I see on reading my last post that well over a month has passed. I had a great time with my sister and hope she will come again soon as possible!

Since then I have had a nasty cold virus which knocked me back a bit. Very frustrating as although I am now recovered it took much longer than a cold should and I have not had the stamina I had previously. I still don’t actually. So much for the stability I was talking about in my last post! Things are stable, but only because I am doing very little most days.

I have been out in my wheelchair for a few walks, and that has been lovely. I hope to do that regularly now that the weather is warming up as even half an hour out of the house can really be beneficial. I like it when I see unexpected things. The first one I met two horses, one was very interested in my wheelchair and it only just missed being covered in horse drool (I had stood up to say hello to them, and was glad I did as horses are a bit intimidating close up, especially when curious!). The second time I saw a frog popping up to the surface of the water at the pond, presumably to breathe, then disappearing back into the murk. It did that several times. Then the last walk it was sunset (I got very cold!) and I saw fish noses or fins then a ring rippling out from where they surfaced to feed. There were lots of them, making circles all over the place. The water was very still so the ripples lasted for ages. It was very peaceful.

I have also been having some massages and they have been great. After the virus I just ached all over, right in between my ribs, front and back,  from coughing and like I had strained myself from the neck down really. Also due to my blocked nose I was better sleeping on my back as it seemed to stay clearer but that made my lower back pain flare up quite badly. I cannot have massage on my legs due to my neuropathic pain and general tenderness, but have really felt the benefit on my upper body. It has taken about three sessions to feel better though, to convince my muscles to give in to it. Obviously I will always have pretty much constant muscle pain and tension but I think it does help to ease it off every now and again. I have not had acupuncture for a long time but I will go back in May and stop the massage again soon (maybe just one more?!). I am not supposed to be having them as my acupuncturist said he did not think deep massage was good for me – shhh! Well I am sure it’s only moderate massage (not deep) so it’s FINE! Also it feels so good, so tough bananas…

In my previous post I also talked about wanting to use my energy for more creative things, having put so much into my benefits application so far this year and having had little energy left for fun or creativity. Due to the virus I have not done a lot, but I have been making some postcards for my friend, and that has been fun though each time I do one it creates much neck and upper back pain for a couple of days – I need to find a way to sit that is better but there seems no magic answer. I need to try some office chairs in a shop and find one that is supportive in all the right places, but have yet to make that trip out. I think that drawing (and other creative activity) by nature is hard to manage as when you concentrate on something like that you cannot help but tense some of your muscles as you draw. When those muscles have the stamina of a gnat, that causes pain very quickly! I have been enjoying the challenge of the postcards though and the sharing of it with a friend (she sends me a card she has done and I respond in kind).

The other thing I am classifying as creative activity is gardening. The weather has been lovely and I have been getting that spring feeling and my partner has been helping me by weeding, chopping things back and preparing pots for me. I have sown some flower seeds for the garden and also some herbs indoors. My cold frame is up and things are coming along nicely. I hope we will tackle some veg seeds next weekend – carrots, beetroot and spring onions!

I have also started taking some digestive enzymes over the last couple of weeks. I will blog about that separately…

Well, it is the end of February. One sixth of the year has disappeared and it has happened pretty fast. I do know where it has gone, I have been working on my Disability Living Allowance form for most of this time, when I have been up to it.

This form has taken over my life, along with appointments with all the medical professionals involved in my care to ask them to write supportive evidence for me in support of my application and also to talk to them about what is needed (as usually knowing about my medical conditions does not mean a doctor knows about how it affects me personally, which is what the benefits people need to know).

Last time I got help from a charity as it was the first time I had applied and had little idea what was required. This did help a lot in terms of energy for filling in the form, though not the outcome. This time I have largely filled it out myself, which with my physical and mental stamina has meant it has taken me a very long time. My partner has helped me type some parts and has physically written up the form, as well as checking what I have written and suggesting things I have forgotten, and that help has been really helpful but she is so busy that I could not ask for more and frankly, I am the one who knows the most about it and how it needs to be done. She could have gained that knowledge but it just seemed above and beyond to ask her to do that on top of everything else she has on her plate.

I know that my facebook friends and others are probably sick of hearing me talk about it as I have vented a little during the process and all will be relieved to hear that it will be sent off this week! Hurray! I cannot wait to see the back of it though I know that next time I hear anything it will be a request for a medical, which last time I found VERY traumatic and lead to the denial of my claim and I had to go to appeal. The whole process took a year. It was successful in the end, but I am really not looking forward to that all over again. It really takes over your life and energies and it was a hard year for me. I have filled this form in so thoroughly and carefully in the hope that it will go through and I can avoid that year of hell this time. I am crossing everything but I know that just about everyone with ME goes to appeal. Even my CFS specialist said so, so I should not get my hopes up. I know that so many people are going through benefits processes and appeals at the moment, the whole UK system is in a mess and people are being treated so unfairly. It is really inhumane.

Anyway, two months of my available energies have been used up already and I really want to use what I have now for better and more creative things. I have several new arty books from Xmas that I want to look at for inspiration as well as projects I have been planning for months (actually years) that I want to get on with. I also have a lot of fiction/non-art books that I want to read – I love having a pile of books waiting but at the moment it seems a little too high and I keep dipping into new ones before finishing the ones I am on! I need to focus on the ones in hand and ignore the temptations of the bookshelf or I will not fully enjoy each one as I go as I will have half an eye on the next one – no way to be!

One of the best things to happen so far this year was a couple of weeks ago I went to see The Imagined Village. I have seen them before and knew it would be good, but it exceeded my expectations (except it seemed to be over far too quickly) and it was a night to remember! I always love to see Eliza Carthy live, and they are all such talented and enthusiastic performers that it is a real joy to see people doing what they evidently love. There are more concerts planned by them and other related artists to raise money for Norma Waterson (Carthy) and family who is Eliza Carthy’s Mum and who is very ill in hospital. Details here.

Other news, my sister is coming to visit me this week! I have not seen her for nearly two years and I am looking forward to some fun! Also my garden is coming back to life after all that snow in December and I am feeling a little hint of spring in the air… I hope to be able to get outside a bit more soon.

Also interesting to note that though I don’t feel dramatically better, I feel that my condition is more stable in terms of energy at the moment. I do not seem to have much variation even after I have been to an appointment (or been to a concert!). I do still get post-exertional malaise, but it is not as severe as in the past (relative to my overall function levels) and I am finding I am getting more pain instead, if anything. This change is actually welcome. (I think one of the worst things whatever level of function is the unpredictable and ever-changing nature of this illness and not knowing what is ok to do and what the day will bring). I do rest more before and after an event and I am careful in what I choose to do and cannot go out often, but I feel it is not such a big risk to go out occasionally. I don’t mind taking more painkillers occasionally for a good reason. I think my wheelchair is helping me not have such a dramatic reaction to being out, and also perhaps my Alpha Stim and Acupuncture are helping me. I am sleeping better in general and I think this has a lot to do with it. My nerve pains are also more under control with the Gabapentin dose I am on and this of course helps a lot. Anyway, it is nice to have some calm and I hope it continues like this a while, especially if it means I can do some nice things at home and pop out a bit more. I could do with some fun, and I am sure I am not the only one!

The last few weeks have been eventful.

I saw a Pain Specialist on the NHS a few weeks ago and it was a traumatic experience for me. I was not going to blog about it as it is a bit complicated but I will say that firstly I was very distressed by my level of cognitive function during (and in the days after) the hour-long appointment. I still have a very patchy recollection of what happened and what was said, complicated by my partner’s version of what he said (and what he meant by certain things) being different to mine, so in going over it together to clarify it I was further confused and my memory warped. Secondly, the man himself was quite strange and I found his style of communication and approach not to be one I could work with. I am still unsure what exactly he was offering me,  though I have been told by others who have been to similar things and by my CFS specialist that it is CBT-based stuff though he seemed to be dressing it up as something more. I was open to trying that for pain, which is why I went as I suspected that was what was on offer, but unfortunately he kept asking me questions and saying things that covered not just pain but my illness as well and I could not handle the overly psychological emphasis where that was concerned. He said a couple of things that were very dismissive of my physical illness and if he did not come from the “CFS is a false illness belief” school of thought he frankly should have enough nous to know it would be a sore point and make that clearer… he did not. I have been so scarred in the past that I cannot handle that kind of territory, partly as my cognitive problems mean I cannot challenge things that are said at the time or be assertive enough to make sure I am understanding things correctly if I am over-reacting. To get over this history and aversion even if he could help me with pain management would take a lot of work and feel like a fight, and I do not have the strength.

I have also just seen my CFS specialist. It has been over two years since I last saw him as I see the POTS specialist regularly so there is not really a need to see both. I wanted to talk to him about a few things. We talked about my neuropathic pain (something I did not get to ask the pain specialist about properly in the whole hour as he liked to talk and had his own agenda). I asked him why I have it, if it is common with ME/CFS, if it is a sign that I have fibromyalgia and if I can expect it to get worse (if it is degenerative).

His answers were: That is it part of the neurological changes that are responsible for the over-sensitivity to light, noise etc in pwME (he calls it CFS of course) and that this is just over-sensitivity to touch. I am very over-sensitive to touch, certainly, and cannot be touched much in everyday life, or only in certain places and in certain ways. The pain is triggered by touch, whether that be of air, fabric, moisture, heat, cold, my own hair or dead skin, etc etc, but it seems to me that touch-sensitivity and this pain are a bit different but neurologically they are obviously very connected… anyway, next question:

He says, yes, that yes it is common with CFS. I have never spoken to anyone with CFS that has these symptoms as extremely as I have, but maybe they do exist, or perhaps he does not realise how extreme my case is? Some people with Fibromyalgia seem to share these symptoms but again I have not spoken to anyone who has it exactly like I do… granted, he sees/knows more people than I do! (I also asked about my Trigeminal Neuralgia as that is also nerve pain I wondered if it is connected. He said it is not associated with CFS and it just something I happen to have and will continue to have on and off).

As for if it is Fibromyalgia (FM), he says that he sees FM and CFS to be like a piece of string with pain being predominant on one end and fatigue being predominant on the other and that people are somewhere along that spectrum. He said there has been one study which suggested they were distinct entities but he is not convinced. He says that many people with CFS have fibromyalgic pain to some extent. I would suggest the piece of string could be a loop as some people have both fatigue and pain pretty badly!

As for the degenerative nature of the neuropathic pain he says it will be worse when my condition is worse and improve when I am in better phases… no discussion of whether my condition in general could be degenerative, but he seems to think waxing and waning is the general pattern. I have been stuck in this bad phase a while though! Bring on the better phases…

He also said that I would probably not want to up my dose of Gabapentin much more than the level I am at… the Pain Specialist said it could go higher but that whatever I do, eventually my body will get used to any pain medication and the pain will be back how it was before. There’s a cheery thought. The Pain Specialist did talk about medication and said he will recommend some options to try when needed so that may be a useful outcome from that meeting.

I was happy with the CFS specialist appointment and his answers to my questions.

Interestingly the CFS specialist recommended a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I have ordered it. It is about mindfulness and coping with illness and pain I think, though I am not sure how specifically targetted to that. After a quick survey of facebook friends I thought it sounded worth looking into as people said he was good. One friend also mentioned Breathworks to me and the courses on Living Well with Pain and Illness look really interesting to me. I do not think I am well enough to attend the courses in person, but would prefer that, though they do do a telephone-based version. I am going to look into it.

I am reassured by my openness to this that I am not closed to the mind-body connection or to looking at my own behaviour in order to get the most out of my life limited by illness and disability. I do not know why I over-react to the CBT stuff which may in fact just be trying to do the same thing using a slightly different approach in the end. I cannot help feel though that with the CBT stuff the people offering it to me seem to want to use it to deny my illness, not to start from a basis of “yes, you are living with a physical, likely permanent and pretty severe illness, but let’s look at how you can live best with it,” but more like “You are focussing too much on your physical symptoms and making them worse, and frankly we think that much of it would disappear if you just did this CBT (and were open enough to it) and you would live a much more normal lfe.” I know that how we respond to our illness and pain, how we think and how we react can affect our experiences but there is a huge limit to the curative effects and this is the issue I have, I think; the basis and assumptions on which this is offered. The breathworks video I watched on the site showing an interview with the founder of the company shows that her attitude is much more about accepting the reality: I have pain, I have disability, I have illness and that is unlikely to change. Then we can move on to work with this reality.

Am I being over-sensitive to the Psychologist’s approach and denying myself something free and useful on the NHS? I just know it causes me so much stress to engage with it, it is probably not worth it anyway… it looks like I will be finding my own way.

One thing that came up in the Breathworks video is remembering a happy/pleasant experience in order to take yourself away from current distress. I tried it this morning when I woke up too early and was in tears in seconds. I have tried this before with similar effects. It seems that the grief is still just below the surface and will not go away despite having now been ill and supposedly processing this fact for twelve years! I think it is harder to grieve when things fluctuate and change and nothing is certain, or we grieve for what is lost, then we become worse and have to start the process all over again. That is how it feels anyway; constantly adjusting to a new reality. Well not constantly, as nothing much has changed lately, but quite often. My partner suggested thinking of something happy from my life now, rather than picturing something from “before”. I very wise suggestion and perhaps I need to choose something that is still possible, at least while it seems I am feeling so much grief.

I need to work on acceptance, though I do have quite a lot by now. I am not sure the grief necessarily leaves us just because we are accepting though? I certainly think acceptance is easier when we understand what is going on and I think I am getting a better understanding of how my neuropathic pain fits into the bigger picture now.

One thing that really made me angry in the Pain Specialist appointment was him asking about what I wanted to do with my life and how I saw the next decade etc. This always annoys me. How can I express in a sentence all that that question summons to the surface? How can I express how I get through each day and try not to make assumptions about the future? How can I endure sitting there and having my levels of acceptance and hope judged by another stranger who clearly has no idea what a loaded question he is asking? How can I genuinely answer a question I have been asked it too many times?

I answered after a long silence with a bit of waffle, a shrug and a “que sera, sera!” I was not functioning well cognitively and just could not come up with anything more lucid, but looking back that is how I feel: what will be, will be. I do not believe that hope will save me, I believe in acceptance. I may have hopes and dreams and they are important but I am not about to share them with him or anyone like him who cannot see the reality of my illness and is already judging me before I step into the room, or at least has not got proper knowledge of my illness on which to base his assessment.

Defensive? Probably. I am trying not to care and not to over-analyse myself, but that is also hard not to waste energy on… is my confidence another casualty?

As I may have mentioned before, I got an Alpha Stim machine a couple of months ago. It has two functions: Pain relief and also another setting called Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulator (CES) which helps the brain go into an alpha state – relaxed yet alert!

The pain relief part is done with electrodes like a TENS machine or with probes (pen-like shape). The current is much more gentle than a TENS machine. The probes work faster than the electrodes but are harder to use on yourself in hard-to-reach places!

The CES setting is done via ear clips on the ear lobes.

I have been using it on both settings just about every day since i bought it. The results have been positive, especially the CES setting. I did not think this part was the part that would benefit me the most, as I have a lot of pain issues and the CES setting is generally used for low mood and anxiety. It also helps with sleep. I have found that I am sleeping better, and that it often just makes me feel better in myself when I am having a low point in the day.

The pain part is more complicated for me. In the information it says that some people have a delayed reaction to the effects of the Alpha Stim on their pain. This applies to people who find that they have a delayed effect with anaesthetics and, lucky me, I do. This means that I may not feel any change immediately, but may feel much better the next day. This does complicate things when trying to measure the effects of the machine, and also it is hard to know how much to do and whether to do it on the days when the previous day’s session has had a good effect, i.e. the pain is not really bad at all (but i know it will return)! For most people though, the effects are felt right away and so they know when to stop, and indeed, start.

I have found that I have immediate benefit from the Alpha Stim with pain in my jaw and face and well as it getting rid of headaches sometimes. I have been having trigeminal neuralgia recently and it has been less effective with this type of head pain. I have been using it the most on my chronic upper back, shoulder and neck pain. I think there has been a definite improvement but I still feel the tension in the muscles, especially in my shoulders, and the pain does come back, especially after using those muscles. I think I need to experiment further with the machine, how much to do and when, etc etc. I am still getting the hang of it.

Other pain that I have is neuropathic pain. The Alpha Stim does not claim to help this type of pain but I was hoping the CES setting might help with generalised pain issues and overall sensitivity to pain over time. No real change so far. I also have very tender skin which feels bruised to the touch on my legs (well all over, really). I think it could help with this type of pain but there are two issues: firstly to do my whole body would take half the day, literally, and secondly the probes use a conducting solution on the ends and that liquid triggers my nerve pain (as does all water/humidity) so I have not been treating my lower body very much.

The company I bought it from are very friendly and helpful and I think I will be ringing them for more advice soon. I also want to talk to my acupuncturist about it, as he introduced me to it, but I have not been able to see him recently. I have an appointment next week though.

So in summary, I would say that I am happy with my Alpha Stim, but it has taken some getting used to for me regarding the pain relief. It also needs the help of someone else to do my back well, which is not always very convenient, or else I have to use the electrodes which can take quite some time. The CES setting has been really beneficial and I enjoy using that part a lot.

You can read about it here (this link is to the FAQ page as it is a quick intro but there is lots of other good stuff to read on other pages, like research studies etc).

Please support a new project “Art 4 XMRV” by buying Greeting Cards, Matted Prints, Laminated Prints, Mounted Prints, Canvas Prints, Framed Prints and Posters. The images are donated by artists who have been affected by ME/CFS.

Art 4 XMRV is a collaboration between artists who have all been impacted, directly or indirectly, by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). Leading healthcare professionals have stated that symptoms can often be more severe than late stage AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer. This illness is a great deal more than ‘feeling tired’.

In October 2009, the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno discovered, thanks to their groundbreaking research, that up to 90% of all people with CFS/ME and up to 7% of the healthy population were infected with a recently identified retrovirus called XMRV. XMRV has also been linked to Autism and Prostate Cancer.

Once a retrovirus infects a person it becomes part of that person’s DNA and stays with them permanently. HIV is the most widely-known example of a retrovirus. It is estimated that over 17 million people worldwide currently suffer from CFS/ME and they are all looking to the Whittemore Peterson Institute for answers. The sad truth is that the WPI are not being supported by Government finance. Public funding is therefore desperately needed for further research and clinical trials.

Art 4 XMRV is an attempt to help raise money for the cause. 100% of all money earned through sales will be donated to the Whittemore Peterson Institute.

Yes, I have been to more medical appointments and have more on the horizon.

Last week I saw my new GP for the second time and am pleased to report that she is still as good the second time around and I will be sticking with her. She was running very late though and we were there two hours in total so it was quite a struggle. I get the impression she always runs late as is the type of doctor who is more concerned with doing a good job than sticking rigidly to the time constraints imposed upon her. I don’t mind waiting really if I will get a good appointment where I will be listened to and taken seriously, though it is not great when you are unwell and it took some getting over. She did look quite frazzled though and my partner did comment that if she carries on doing such a good job she may get burn-out! I really hope not. Outcome of the appointment is that I am on a higher dose of Gabapentin for my nerve pain and have started Mebeverine for my IBS.

I have not taken any drugs for my IBS for many years (just relying on dietary changes, as well as having tried lots of probiotics but with no real change) but after more than two years of a restricted diet it is still flaring up and painful there is no more I can do on that front, so thought I would try again with the drugs. About ten years ago I tried them all and had no improvement, but I think there is a slight improvement already after just three days this time! I need longer to really know but I think there is less pain at night-time and perhaps things are a bit calmer as I have not been playing it especially safe food-wise. The GP did suggest that I could try Amitryptaline at a low dose to help with IBS but to ask the POTS specialist if it’s ok.

So this week I have been to see the POTS specialist. She says Amitryptaline not a great idea unless absolutely desperate as it can lower blood pressure and increase heart rate – two things I do not need.

We also discussed the drug (Dilzem) that she started me on last visit. I think it has helped my stamina and also my recovery time after doing things, enough to be a trend but not in a really dramatic way. It is better than nothing. She did not change my medications this time, only the timing of one tablet and I will be wearing a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours soon to check how I am doing. Based on the results of that she will know if I can tolerate higher doses of drugs or not and adjust as required. I hope I will get to try higher doses as I know POTS symptoms are still affecting me daily and where would we go from here if not? I am not sure!

So that is it, two pleasant appointments which makes a nice change.

On a vaguely related note, my trigeminal neuralgia has been bad the last few days. Gabapentin is a listed treatment for this condition, though not the main reason I am taking it, but still it keeps flaring up. I am concerned, as reading about it, it seems that it is something that gets worse and worse over time and can become very bad. I wonder how bad it would be now if I was not taking Gabapentin? I am seeing the ME/CFS specialist in a few weeks and want to talk to him about my neuropathic pain in general and also the trigeminal neuralgia. I would like to understand how these conditions fit into my ME/CFS (if they do) and what I can expect long-term with them. They are quite concerning and debilitating on top of everything else. I also want to ask him about Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN). This is taken by some people with similar itch/nerve pains as me as well as people with ME/CFS so I think it might be worth trying. I hope he will be open to letting me try it without having to fight for it.

I have just received an appointment for the Pain Clinic at my new GP surgery. It is for next week. I have already had an initial telephone call and also filled in an assessment form for them. The doctor I will be seeing seems very intelligent and not patronising and keen to help me understand my pain issues. He did talk a lot during our phone call about Fibromyalgia and pain sensitization (or something similar to that) which is good but I don’t think the whole picture. I do not have a Fibromyalgia diagnosis and may have to take some info with me about pain mechanisms and ME/CFS as they do seem to be distinct entities and there is often much pain in ME/CFS in it’s own right… At least he is willing to talk about biological processes though, and did not sound too much like he was just going to teach me breathing exercises. I doubt he will have much to say to help me understand the nerve pains though. It will be interesting. The appointment will be an hour long, which will be a challenge in itself.

It would be nice not to have all these medical appointments. I know various people with ME/CFS who rarely bother to go (or know there is no point with their existing doctor) but I seem to have various issues that I really cannot ignore and that for which there does seem some hope of management/improvement with medical treatment. It would be so freeing to not use all my energy up in this way and just to be able to focus on going out to do things that are pleasurable or useful but it seems it is not to be. There are things I have never even brought up with a doctor for many years, or not at all, and I feel with this new GP that it might just be worth it to discuss all these minor loose ends sometime. How nice to feel that I can, even if there is nothing to be done. I am so glad I left that last GP surgery – all I ever got was a lecture and the impression that I was wasting their time or I got the distinct impression that they did not know enough to make it worth bringing anything up in the first place! Oh for the day when ME is universally understood and treated seriously… and treated effectively! It should not be a lottery just to get a GP who listens and has a “let’s try” and a “can do” attitude regardless of any actual effective treatments…

Yesterday we went out to The National Glass Centre. I have been really struggling mood-wise (and physically as usual) since Xmas/New Year. Mostly I think I have just been in recovery from the festive period but I have been surprised by my little depressive bout, as I have been fairly stable lately on that score.

Anyway, I have been resting up and struggling on in equal measure and just feeling more and more trapped in the house so I decided the time had come to prioritise mental health over physical (a.k.a “to hell with the consequences!”) and do something fun. My partner reminded me that apart from going away over Xmas (involving travelling by car, being in a different house for a few days, then coming home – so not really giving the feeling of getting out and about, strangely) I had not been anywhere except the odd health related appointment since November when we went into town. That explained a lot.

It was great, a bit of detail can be found here.

I feel so much better today (granted physical payback has not really hit yet). I am buzzing with enthusiasm for creative things, and feel much happier. Just managing to go gives me a renewed sense that fun things are possible every now and again, and need not be stressful if they are the right size of outing in the first place.

I am hoping that the flurry of snow that fell this afternoon does not mean we are going to have a repeat of December’s weather, as I would like to leave the house again sooner rather than later!

Hello all,

I am not sure what to write about today, or how much to say. I am bored of writing how I am, which symptoms are bad and so on, though I know it serves a purpose for me in terms of tracking my symptoms and health, which is one of the reasons I do blog. I am bored with it though, and so it seems is my partner, understandably. We want to escape the never-ending discussions of how I am, which parts hurt and so on. But how? I honestly do not think it is possible.

I do not need to tell you readers who are also ill and living with other people the difficulties of being in any relationship when there is an unwanted entity (the illness) hovering around affecting everything we do, or more usually cannot do. Things are ok, and we are coping but I am just feeling a bit emotional at the start of this year.

As well as wanting me and more especially my partner to have a break from it all, I am deeply worried about a friend of mine who is in hospital. I have heard from her dad that she has had an emergency operation and is very unwell, but nothing for a few days and I cannot help but think about her and her start to 2011. She has not even been able to open her Christmas presents yet. She is on my mind a lot.

I think I am also just in recovery from going away at Christmas. I feel a sense of achievement and adventure at having gone away – I spent a few days with my partner’s family. It was good and I am very glad I went in many ways. I was made to feel really welcome and they tried really hard to accommodate my needs and it was nice to feel part of something but it was also pretty hard for me at times.

The main issues were the travel (which took 4 hours on the way there and 3 on the way back; even as a passenger that is really a lot for my poor brain to cope with. I find it very challenging neurologically to be in motion and to have such a lot of visual stimuli rushing past at the same time); the heating, which despite other people saying they felt cold was on really high and it was the hottest house I have been in for a long time (which obviously is really bad for me in terms of POTS as it means my blood pools more easily and less gets to my brain which makes me feel worse and have lower stamina and more neurological symptoms, like tolerance of noise…); and also the noise!

When there is noise my stamina is very limited and the combination of Xmas music on a loop and/or a tv turned up loud for some of the family who can no longer hear very well (and refuse a hearing aid) as well as the conversation of up to twelve people on top was at times hard to bear. Added to this was the noise of a house full of people when I was trying to rest, especially when a few drinks had been had, despite my ear plugs! People really did try so I am not blaming them, it’s just that normal festive behaviour and this illness do not mix. It is not like everyone should sit and shiver in several jumpers in silence just so that I can “do” Xmas!! It would not be fun for me or anyone else that way.

Overall it was a successful visit and I would take on the journey again when things would be quieter and hope that perhaps I could be able to leave the house when there next time to explore the city a little. It did feel strange to just be in the house all the time and not be able to situate it or explore; which seems ridiculous as I rarely go out to explore my own city, but when you go somewhere new I suppose you feel it more keenly that it is the normal thing to do. I know there were art galleries within a ten minute radius, and that hurt!

I have been feeling a bit stir-crazy actually and the trip away almost added to it for the reason given above. It gave me a sense of adventure if anything! I have not left the house much for a long time, other than for appointments, and the weather has been a big part of this. It has been just freezing with snow and ice everywhere – hardly wheelchair-friendly. I did go over to see a friend before Xmas and that was really nice, though it felt so surreal and I realised it was nearly a year since I had visited her home. She has had to visit me most of the time in the last year. Another reason is that my partner is just so busy and there is no-one else to take me out. I really find it hard to go anywhere without my wheelchair and that means being accompanied. I need to perhaps just take a taxi sometimes and sit somewhere interesting and comfortable for a while, but finding somewhere comfortable (in terms of chair, but also noise etc) is quite tricky.

Good things already planned for this year are a lecture about printmaking at a local university at the end of March. It is just an hour so I am going to give that a try if I can. Also we have booked tickets to see Iron and Wine in concert, which is also not for a while, but something to look forward to. Some of the most memorable and best things I did in 2011 were going to concerts, which has become easier now that I can sit in my wheelchair, so I hope to keep finding good people to see this year. It is great to go out with my partner and share such experiences with her. We don’t do enough fun things together.

It is my birthday this month and some time has been kept clear to do “something”. It is not yet clear what I will be up to doing, or what the options are but I am looking into it!

I hope to continue with my art immersion at home (see blog post on my creative blog) and finish the painting I am working on and move on to the other many creative things I want to work on. So many ideas, so little energy and ability! Never mind, art is a good distraction from illness. I also want to read more. I have got a Kindle for Xmas, though I had it early, and I am really loving it and how much easier it is for me to read with than a real book.

Quick post to note a strange change in my sleep patterns. As I have noted in a recent post, my sleep has been better in general lately. My neuropathy/itching has bothered me less severely at night and I am sleeping more deeply. I have also been waking earlier…

The last few days I have been waking REALLY early. This is nothing new, as I have for a long time regularly woken in the early hours for a couple of hours before getting back to sleep. The difference now is that I am AWAKE. I mean really awake and feeling like there is no point lying there any more.

I recently read this post by Michael Nobbs about his early waking phase. I did not feel, on reading it, that I could be quite so relaxed about it as he is trying to be. I have surprised myself though and actually I think this phase might be a good thing as I am not feeling as death-like as a result as I expected. Hopefully my waking time might be 6.45am like today, rather than 5am as it was yesterday, and I will try to make it a bit later, but I think I am really sleeping more deeply. I always have a daily nap anyway, so if I can pace myself and not fill this extra time with activity, and not feel any worse, it may be good. My body clock will be more normal and that is supposed to help us with ME to feel better.

I am wondering if this more recent phase is due to my NEW ALPHA STIM 100!!! Yes I am excited, and I have bought my very own machine. Have a look here for a good article in the Telegraph about it. Maybe my brain is just adjusting and it won’t mean I will wake up at 5am forever… I will blog properly about the Alpha Stim soon, once I have used it for a while and have a progress report!

I have even started a new notebook – my Alpha Stim diary – I do like stationery!

In the last few weeks I have noticed a gradual improvement in my stamina. I think there are a number of things that are potentially contributing to this improvement, which is great whatever the reason, though I would like to know what exactly is helping so that I can continue with it!

About six weeks ago I went to see the POTS specialist and had a list as long as my arm of current and pressing issues – she (rightly) could not deal with them all and it was not a successful appointment (for that and other reasons) and it upset me, but I could not pick and choose between all these issues as I was just overwhelmed by various issues which were all severe. These included: Sleep, Neuropathy and Trigeminal Neuralgia, Muscular Pain and Tension as well as other pain issues, POTS (this was low down the list so you can see how bad the other stuff was!), as well as medication issues.

She gave me a new medication to try for POTS (Diltiazem). I did not start it for the first few days as other outcomes from the appointment were that I should stop taking my sleeping tablet (eszopiclone) to see how I am without it, and also I had only just increased my dosage of Gabapentin (for Neuropathy) over the previous few days, so I did not want to confuse things by doing it all at once.

Also around this time I was having massages of my back, neck shoulders and head which were pretty intensive as the pain and tension there was really getting unbearable. My head felt so tight and painful and my scalp was really tender to touch in places (always is a bit, but was getting very bad and more widespread). My neck felt very painful and weak and was clicking in a very disturbing way low down my cervical spine. Shoulders and upper back, well, the usual. A couple of days after the third massage I felt the tension really lifted and I no longer was taking painkillers every single day. The clicking was also much less frequent – I think the muscles were not clamped so tight around the joints.  This was also the time that I started taking the Diltiazem, but I did not think it would do anything and apart from the pain/tension improvement I did not feel any different. A few days later I had my first acupuncture appointment.

It was another couple of weeks before I had the second appointment and did the Tai Chi (and “broke” my back). Then another week until the third, when I started to use the Alpha Stim (see previous post).

During the last few weeks I have noticed a gradual increase in what I can do in the day. I am certainly more active, particularly mentally. I am also sleeping much better and dreaming vividly all the time! I have taken the sleeping tablet again briefly when my mum was here and it confirmed what I thought. It does help me get to sleep but once it wears off in the early hours I feel more awake than I would have done without it. Very odd. As it is I am sleeping much more deeply than I have for a long time with no drugs at all. I am still getting up several times for the toilet but am just getting back into bed and back to sleep easily. I am also sleeping deeply most days and later in the day than I was. It is working for me despite being bad in theory to sleep late in the day (sleep hygiene blah blah). I think the higher dose of Gabapentin is helping to control my nerve related pain and discomfort which used to flare up every time I got out of bed (or in!). It is still there but milder and as long as the bedding is smooth and flat underneath me (a constant battle) it is usually ok. I think with me Gabapentin takes a few weeks to reach it’s maximum efficacy. When I first took it, although there was some improvement it was not for a few weeks that it really felt more consistent, and the same has happened with the higher dosage.

I think perhaps the added activity is also helping the sleep. I am being careful not to overdo it, though some days it is hard to stop pottering about with little things, as they all add up. I have at times got that “wired” feeling of having over-stimulated myself, but I am also recovering more quickly. I have had the odd bad day but overall it’s a very positive trend.

I even went out into town (being pushed in wheelchair). We went to three shops one evening and I did practically all my Christmas shopping. Then we went for an Indian meal before returning home! It was really great to have a meal out and I felt pretty good throughout.

I hate department stores (it was only them that opened late) but I did not get over-hot and being in the wheelchair made it much better for obvious reasons (like being able to go fifty times further!) but also in terms of navigation, which I am rubbish at in shops. It is so nice to allow someone much better at it than me to push me around: she knows where the lifts are, where the exits are, how to best get from one shop to another etc. So much more relaxing!

I also find the decision-making hard but as the shop was not too busy or noisy and I had a list of people to buy for, I just stayed calm and focussed and got through it in no time. Such a relief and great to avoid lots of deliveries coming to the door at random times when I am in bed in the day.

The most amazing thing – yes I am getting there, waffle waffle – was the payback… or should I say LACK OF PAYBACK!!! I rested the following days, but was still pottering around more than I felt I should following such a big trip out. Day three I really felt it would hit, but it didn’t really. This is unheard of in my world. I was only saying to someone more moderately affected than me a few days before that unlike her, I am rarely surprised by how ill I feel, as it is predictable: do something slightly more than usual, second day, bam – feel awful. I take a few more days to rest, then carry on with the usual routines. Even my IBS did not flare up too much after the meal out, which again, it usually does even if I am careful about what I eat.

So I was on cloud nine about that. It really made me feel that the improvements are solid, even if I have not felt quite so strong since then. I feel an upward trend again at last. I am kind of hoping that most of the improvement is down to the new POTS drug. It has been about a year since I felt any real improvement in function from Midodrine, the other drug I take for POTS, which has plateaued really, despite some dosage increase. I also tried Ivabradine which I was not sure about in terms of improvement as I had such severe neuropathy at the time I was in a lot of pain and not sleeping well at all, so I could not tell. I could not get a prescription for that in the end anyway.

If the acupuncture is helping too, then all to the good. If I can get a decent improvement in pain through that then that will help me hopefully to move and relax my muscles more and increase my function again. I like to think so anyway. I feel a little hope creeping in…

ME/CFS Awareness

ME/CFS Awareness

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