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Some good news!

1. I am getting a wheelchair in two or three weeks after being assessed (it was not a gruelling assessment – just a nice woman who had a quick chat and then measured me up!). It is an NHS wheelchair, so it will be on long-term loan to me and they will pay for upkeep/repairs. It will be lightweight and have a headrest and a cushion! I am hoping it will be comfortable.

2. My application for a Blue Badge (disabled parking permit) has also been successful! I think this will be really useful and take the stress out of parking in many situations. It may open up some new options for places to go.

3. The itching has improved. It is still coming and going but is much better and almost as significant is that the night-time (drowsy) anti-histamines i am on seem to be really helping my sleep. The combined effect is that i seem to be sleeping better and my baseline for activity has been raised a little and i feel less manky in general. I have had some really bad days, but in each case it has been one day of payback which i can directly attribute to having done something; rather than just a bad day for no apparent reason. I am liking this new phase very much!

I have left the house a bit more than usual (at least once per week if only for a gentle/brief thing) whereas before i was not going out other than for essential appointments for weeks on end. A big change for me. Things seem a bit more possible and i feel i am recovering faster from doing things. I am still needing to have a sleep in the day, but i am finding it harder to get to sleep until a bit later in the day and am sleeping a little less. Before, I would often get up, have breakfast and check my emails etc. then have no choice but to just crawl back to bed. I feel more alive now. It is not a giant leap, but it is such a welcome break from the drudge of the past year really, which has seemed so retrograde overall, maybe this is the start of a better phase… Early days, it has only been two or three weeks! I know i am getting ahead of myself and am probably overstating the change, but it feels dramatic to me. Fingers crossed this “side effect” of the anti-histamines does not wear off… my mood was really struggling before – the itch was really driving me into depression as it was hard to cope with. I am feeling so relaxed now in comparison and my other pains are better too!

The best things have been going to a local art gallery and seeing the Hokusai print “Wave off Kanagawa” with a friend, and then, a week later, going to Cherryburn with my partner, where Thomas Bewick the local woodcut print-making legend was born. The afternoon at Cherryburn in particular I felt really good and my stamina was good. It was the best I have felt for many, many months. The sun was shining down on us and I felt so lucky to have made it out and to be enjoying a day trip with my partner. It was fun. We even stopped off in a pub for a cuppa on the way home (yes, that is two separate locations in one trip out!).

3. I have some lovely visitors coming to see me over the next few months, some end of May, some Mid-June and then another in August and we are going on holiday with her to a cottage up the coast from here – I am counting the days til my summer holiday! I did not think I would be able to go anywhere this year as I have been finding travel impossible, and also the itching has really limited my ability to sleep anywhere but my own bed (if i am lucky) and i cannot go anywhere without a bath, as showers are also a big no-no. I am still a little concerned about it as my skin is so sensitive to “lumpy” mattresses (and a million other things), and painful even if not always so itchy, but things are much better than they have been and now i think i will survive. We will be close to home anyway if things go wrong, but far away enough to feel like it’s a holiday!

4. I continue to be able to read and have just read The Colour Purple, by Alice Walker. It has sat on my shelves for over a decade and i am so glad i decided to read it at last! So well written, interesting, moving and grounding. I loved it. I have also bought two books in a second-hand shop (it was so great to be able to go in and browse them last week on a quick trip out!). Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov who several people tell me is worth reading but i have not read anything by him before, and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I don’t know which to start with!

5. Just remembered another good thing! I am doing more drawing. I have been inspired by Michael Nobbs and his “75 ways to draw more”. The results are a bit mixed but at least i am doing something rather than waiting til i feel good enough to do something i think i actually “good”. A few minutes here of there can produce something, and something is better than nothing! I am being brave and posting them onto Flickr, as there is a “75 ways…” group there. I have had some nice comments from people who are evidently much better at drawing than me, which is generous of them!

So in summary, life doesn’t feel so bad at the moment, long may it last.

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 Or should I say ME/CFS/FM Awareness Day, as this year I want to talk about Fibromyalgia… even though I do not have this condition.

I suspect that those of us who do not have Fibromyalgia, even if we do have ME/CFS/CFIDS do not really know what exactly it is. I know a couple of people (not that well, admittedly) who have Fibromyalgia, and still had only a vague idea of what it involved.  My basic understanding went as far as “ME with more pain” and “warmer climates help”… Recently i have been having more intense and different (for me) pain and have suspected that i may be developing some Fibro-like symptoms, so decided to look into it further.

*Please note* I have not been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, nor am i any kind of expert on the subject, but i will try to link to information that will help to explain it better than i can. I have conducted two interviews with people who have Fibromyalgia, I will link to them at the end of the post.

What is Fibromyalgia (FM)?

 (this text taken from here (as are the “differences” and “similarities” sections below))

FM is a malfunction of the central nervous system that causes disordered pain processing, and results in pain amplification. The main symptoms of FM include:

  • Widespread Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep Disorders

Other symptoms that may occur include:

  • Chest Pain
  • Persistent Headaches, Migraines
  • T.M.J. (temporomandibular joint syndrome)
  • Mitral Valve Prolapse
  • I.B.S. (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Vision Problems
  • Urinary Problems
  • Acid Reflux
  • Allergies
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness and Tingling
  • Sensitivity to cold or heat
  • Depression
  • R.L.S. (restless legs syndrome)
  • Chemical or Environmental Sensitivities
  • Impaired Balance or Coordination
  • Problems with Memory, Concentration and Cognitive Functioning

Are ME/CFS and FM basically the same illness?

After some internet research, the consensus seems to be that NO they are not the same illness, but that there are people who exhibit both sets of symptoms.  And there may be many connections between them. The similarities are:

  • Reduced Cerebral Blood Flow to the Cortex and Midbrain
  • HPA (hypothalamic pituitary axis) Suppression
  • Reduced Levels of Serotonin
  • Non-restorative Sleep
  • Reduced Levels of Growth Hormone
  • Evidence of a Genetic Component

I recently read online about research/theories of Central Sensitivity Syndromes (CSS). These are a collection of conditions which are linked by problems with the Central Nervous System and this leads to what they call “central sensitization”. The conditions which are considered under this umbrella are Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, among many others which we will recognise and often suffer from in tandem, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Temporomandibular Disorders, Tension Headaches, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and several others. I find this interesting and heartening that people are looking not only at biological/neurological factors for these illnesses but also the links between them. What continually frustrates me is when i get something new and it is treated in complete isolation to my existing conditions, when, to me it seems obvious there are connections to be made, not only in understanding them, but also potential in treating them. Click here to read the articles I refer to, start on page 12).

Talking about CSS may see a bit of an aside, but i think it is a new way to look at our illnesses and the links between them. It may lead to more effective pain management and treatment for people who have several of these painful conditions, rather than treating each one as a separate entity, with a drug/treatment for each. I have read concerns from people with ME/CFS that the pain then becomes the focus and the one thing treated and the rest of the illness will be ignored. I understand this, but I have found my symptoms of pain and discomfort to be ignored and they have gone unmanaged for so long, whilst getting steadily worse. I have found that sometimes for long periods my pain has taken over my life and prevented management of other problems, such as sleep, pacing, relaxation and so on. It needs to be looked at for those of us who have pain. I don’t think it is an either/or. I also read (somewhere) that the immune system has a role in Central Sensitization, so it may not be as unrelated to other non-pain symptoms as it first appears…

So, what are the differences between them?

  • FM is identified by 18 distinct tender points (designated points on the body that are painful when pressure is applied), while CFS/ME is distinguished by post-exertional malaise (deep fatigue and exhaustion following physical exertion, which lasts more than 24 hours).
  • Substance P (a neurotransmitter that sends pain signals) is elevated in FM but not in CFS/ME
  • RNaseL (a cellular antiviral enzyme) is frequently elevated in CFS/ME but not in FM
  • CFS/ME is often triggered by an infectious or flu-like illness, while FM is usually triggered by a severe physical or emotional trauma (for example, injury, illness, surgery, prolonged stress)

Exercise: One major difference (from ME/CFS) I have found when reading about FM is that exercise is recommended and is helpful in pain management and taking in some control over pain symptoms. I have recently read “Fibromyalgia: Simple Relief  Through Movement” by Stacie L. Bigelow (2000, John Wiley & Sons, Inc) as I was looking to find some simple stretches that are designed in a way that I could do them, and which might help me to manage some of my pain and muscular tension. She explains the thing I had heard about FM before; that it is a sleep disorder. In my recent internet searches I have not found it referred to in that way so much, and I wonder if it is an outdated view to characterise sleep problems as the root cause of the condition, rather than the Central Nervous System (I don’t know, I am speculating). However, from what she says, it does seem that much of the pain is caused by the lack of restorative sleep; that people with FM do not get into a certain phase of sleep which is when the body heals itself and repairs damage to tissue. She explains that when we use our muscles, they are damaged and this is the normal process which leads to strengthening: We use a muscle and when it repairs itself it prepares itself for being used again by repairing itself stronger than it was before, which is how we build muscle mass and strength. In FM the sleep is disturbed, and is not sufficient to repair the muscles as quickly as someone without FM, leading to greater pain after activity and often an avoidance of further activity, leading the muscles to seize up. A cycle of pain develops.

Even though i do not have an FM diagnosis, I think that some of these processes are going on for me. I got very motivated to do movement and activity when I read the book, and even started to entertain the idea of actual exercise! Then I remembered which body I was in and that I have ME and POTS, not FM, and it was just not going to be possible to take it that far. But I do think moving as much as we can within our limits has to be good. I sometimes think my weak bladder and the fact that I live in a house with stairs (though we do have a downstairs toilet, thankfully!) must be keeping me in a better state than if I was just sitting/lying completely still all day, rather than getting up fairly often to go to the toilet. It is not much, but it is something. I wonder how people who have both FM and ME/CFS manage to balance the pain and the pacing, it must be harder to decide when to move and when to rest when you have both.

Interestingly I have recently been taking a new night-time medication and the result is much better sleep and my muscular pain is much, much better. I really did not think my sleep was that bad (I was certainly getting enough hours) but it seems it was not good quality, despite all my efforts of sleep hygiene etc. I will certainly be paying much more attention to this link in future and talking to doctors if this medication ceases to work for sleep in future.

Two people I know with Fibromyalgia have kindly answered my interview questions, click here to see their answers.

Here are some websites to find out more about Fibromyalgia: (please feel free to add any others you know about/like in the comments section, thanks!)

http://fmcfsme.com/index.php

http://www.fmaware.org/site/PageServer?pagename=fibromyalgia 

http://cfidsselfhelp.org/library/about-fibromyalgia

http://www.ukfibromyalgia.com/

http://www.emotionalprocessing.org.uk/ (not specific to FM but may be of interest)

GIVEAWAY!!

If you would like my copy of Fibromyalgia: Simple Relief Through Movement, as mentioned above please leave a comment below and I will pick the winner at random (i may even use a hat!) at the end of May and contact you to arrange to post it to you. Please check back here at start of June to see who is the winner, just in case i cannot get your email from your comment!

I have found that the book is not really suitable for me as someone with the severity of ME that i have, but i will be copying the gentle stretches before i pass it on, as they do look possible. If you have FM and can manage your sleep to enable you to gradually tolerate more activity in your life, it is a motivating and sensible book written by someone with FM.

To read what other’s are blogging about for International ME/CFS/FM Awareness DAy 2010 click here!

These are interviews I did (by email) with two friends with FM as part of my blog for ME/CFS/FM Awareness Day 2010. They are in their own words. To read the main post, click here.

Interview One – Maggie:

I’m a 54 year old woman, divorced with two grown up sons.

How long have you had FM? How does it affect you now, what are your main symptoms and has it changed over time?

I’ve had fibromyalgia for almost 12 years. Since coming to live in Spain 5 years ago my condition has been a lot less of a burden. Largely as a result of the climate –sun and warmth make an enormous difference, which in turn means I am able to walk and move about more easily on a regular consistent basis and am therefore less stiff. In addition the pace of my life here is much slower, the general rhythm of the day is more relaxed. I also live on the coast which means I don’t have to deal on a day to day basis with hilly terrain, and living in a small flat cuts out the need for using stairs many times in a day, and is also a more manageable space re housework, cleaning etc.

The symptoms are many and variable – ongoing pain in some part of my body – somedays, knees, and hands other times neck and shoulders, sometimes one side of the body another day the other. The worst is the sense of fatigue that comes on very suddenly, and unexpectedly, often a result of overdoing things or as a direct result of stress and anxiety – even re minor things eg if washing machine breaks my stress levels are completely out of proportion with the incident  and any anxiety affects my body and its capability profoundly. I am certainly not as ill as I was 5 years ago but that is because I have drastically changed my lifestyle – when I return to cold weather or stressful situations my symptoms are exacerbated. It’s also hard to know how much the symptoms have changed because over time living with pain – I have learned to shut out sensations of pain, if I didn’t do that my life would be miserable.

What was happening at the time you became ill? Do you have a theory about what caused it/triggered it for you?

The onset of illness was very sudden and acute. However I was overworking and caught a virus which caused inflammatory arthritis in all joints of my body – I was confined to bed for many months unable to walk, move etc the doctors told me that the fibromyalgia was a direct result of the continued acute pain suffered during the course of this illness . So in my opinion the overworking/ stressed lifestyle lowered my bodily resistance making me victim to a nasty virus – I agree with the doctors that the virus caused arthritis and fibromyalgia set in as my body was unable to deal with the ongoing pain.

What changes have you made to your life to accommodate it?

I have completely revolutionized all aspects of my life. I have had to change not only the things I do and the manner in which I do them but also my attitude to life. I have had to become much more selfish in relation to my life, and much more discerning re what  I do and when I do it – I live alone now as it is easier for me not having to cope with the practical and emotional demands of other people —-I now please myself and am answerable to no-one. I have to work hard at always retaining a positive attitude. I have had to recognize, come to terms with and accept the severe limitations that the condition brings but to be happy within those limitations.

Is there anything that has helped you to cope with it? (Either prescribed medication or something else).

Acupuncture, hydrotherapy, gentle regular non aerobic exercise eg walking cycling swimming. And plenty of rest. Counselling helped me enormously to come to terms with what I couldn’t change and the strength to change what I could. As for prescribed medication eg ant inflammatories, analgesics, sleeping medication – I personally now only resort to taking medication if it is an emergency as the long term toxic effects of ongoing analgesia are in my opinion counterproductive. When in pain I try everything from application of heat or cold, yoga, just lying and resting and waiting….

How do you understand it and how do you describe/explain it to others?

It’s a complex syndrome which affects the nervous system and pain control mechanism of the body, its also a metabolic disorder in that the muscles burn up ATP very fast hence creating the symptom of fatigue.

How closely do you think it is related to ME/CFS, if you are familiar with what that condition involves? What do you see as distinct/different?

I think there is a definite relation between these types of disorder not so much in the symptomology as in the cause.

What other diagnosis/conditions do you have alongside FM? Do you think they are related to each other?

I think I answered this re having low resistance  virus arthritis = ongoing pain = fibromyalgia develops as a result.

When and how were you diagnosed? Did you know what FM was before that? Did you have to fight to be diagnosed or was it straightforward? Did you match all the tender points? Do you think these are a good indicator of having FM?

 I was diagnosed more than a year after I became ill. I had never heard of the condition before. I think I was lucky that one day I had the fortune to be seen by a hospital doctor who knew about the condition – once the diagnosis was made – I could then understand what my body was going through. Yes I do match all the tender points – and yes I think they are evidently a good indicator of FM

Are there any good web sites/other resources that you would recommend to people wanting to know more about FM?

In the early stages of the illness I found the British Fibromyalgia web site very helpful and their printed information and leaflets were invaluable in helping family and friends  understand what you were going through. I would say find as much info as you can – learn to undersatand the mechanics of the illness and accept that life cannot continue being the same you have to change irrevocably and only you can determine whether that change is a positive one or a negative one.

Is there anything else you would like to say about life with FM?

You have it. There’s no cure. Learn to live with it. Do everything you can to be as comfortable and happy as you can whenever and as often as you can. Don’t let it defeat you psychologically and spiritually.

Interview Two – Jo:

How long have you had FM? How does it affect you now, what are your main symptoms and has it changed over time?

I think I’ve had FM for a very long time. Sometime in my twenties I realised that everywhere on my body hurt if I pressed it. In my late twenties I started to get muscular pain after small exertion. I was always at the doctor’s or the osteopath. But even earlier, in my teens I can remember being in agony after exercise and wondered why everyone else didn’t seem to be as affected. I put it down to not being very fit.

Now, my main symptoms are fatigue, muscular stiffness, joint stiffness and pain in the most used areas – across my shoulders and lower back. If I get into a good place with my energy levels and do too much I can be in a great deal of pain with my whole skeleton feeling like it is lit up. Thankfully that doesn’t happen too often.

What was happening at the time you became ill? Do you have a theory about what caused it/triggered it for you?

For me, stress seems to be the trigger. I have always been very stressed and have had emotional difficulties all my life. I store tension in my body and have problems releasing emotion.  If I have massage or other body therapies it can be upsetting for me as memories and emotion can be released that way.

What changes have you made to your life to accommodate it?

Well, the fibro on its own wasn’t too bad for functioning. I had to be careful about sitting at a computer for long periods of time, spent a lot of money on osteopaths and massage, tried to make sure I kept supple through swimming and pilates and so on. It was when the fatigue really kicked in that the problems started. I had to give up work. Everything changed.

Is there anything that has helped you to cope with it? (Either prescribed medication or something else).

I used to drink alcohol which is a great muscle relaxant, but that has its own problems. At one point I used to get strong, codeine based painkillers from the doctor, and developed a bit of a habit. Not a good way to carry on.  Once I had a diagnosis it became easier and I stopped self-medicating. Now I take low-dose amitriptyline and low dose SSRI antidepressant. The two together really help pain and sleep. Paracetamol is good for bad days and can help stop me building up into a pain crisis. Prevention is much better than cure and I’m much better when I do my Pilates stretches in the morning.  I also regularly do a body scan meditation for relaxation, and I rest three times a day for at least half an hour.

How do you understand it and how do you describe/explain it to others?

I don’t generally explain the pain. I’m more usually trying to explain my fatigue and walking difficulties as they are much more visible. Sometimes my partner asks me if I’m ok and I just mutter ‘in pain’. It’s so familiar to me that I accept it like breathing. It’s just part of me. I understand it as a holding on of tension, my body’s complaint against having to do the work of my faulty emotional processing.

How closely do you think it is related to ME/CFS, if you are familiar with what that condition involves? What do you see as distinct/different?

I think they are one and the same; all part of the same continuum. The FM is, for me, at the sharp end of the wedge. It belongs more to the earlier onset of my ME/CFS. The fatigue, or thick end of the wedge is where my body has been holding this tension for so long it is having to stop. I know when I’m improving because I get less fatigue and more pain.

What other diagnosis/conditions do you have alongside FM? Do you think they are related to each other?

Hmm, let’s see. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Osteoarthritis, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, Generalised Anxiety Disorder.  I feel they all stem from the same cause which is extreme and repeated stress.

When and how were you diagnosed? Did you know what FM was before that? Did you have to fight to be diagnosed or was it straightforward? Did you match all the tender points? Do you think these are a good indicator of having FM?

I was just on the cusp of moving into the fatigue stage of my illness. I met someone who had just received a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and whose symptoms exactly matched my own. It was a further four years before I could get a GP to even entertain the idea I had FMS. A rheumatologist I saw did not ‘recognise the diagnosis’. After I moved to a new area I asked to be referred to a rheumy I knew was sympathetic. He wouldn’t see me because I had fibromyalgia and they could do nothing for me! I burst into tears in front of my new GP and tried to explain I had diagnosed myself and it was an official diagnosis I wanted. To cut the wait and frustration I paid to go and see the same guy who had refused to see me. Through that meeting I got my diagnosis of FMS/CFS and a referral to an ME clinic. He quickly checked my tender points and said I wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t till I left his office the pain kicked in from just having them pressed. I don’t know if they are a good indicator or not. Probably a better indicator is widespread, long-term pain with a normal rheumatology blood test.

Are there any good web sites/other resources that you would recommend to people wanting to know more about FM?

Actually, there is so much out there, so many different theories and protocols, forums and blogs, for anyone new to this I’d tell them to go with what suits them. This website on emotional processing produced by a team of researchers in Dorset, UK, is my touchstone although it’s not specifically about FMS. http://www.emotionalprocessing.org.uk/index.htm

A useful book is “Fibromyalgia and Muscle Pain” by Leon Chaitow

My feeling is that sustained emotional stress, especially in childhood, results in real physical symptoms and the breakdown of metabolic systems in the body. My experience of it is that some recovery, even total recovery, is possible.

Is there anything else you would like to say about life with FM?

It’s real, it hurts, it can be very disabling, not to mention frightening at times.

If you have some spare reading time and ability in the coming days/weeks, why not check out the posts from BADD 2010 (Blogging Against Disablism Day) at Diary of a Goldfish?

I did not take part this year, but i do enjoy reading the posts of others and thinking about my own attitudes as well as learning about the lives of other disabled people, not just those with chronic illness…

Where did the year go (I have no idea!) and what has happened?

Well, last year I started to raise money as part of the Just Four Quid campaign. I set up two JustGiving pages (see them here and here) and over the year i have raised £864.00 shared between ME Research UK and The Ramsay Research Fund. With the gift aid added this comes to a massive £1003.62!!  Not bad for a year’s work (with no marathons/bungee jumps undertaken, for obvious reasons) and double what i was aiming for (and I never thought i would even reach those targets). I am so grateful to everyone who has donated to my pages and I am sure that that substantial amount will really help the charities with their work.

The Just Four Quid campaign itself has raised £12,685 at the time of writing, which is way short of the target of a £million in the year, but certainly better than nothing. I wonder how many people it took to reach this target, seeing as if everyone of the estimated 250,000 people in the UK with ME/CFS gave £4 we would have reached the target. I assume it is a very small number who have raised a LOT more than £4, like me. Not that i often did it in the suggested way of saving stuff then donating part of the saving – i simply am too ill to do it that way. I have barely been into a shop, never mind been well enough to shop around, even online. The recent theme of staying in cheap hotels/hostels also is completely unrealistic when you are so ill and there are certain comforts required (not just desired) to make the stay even remotely possible! I wonder if that is why the campaign has not been more of a success; the ones who want to raise money the most are like me, struggling to cope with everyday life rather than having time/energy for extra stuff like the things suggested by Just Four Quid. That said, you have to have a target and the money raised will make a real difference, even if not quite what was hoped for! I really admire “Zonko” for keeping up the momentum and enthusiasm for the project and for raising what has been raised. I certainly would not have considered doing it without her.

Personally it has helped raised awareness and caught the attention of people (friends and family) who had not really engaged with my illness or been able to understand it previously, which is a huge step forward. I feel more comfortable with them now. I also have a sense that i have DONE SOMETHING this year, more than just writing about my experiences and talking to others with these conditions; which is important in mutual support and information sharing, but perhaps not raising much awareness outside the group. Supporting actual research is certainly a step forward, and one so valuable when so little funding is available. The pages are still live and will be for a few weeks, so please feel free to make any last-minute donations if you get the urge!

I did a lot of hard work blogging for ME Awareness Day 2009 – this year I am keeping it fairly simple with a post or two about Fibromyalgia. Looking at last year’s posts, I think they are saying much of what I would want to say again, so feel free to revisit, or read for the first time if you did not see them last year. I was most interested to look at my symptoms picture and to note that I may even have developed a few more this year! That is no small feat (I like to focus on my achievements!) but also I notice that some things have become less of an issue for me (barely any tinnitus this year! yeah!). So, swings and roundabouts…

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