Universal Credit Saga – A Year On

So it’s been one whole year since I was signed off work and started the sole destroying task of applying for Universal Credit. If you’re a long term reader, you might remember my Open Letter to Theresa May, I was really reluctant to apply. I never thought that I would be in the position where I needed to apply for benefits and honestly, I felt a level of shame over applying. My usually proud front was shattered by admitting that I needed this financial help, but my health comes first. That was what I told myself.

And my God, was my front shattered. I had opened up about my health in a way that I never had before. I was begging strangers to take pity on me, in the hope that the application process might be made a little bit easier. Only, they didn’t take pity on me. Honestly, I felt a bit like a criminal. I was warned about sanctions if I couldn’t attend appointments if I was ill. Let’s remember at this point, that the whole reason that I was applying was because of how unwell I was and still am. I was asked when I was going to get better, because the government doesn’t seem to understand the concept of chronic or life long conditions.

I felt and still feel like a failure because I can’t work. I feel ashamed that I am ill, even though now, a year one, I am able to accept that life’s a bitch and doesn’t always go the way you want it to.

Anyway, after the initial stress of the first few months of the application, things calmed down a little. I had my work capability assessment and thankfully, the person leading the assessment had an ounce of common sense and agreed that I wasn’t fit to work. That was until. October, when my payments were stopped for no reason. I have real anxiety issues about going into the job centre because of the bad experiences that I’ve had there, but nonetheless, in I went to find out what had happened. I explained, very calmly, to the work coach that my payment hadn’t gone in and as a result, I was overdrawn. I kid you not, the work coach shrugged in reply and told me that “these things happen”. There have been admin issues over the past few weeks, which has meant that not all payments have gone out on time. Admin errors happen, what I am more frustrated about has been the sheer lack of communication, so I had no idea that this was the case.

I told the work coach, again, that I was overdrawn as a result of the payment not going on and was told that I would benefit from seeking advice from the Money Advice Service. The Money Advice Service is an organisation established with cross Government party support, that provides free and impartial advice on money and financial decisions to people in the United Kingdom. It is a really useful service, but not a service that I required at this time, because when my payments go in, I am very able at managing my own money. It’s very hard, however, to manage your money when you’re not receiving the money in the first place.

This leads me to now. I think maybe that I had become a little bit complacent when it came to Universal Credit: nothing has happened to offend me in a few months and I thought that things would remain that way. I went into the job centre to hand in my latest fit note and was told that my payments had been stopped and that I was being sanctioned.

 

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I cried. A lot. The past month has been awful, I’ve been really unwell (more than normal) and the last thing I needed was finding out that my financial security was at risk. The person I saw at the job centre wasn’t able to reinstate my payments and was only able to tell me that it looked like I’d missed a phone call. I rang the Performance Centre and was told that my payments had been stopped because I’d missed a review phone call. Yes, I had missed a phone call, but I had also notified them that I was in hospital at the time of the phone call and therefore unable to take the call, and please could it be rearranged.

I then had to wait a week for the actual review phone call. There was me thinking that it would be to ask me if there had been any changes to my health etc but no, they wanted to know if I was still single (as a pringle, for what it’s worth) and if I had any savings or investments. My favourite part was when they asked me if I was receiving a World War Two pension. Dude, I wasn’t even alive then…

Whilst none of this is especially dramatic, it really knocked me. There isn’t one single aspect of Universal Credit that is easy to understand or logical. It baffles me that they have such poor customer service skills, when they are dealing with some of the most vulnerable people in society. There have been so many occasions over the past year when the process of Universal Credit has made me more unwell than I was already. It really seems like the government will jump upon the smallest thing as a reason to stop payments.

Until that changes, people will still be failed. They will still be struggling to pay rent and afford food. They will still feel penalised for being unwell and genuinely unable to work and I’m ashamed to live in a country whereby the government think that is okay.

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Things I’ve Learnt: 2018 Edition

I’m not exaggerating when I say that 2018 has been really tough year. I went into the year high on the news that I have been offered my dream job and my main aim for the year was to buy my own house and live independently. The reality has been very different. By the end of January it was becoming clear that I was very unwell, meaning that I had to turn down my dream job because I simply was not well enough to even get out of bed, let alone work in social services. With my sudden unemployment, I was forced to take on the benefits system, which was utterly soul destroying. My dreams were shattered further when I realised that not only was I too unwell to move out, I also couldn’t afford it.

 

  1. I know my body better than anyone. The NHS is fantastic and I wouldn’t be alive without it, but the nature of living with rare conditions and being medically complex means that I need to advocate for myself and education medical professionals, because very often, they aren’t taught about the conditions I have.
  2. I have got to fight, even on the days when I’ve lost all hope. Don’t get me wrong, there have been days when all I’ve wanted to do is hide in bed and that is okay. But things won’t ever move forward if I don’t speak up and demand the treatment that I need.
  3. Friendship is a two way thing. Toxic friendships aren’t helpful and I’m better off without some people, as painful as that is.
  4. Not everyone will understand. The nature of invisible illness is that you can’t see it. A lot of the time, I look pretty healthy but that doesn’t mean I am well. People often say that I look well and therefore assume that I’m better or cured. Unfortunately, I’m never going to be cured and just because you can’t see what’s going on inside my body or the amount of pain I’m in, it doesn’t mean that I’m well. Over the years I’ve been given well-meaning, but quite frankly stupid advice about how to make myself better, ranging from eating quinoa, to drinking beer, to following a clean and plant based diet. It takes a lot of effort to not roll my eyes to these suggestions.
  5. My hopes and dreams will change. Unlike most healthy twenty-somethings, I don’t dream of traveling the world or getting a promotion or having an amazing holiday. My hopes are simple: to stay out of hospital and for my other sick friends to be as okay as possible.
  6. I can never have too many books. At the beginning of the year, I set myself the challenge of reading 52 books over 2018. This is one thing that I succeeded with and my book collection is slightly growing out of control.
  7. It’s okay not to be okay
  8. I’m allowed to be terrified. This year has thrown many new things at me, that I never expected. My new normal has taken a lot of adjusting to and I’m still not fully there. Having numerous illnesses that can’t be cured and are likely to worsen is scary.
  9. There will still be good days.
  10. I can’t face things alone. I need people to support me, whether they are family, friends or medical professionals. I can’t fight the shit stuff alone.
  11. I have got to pace myself.
  12. I’m allowed to miss being healthy and I’m allowed to be resentful.
  13. As much as I hate it, medication keeps me alive.
  14. Never underestimate the power of a pair of comfy pyjamas.
  15. My body will change and I won’t always be in control of that.
  16. Being as healthy as possible requires work.
  17. Medical professionals who get it are incredible and I need to appreciate them.
  18. I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for.

I’m hoping more than anything that 2019 is a little bit kinder to me and doesn’t throw any more illnesses at me.

Happy New Year to all, keep fighting and know that you’re not alone.

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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Happy 70th Birthday, NHS

NHS_70_logoOn the 5th July 2018, the NHS will be turning seventy years old: that’s seventy years of providing lifesaving healthcare to a ever growing British population.

As someone with numerous chronic and long term illnesses, I am incredibly grateful for the NHS. I’m not sure where I would be without it – probably in spiralling debt. There are, undoubtedly, criticisms regarding the NHS, but this is not down to the 1.3 million people who work for it, more down to the current state of politics, but this is not the time to talk politics and policies. So many of the people who work for the NHS go unnoticed and unthanked. They work tirelessly to keep the British population healthy. Regardless of health or wealth, we can be reassured that if we fall ill or have an accident, we will receive the treatment that we need.

NHS staff see the best and worst of people. They welcome babies in the world, sharing the joy with new parents and they administer end of life care, ensuring that people die with dignity and that the families are supported, during a time of grief, upheaval and turmoil. They are often dealing with people who are going through trauma and they do their best to relieve some of the pain and anxiety, felt by those needing medical care, as well as the people around them.

Needing medical care isn’t an alien experience for me. In fact, it’s the opposite, thanks to the fact that I am diagnosed with various long term medical conditions. But although I’m more familiar with the inside of my local A&E department and other departments in near-by hospitals, compared to most people my age, the familiarity doesn’t change the fact that it is still a frightening experience. But I can honestly say that I remember every single nurse who has looked after me on those occasions and ensured that I felt as safe and as calm as possible. This is not an easy task when you are overworked, underpaid and often unappreciated.

I can remember the nurse who held my hand during a particularly bad night, during one hospital admission. I was crying in pain, with pain relief not even beginning to lessen it and this one particular nurse sat with me until I was calm and we talked about my life, hopes and ambitions and things that I enjoyed. She told me that she had moved to England from Brazil because she was so desperate to work for the NHS.

I can remember the nurses and occasional therapists who went out of their way to ensure that I was at ease prior to me having surgery at the age of eight. They made me laugh and brought Guinea pigs into my room, as part of animal therapy. They also reassured me post-surgery when I was afraid and wanted my mum.

I can remember the health care assistant who apologised repeatedly when she had to cut me out of a Crew Clothing jumper, when I was on a spinal board, and then suggested that I wore cheaper clothes next time I ended up on a spinal board with a suspected fractured neck and bad concussion. Thankfully there hasn’t been a “next time” but the joking eased the fear.

It’s not just nurses who make the NHS as good as it is. There are so many people who do their job every single day and remain pretty much unnoticed. There are the porters walking miles every single day, making sure patients are where they need to be; from experience porters are some of the kindest and funniest people I’ve ever met. True NHS heroes.

I can’t write about the NHS without mentioning GPs, in particular, my own very wonderful GP. My GP has been my biggest supporter for over ten years. She has fought a near-constant battle for me to receive the correct treatment for my various conditions and has never once given up on me, even when I have very much given up on myself. When you are diagnosed with a rare condition, one of the biggest hurdles faced is the lack of understanding from medical professionals. Yet my GP knows my body as well as I do and has gone out of her way to research and find out more about my conditions, so that she is able to treat me in the best possible way.

So, I’d like to take this opportunity to take everyone who works for the NHS. Thank you for caring.

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This post has been written in conjunction with Scope and will be appearing on their website.

 

 

 

 

 

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.