Almost Cut My Hair… Then I Did

Ever since I decided to write this blog I’ve been humming the Crosby, Steel, Nash, & Young song that my Dad used to play me as a kid… 


Actually, I did this a few weeks ago before we went away on holiday, but I wanted some time to get used to it before I blogged. 
As some of you know, I’ve spent a great deal of this year wearing headscarves (officially a tichel) to make light of my hair coming out in clumps at the start of the year. I kept it long despite the daily winding up of balls of hair & needing Mr Geek to wash it for me because 1. I couldn’t get my arms up to shampoo & 2. The weight of my wet hair needed me to support my head with my hands. I did this because, well, I gave long red hair. That’s who I am. Until I snapped.

My GP has now put me on an extraordinarily high dose of vitamin D, which I just don’t process and my hair has recovered in as much as my scalp is covered once more. It’s also had an impact on my energy levels & I’ve stopped falling asleep mid conversation for the most part (now, it really is because you bore me).

But I wanted to look “better”. No matter how funky I made my headscarves, being in a wheelchair, they just added to the “sick” look. So I marched my family into the hairdressers & whilst the kids were having their Pre-holiday trim, I asked them to lip off 1ft of hair from my head. I had a vague style in mind & handed her these two photos announcing that I wished to have a midlife crisis & hang about playing the ukulele.

She looked at me & asked if I was completely sure I wanted to cut such long hair & if my husband minded me having so much hair cut off. I opted for even shorter. In my mind, the end result would be the catalyst of me dropping the uptight image & Boho my way through the summer with potential ukulele based nudity.

The reality was close to my mental image even if it took a while to work out how to style it (I have natural ringlets- who knew!?)

From a practical point of view washing, brushing & styling is all infinitely easier with shorter hair and the front is long enough to still be clipped up out of my face.

From a deep down emotional point of view, this is another thing that EDS took away. I can’t manage with long hair anymore & gave in. I loved my hair & to a point also loved my scarves which I will continue to wear when I feel the need to cover  (I didn’t when we went out in Germany & surrounded by women in hijab, I rather wished I had covered some days as a safety blanket). I need to set about working on the new ‘short hair’ identity. It’s still red, but not as red (or pink, or green) as I’d like it to be, but give me time…
When I get back to work, I’ve set myself the mission to tame it into looking more like this:

For those of you who haven’t come across Fleabag, search it out on Amazon (or BBC3 if you’re in the UK). Her hair is amazing. Oh, and the show is tremendous too.

So there you have it – good hair news in that it’s healthy & returning thanks to hearty vit D doses, and other hair news in that my midlife / chronic illness crisis has left me shedding any high flying career ideas that may have once been top of my Maslow triangle,  instead, with holes appearing at the bottom of the hierarchy, I’m reverting back to by teens with a life goal of obtaining that dishevelled & slightly unwell, but still oddly sexy look a la Courteney Love, and a Palmer etc. and playing the ukulele naked somewhere. Now after 2 cesareans, emergency surgeries, & a penchant for Milka, no-one needs to see that!

Just for reference, I was prattling on about where I sit on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – like the foundations of how to be a happy & fulfilled person – without the lower tiers, the higher tiers fail. Based upon this, where are we do you think?

Reduced mobility & Boho clothes are really very suited. There’s another blog right there. But for now, what was your biggest thing you “gave into” because of disability?

Advertisements

The Art of More – pacing for control freaks

“Urgh, my back is killing me” mutters a colleague as they stomp across our office rubbing her lower back. The guy I share desk space with visibly cringes and looks at me. Bless him – he’s in his own world of back pain but barely mentions it. He sees quite often first hand me returning from class white faced & pursed lipped as I struggle to maintain the air of someone who’s totally coping with life despite landing in a wheelchair and eating more painkillers than food at lunch.

Today has been a brilliant day. I’ve been a proper mum with the kids, but am suffering for other now by being awake & in more pain than my drugs can attend to. One of my goals this summer is to implement pacing. But do it properly, not just acknowledge I have limited spoons, then throw the whole cutlery drawer at each day. Clear project management is required here.

So what is pacing and why do I need it?

So, imagine you have a baseline which is perhaps laying in bed resting, you can perform an activity within your personal limits then will need some inactive time to follow it. There will be a period of overload because either you’ve tried to do something beyond your energy / physical capabilities or you’ve carried on with a standard activity for too long without a rest. So just like in physics, every action has an equal reaction.

I need to work out how my day at work looks in chart form to see how my pacing is going.

On an average day I’m bouncing above that overload line a lot & also not building in any proper recovery time. I’m also packing in more than an able bodied person could realistically contend with regularly. I’m not giving any leeway to accommodate being in pain. So, I need to attack this the only way I know how, and that’s with a list.  That list will contain all the tasks for tomorrow and then I’m going to prioritise them and build in rest breaks (I’m doing this now as I have control over my day which I don’t at work. That’s a different conversation & one I am going to have to have with OH sooner than I’d like). So tomorrow , or technically today as it’s 2am:

  • Get dressed
  • Get downstairs
  • Teeth / hair
  • Hair cut
  • Dye hair 
  • Wheelchair racing
  • Pre-holiday visit to inlaws
  • Buy physio tape, calpol, blister plasters
  • Lunch
  • Pack for holibobs 
  • Print out letters / tickets for holiday folder
  • Tidy room
  • Eat dinner
  • Get up to bed

Oh holy hell. That’s not a restful day before heading out! Almost everything on that list needs to be ddone due to imminent departure on our road trip on Sunday morning. Wheelchair racing is the only nice to have on there & TBH, it’s my last session for 2 weeks and it does me so much good (physically & mentally).

Ok, so let’s add priority:

  1. M- must
  2. NTH – nice to have
  3. CD – could delegate
  4. OTL – off the list
  • Get dressed – M
  • Get downstairs – M
  • Teeth / hair – M
  • Hair cut – NTH
  • Dye hair – NTH
  • Wheelchair racing – M
  • Pre-holiday visit to inlaws – M
  • Buy physio tape, calpol, blister plasters – CD
  • Lunch – M
  • Pack for holibobs – CD
  • Print out letters / tickets for holiday folder – CD
  • Tidy room – NTH
  • Eat dinner – M
  • Get up to bed – Massive

See how cleaning up hit the bottom of the list there? My mum would flip if she saw that! 

CDC sadly falls on the shoulders of Mr Geek & the kids, but I feel a little less guilty having braced myself and bulldozed my way through a whole week of him commuting to London (or from our perspective, not being there to get me out of the house & not getting back until after 7pm). It’s his first week at New Job which he is absolutely loving, but fuck me that was blindingly hard. I didn’t want to worry him, so slapped my happy work face on. I’m paying for it now though  with bones cracking as I breathe & thudding palpitations waking me each time I doze off.

My plan is to use this priority list tomorrow & see how it goes. If anything gets added to the list, I’ll note it down to see how I’m undermining my own paving without realising. The “oh I’ll just…” moments. 

Wish me luck! 

How would’ve you organised my list? Let me know how you prioritise your to do list. Is there an app for this?

Why I’m A Z List X-men Character

Like all X-men, I have a back story. I have genetic mutations that make me special and ‘other’. I can’t freeze things, I’m not part-wolf, I don’t have lazer sight, and I can’t fly. I use a wheelchair,¬† but unlike Prof. X it’s controlled by a joystick and not my mind, although recently I’m starting to resemble him in the hair department.

image

I spent my formative years chasing letters after my name. In fact I’d just started looking at the final frontier of a PhD when a whole new set of genetic mutation induced acronyms arrived in my life. My medical diagnoses are a series of strange acronyms that most people have never come across:

EDS – Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. A genetic mutation of collagen that makes me the Z list of X-men where my connective tissues such as ligaments, tendons, muscles & internal organs stretch further than they should and forget to stretch back causing daily joint dislocations or subluxations (partial dislocations), and slowing of gastric transit as stretchy insides means… yeah. Ew. Imagine Plastic Man’s ability to stretch, just without his ability to stretch back. Every dislocation makes that joint a little more loose and more liable to pop out again. An Adult has 206 bones; give or take adult bone fusions, that gives me 250 – 300 joints to play with daily.

My skin likes to get in on this action being velvety soft, but ultimately tearing or bruising at the slightest thing. There are times and places where this is not welcome! It’s like being the anti-Deadpool : beautiful skin & zero ability to heal.

image

POTS – Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. A form of dysautonomia which is a neurological condition where your autonomic system (which controls things like heart rate, digestion, body temperature etc) goes haywire; POTS means my heart rate rises 30 beats or more from laying down to standing, or sometimes even just sitting. The result of this is a lack of oxygen to the brain and ultimately fainting. This isn’t fun when you’re the teacher and you wake up to a class of kids terrified that they’ve actually killed you. This happened twice this term. My teaching days are numbered.

POTS also comes with heat, exercise, and often food intolerance. Any of these can make symptoms of palpitations, dizziness & nausea worse. This means my arch nemisis is a hot bath or shower.

image

CRPS – Let’s save the best til last.
There’s a pain scale that suggests that unplanned childbirth hurts a little more than amputation of a finger without anaesthesia. Apparently a CRPS flare rates higher than this.
The daily subluxations of my Sacroiliac (SI) joints

image

(which is the bit of the pelvis that isn’t meant to move!) triggered a neural pain response that hurts worse than any dislocation I’ve had.

My CRPS flares are focused around my pelvis and at their worst feel like those laser eyes I don’t have are inside me and burning my bones. White hot lightening goes down my legs and I flip from begging my husband to massage them to not being able to bear him breathing on my skin. I can throw all manner of drugs at this, including the anti-epilepsy drugs that destroy your synapses (you’ll willingly give up a lot for this to go away), but the only thing that gets through a real flare is my TENS machine on a permanent low buzz.

So as mutants go, I’m a reasonably sucky superhero. But, despite, or perhaps because of all this chronic pain, I’m much tougher than I look. Alongside my husband, who’s also my carer, I’m carving out a new life for myself by developing an app for people with similar chronic conditions called Expect Zebras. I have the temper of Wolverine, the mental health of Harley Quinn, and apparently the pain tolerance of Deadpool.

A friend of mine describes me as Oracle. Who, with a former life as bat girl, doesn’t let her disability impact upon her being a top programmer / hacker & part of the suicide squad. If anything, she uses being pissed at having her independence snatched away as rocket fuel.

image

I like her style. She looks like a woman with a tens machine & a lot of focused frustration.

I’m not bat girl anymore.

Holly is a mum to 2 mighty girls, a computer science teacher, programmer, and co-owner of Expect Zebras – The Chronic Condition App & Wristband. She’s learning to live with disability through EDS, POTS & CRPS. Some days more gracefully than others.

image

It’s Happening & We Need Your Help!

The last week has been a bit crazy, but it looks like we climbed the ladder of this app idea and instead of slinking back down like scaredy cats, we’ve thrown ourselves down the deathslide of startup business and friction burns are in the not to distant future!

But we need a bit of help from you lovely people….

I know surveys are boring, but if you have a few minutes could you answer a few questions to help us get our heads around the kinds of things you guys need, or share this, or tweet a link to the form for other chronic illness people out there?

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1QMIsaZHbK6ysVtMAcCSy5sfjqAsNVLQ4lGVDqrFNBqQ/viewform

Or use some other kind of social media that I’m way too old and boring to understand? Xxx

image

As always, Nice to have you here.

The Zebra Stole My Spoons

There’s this lady I know who has inspired me to be a bit more kickass than the boys despite being in a male dominated industry. There aren’t many people who can keep a bunch of nerds in check and stop the regular as clockwork Creative Tantrums and not lose their mind.

Anyway, not only can she corral the nerds, but she’s also a fabulous illustrator and has created these bad boys for our Expect Zebras app. We’re so drawn to the second one and his cheeky face, but the first one has a simplicity that would be easy to work with and reminds me of a sock toy. Uuugh! What do you think?

image

I can’t wait to see one of these guys on all our stuff. I never expected these Zebras – what a lovely surprise!

A Genetic link for EDS 3? Or a desperate doctor needing answers?

I came across this doctor’s website via a Facebook link. It’s quite clear that she is desperate for answers as a sufferer herself and as such has devoted her work to finding out why she has gone from a healthy, outgoing type albeit a bit bendy and achey, to a physically disabled introvert with enormous anxiety issues.

Whilst this was an interesting read, it must be made clear that the medical journal that this was submitted to declined to publish her research.

An interesting and rather long read.
I was interested to see how she linked mast cell activation to possible genetic markers for EDS 3 which correlate to both hormones and the ability to react to acute and chronic stressors – not mental, but triggering EDS symptoms to worsen suddenly after a particularly bad infection which is what we think triggered my descent into merry hell, or a chronic infection such as Lyme which stimulates the genetic marker.

I share her desire for answers, but admittedly, whilst i recognise some of the anxiety & perfectionist traits described, I nonetheless resent her link with mental health and stress induced physical illness. There appears to be an insinuation that Mast Cell Activation is a consequence of an inappropriate reaction to stress.

http://www.rccxandillness.com/theory-for-patients.html

TLDR;
EDS 3 may be linked to a genetic marker.

That marker is linked to mast cell activation (MCAS).

This allows other issues to be activated at the same time (POTS, CRPS, CFS, MS).

The activation is caused by a stressor such as an acute or chronic infection.

Links to how progesterone are used to combat stressors explain why women are affected more often and symptoms worsten before menstruation.

Specific personality types are identifiers for those who may later develop chronic illness through EDS. ( :/ )

The marker identified also has links with specific mental illnesses.

I Like Cereal – I sound like rice crispies

I saw the NHS Rheumatologist today, you know just for funsies. This was the appointment I’d been referred for by my GP in August. Now before anyone from the US jumps in with “ahhh loook, your health care sucks”, I’ve also used my husband’s additional insurance to see three specialists since then, get a diagnosis and start other investigations. But the insurance doesn’t cover long term care.

Our state system however, doesn’t run out. It will care for me whatever goes wrong using the resources that it has in the best possible way to ensure it will help others too. Part of that is today’s consultant giving his opinion to the Pain Management Team who will take me from here to wherever we end up. I’m not charged at the end for any of this. There is no bill landing on my doorstep, I do not need to be afraid of the cost of the medications prescribed. I’m just that little more protective of our state health care seeing people use it as a stick to bash Obama’s dream of free health care for all. I don’t understand people who don’t think it’s a good idea!

I saw one of the 4 specialists for our county today who despite having a queue, took his time to explain his thoughts to me, and throw out the piece of paper that gave me a diagnosis and examine me himself, and in more detail than the private assessment. I asked if it was ok to take audio notes as my brain fog is at warp speed and whilst I may smile and nod, my brain isn’t retaining much. He agreed with no issues and so my phone has become an extension of my brain once more!

image

He looked for signs of arthritis¬† (none – win!) and poked at weirdly painful sites just outside each joint. These are trigger points where nerve endings are bundled and are indicative of chronic pain response, where the body is so used to pain it goes over the top with pain signals. He also successfully told me without asking which joints hurt the most and which sublax most often. His earlier comments about disregarding dysautonomia were sort of puts aside as where joints were concerned, this guy had magic hands. He also did something far more important – he spoke to me, but explained what he was doing to Mr Geek & asked how he was coping. Mr Geek walked away from that appointment informed, relieved, and empowered. I can’t thank the doctor enough for doing that.

Despite being freezing cold, in my underwear, with a strange man causing extra pain to my joints, I liked him.

image

He asked me to stand up, which I did with the help of Mr Geek. Then bend forward. Cue second round of tunnel vision & this time full on collapsing on Mr Geek in front of a doctor in a week. A new record! But despite feeling my vision go black, I knew it was Mr Geek who put me back on the table, but there was an extra hand on my shoulder that I was really aware of & he kept it there until I was fully conscious and stopped the examination right there & then. A simple piece of physical contact gave me a focus point to go from fainting, back to focused and calm – clever man.

He had a more positive outlook on my EDS and autonomic issues than any doctor I’ve seen so far. I might even use the phrase of the moment at school – get had a growth mindset. In essence, he said that if we look at this holistically, using pain relief from medication, mobility aids to keep functioning, physio to maintain or even build muscle tone & assistance from the autonomic team for gastric & pots, then there’s no reason why we can’t slow the decline if not even reverse it a bit. Reverse it.. as it make it better! Ok, make it a bit better. I’ll take that.

Part of dealing with the heart rate, and also the slow transit is drinking more liquid than I thought possible.

image

I appear to be taking the small child approach to water in that I’m only thirsty when I’m meant to be going to sleep, or instead of eating dinner, or when we need to leave the house. Aside from that, I’m getting constant prompting from Mr Geek or my mum. Whilst I feel like a 35 year old child being nagged, it’s probably for the best as the IBS is reigning supreme this week and dehydration is nigh. Whilst we wait for the insurance to confirm if they will pay for the autonomic testing with the Nutty professor, it’s home treatment with water & salt. Fingers crossed it comes through.

image

I started writing this post at 12.30am as Mr Geek has just helped me stick the TENS patches over the back of my shoulder. One of the things I took away from the appointment was the effect that my crappy sleep pattern has on my pain levels – yes, I have pain from subluxing left right and centre, but I also have secondary pain from pulled muscles, trigger points (knots… really painful muscle knots ), and CRPS. His suggestion was that lack of sleep triggers pain, and pain triggers lack of sleep, so I hit a viscous circle. Sadly, tonight Consultant causes shoulder to sublux which for the love of God won’t go back in, causing pain (and some interesting numbness in my hand and forearm), causing sleeplessness. I’ve medicated to the eyeballs, but nope.

image

So instead of jumping on Mr Geek’s last nerve (because frankly, oramorph just makes me giggly instead of sleepy), I’m trying the tens setting that just thumps against the muscles making them twitch a bit. It does actually tone down the pain a bit, certainly enough to think straight.

Finishing this post at 2am probably isn’t doing the sleep patterns much good, but it has allowed the TENS unit to get deep into the muscles and do its thing. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve which means final wrapping, excited kids, and the traditional supper with Mr Geek’s family. I’m not at my best in the evenings now, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world. We will spend the evening tracking Santa on Norad and watching various grandparents preserve themselves in alcohol. They take me just as I come, and in return, I’ll do my best to play along with being a human…

image

Note: for those of you confused about the cartoon guy – it’s Cheese from Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends. With the combination of brain fog and side effects from pain or painkillers, I pretty much relate to him right now.