

Things got even better when my new work coach asked me if it was “just sickness” that was stopping me from working. Oh how I laughed, because that is properly funny. I explained in very simple terms, that even a halfwit could understand, that gastroparesis means paralysis of the digestive system and symptoms include but are not restricted to sickness and nausea, extreme bloating, pain and heartburn. The consequences of gastroparesis include being malnourished, which I am. Due to malnourishment, I am so exhausted that I frequently cannot stand up without my legs giving way, I’m constantly freezing cold, my skin is an attractive creamy-grey, my eyes have bigger bags that I knew was possible and I have bald patches where my hair as fallen out. Not to mention how much this is impacting on my already fragile mental health.

Apparently, I should find out within four weeks what the outcome is from my work assessment. I’m really apprehensive about it and it shows how broken the system is when the opinion of someone who has had a twenty minute conversation with me and then asked me to show off some of my EDS party tricks outweighs the opinions of my GP who has known me ten plus years, my physio who is specialised in chronic conditions, my gastro consultant who is the top consultant at the hospital and my therapist who has known me for three years. How is that right? Or fair?

Today I was told that the job centre would have a supportive role, regardless of the outcome. Thus far, their input has not been supportive, it has made me more unwell, stressed, anxious, depressed and I have been so close to giving up.

I mean, should the result be that I need to be in work, I could appeal but I’m now getting to the point where I’m really losing my fight. I know that, deep down, I have to keep fighting this, for me and everyone else caught out by a completely unjust system, but right now, I feel so defeated. I don’t even feel angry regarding my appointment today, just sad and exhausted.

Forcing someone into work, against the advice of professionals, isn’t supportive. This system is not supportive. This system is failing.

Gastro-what?!

Over the past few months, I’ve talked quite a bit about my latest diagnosis of gastroparesis. A lot of the time, I forget that for most people, medical jargon and understanding over medical conditions isn’t common knowledge, so with that in mind, I thought that I would explain a little bit more about what gastroparesis is and how it affects me in day to day life.

Gastroparesis is a long-term (chronic) condition where the stomach can’t empty itself in the normal way. Food passes through the stomach more slowly than usual: essentially, the digestive system becomes paralysed and in my case, food doesn’t pass through the digestive system at all. It’s thought to be the result of a problem with the nerves and muscles controlling the emptying of the stomach.

Whilst my diagnosis of gastroparesis has come very recently, I have been symptomatic for a number of years but put the symptoms down to EDS or food allergies/intolerances. Symptoms of gastroparesis can vary but include feeling full very quickly when eating, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss or weight gain, bloating, pain and discomfort and heartburn. People can experience weight loss or weight gain, although weight loss is more common. These symptoms can be mild or severe, and tend to come and go.

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On top of the symptoms, there can be some pretty nasty complications as a result of gastroparesis. Dehydration can occur due to repeated vomiting, which can cause hospitalisation, stomach acid can leak out of your stomach and into your gullet, known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), malnutrition can occur as not enough nutrients are being absorbed and people can experience problems with their blood sugar levels.

There isn’t an obvious cause for gastroparesis, although it can be linked to diabetes, complications from gastric surgeries and links to conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

There are various ways in which gastroparesis can be diagnosed. I was diagnosed following an urgent referral to gastroenterology and having a gastric emptying scan using scintigraphy. Put simply, during this test, you eat food containing a small amount of a radioactive substance which can be detected during scans. Gastroparesis is diagnosed if more than 10% of the food is still in your stomach four hours after eating it. Other diagnostic tests can include bariumX-ray and endoscopies.

Gastroparesis can’t usually be cured, but dietary changes and medical treatment can help you control the condition.. I have been advised to follow a FODMAP diet, combined with a diet which is designed for people with gastroparesis. Since February, I have predominantly been on a liquid diet, drinking supplement drinks and eating very bland and simple foods when I’ve felt able to. It’s boring but I don’t miss eating. I miss the idea of food and have, at times, had some weird cravings but when faced with a plate of food, I feel incredibly anxious which in turn, makes the nausea and sickness worse. Catch-22.

Day to day, my symptoms can vary. I can had days where I am sick numerous times and can’t move off the bathroom floor because I feel so ill and exhausted. Equally, I can go two to three days at a time without being sick. However, during those three days, anything that I try to eat, will remain in my stomach undigested, and I will then be very very sick. It’s unpredictable and can make planning anything really difficult. I don’t like leaving the house because I’m scared that I will be sick.

I’m also really really tired, likely to be down to the fact that I am malnourished and I’m not absorbing the necessary nutrients. My hair has been falling out and whilst this has slowed down a bit now, I have been left with bald patches, which I’m self conscious about.

And then there’s the bloating. I have lost a lot of weight since February but I look like I’ve piled weight on because of how bloated I am. Again, this makes me so self conscious. I hate seeing my reflection and do whatever I can to avoid mirrors or reflective surfaces. As much as possible, I live in jeans and baggy jumpers, although now that the weather is getting warmer, this is getting harder.

My treatment at the moment consists of dietary changes and medication. However, there’s no indication that either of these things are working; I’m not seeing my gastro consultant again for a few months and I’m worried that by the time I see him again, things will have deteriorated further. My biggest fear is that I end up in hospital, needing a feeding tube. Unfortunately, this is a likely out-come, and I feel like I’m just waiting for things to get worse in order to get a clearer treatment plan.

Like other invisible conditions, gastroparesis can be really isolating. You don’t realise how much society revolves around food. I’ve missed out of so many social events because they have been food-based activities. My friends get it, but at the moment, the idea of explaining to restaurant staff why I’m not eating is a huddle that I’m not quite ready to face. People also tend to feel awkward if they are eating a meal and I’m not. Nutrition is a chore and scary, knowing that there isn’t a cure makes this hard to deal with. It’s slowly becoming my new normal though and I’m sure I’ll get my fight back soon.