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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?

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…

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March 2020
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