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What It’s Like To Live with Chronic Illness

Chronic Illness

Last year I had a breakdown. For  weeks, I hid in the confines of my room and stealthily avoided phone calls, text messages and lunch dates. Nobody knew it was happening, except for work, my doctor and my boyfriend. It is so easy to hide behind a text message and feign a busy life, probably even more so given I have no family in Australia. Friends and family cheerily accepted that I had too much going on to talk and didn’t push me. I lied to a lot of people to avoid a conversation; something I feel guilty about now. The antisocial ability of a mobile phone was my saviour at that time.

Then

While I have been a long-time sufferer of depression, this wasn’t the root of my going to ground this time. It was hypothyroidism, a chronic illness. Early 2015, after months of confusion about my ill health, I discovered I had the  disease. The doctor casually told me that regular blood tests and a daily pill would become my norm. She also informed me that I needed to refer to a GP before planning a pregnancy as “it will be more difficult”. And with that bomb drop, I was sent on my way to navigate this new world that had caused so much havoc on my life.

Hypothyroidism is one of those diseases that is common but also trivialised. It is a chronic illness, which basically means that it is long lasting or persistent.Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid  is under active in its performance. The thyroid, though small in size, plays a very large part in the body. It is effectively responsible for the metabolic actions in the systems, so an under performing one causes exhaustion, weight gain, slowed heart rate and mental health problems.

Symptoms

I remember when I started to feel extremely lethargic, and someone suggested that a thyroid issue could be at the heart of it all. “Loads of people have it, it’s not a big deal so don’t stress.” Their words rang in my ears when I finally got confirmation of what I suspected.

I first noticed that things were not right when I couldn’t get through the day without a nap. And by nap, I mean a solid 3 hours sleep after work. Life turned into a blur of work and sleep, with nothing else in between. Going for a Saturday drink was an epic outing for me, so I just stopped going. I began to swell like a balloon, and went from being naturally athletic to overweight in a matter of months. My hair began to come out in clumps, and my body ached all over. A ten minute walk would wipe me out for the day.

The low point came when I needed to go back to bed by 11am on a Saturday. I had only gotten up at 9. This cruel combination of symptoms bandied together to make me feel like absolute crap, both inside and out. As a result of both physical and mental side effects, I guess I gave up. Life turned into ground hog day, with work the only social element that I had. Aside from that, I started to stay home, and spent pretty much every spare moment asleep.

Anxiety

Fast forward to the day I knew I was crumbling. While I have managed depression with medication for years, my anti-social behaviour had resulted in horrendous anxiety. At this time I was already about 6 months on thyroid medication but I wasn’t feeling much better. I spent a couple of weeks in my bedroom, so embroiled in anxiety that I wouldn’t leave for fear of bumping into a housemate. When I stopped going to work, my very kind and sympathetic manager encourage me to see  a counselor. Sitting in her practice, I remember crying as I described the turmoil I was feeling about going to the salon to get my eyebrows tinted.  Sounds ridiculous right, but it was so bad that activities as simple as this one were causing me fear.

We had to create a  step by step process as to how I would get from my house to the salon without having a panic attack. Yep, the inner destruction of hypothyroidism was so great that I had to psyche myself up to go and talk to the lovely Irish girl that did my eyebrows. Happy to say she is now a friend of mine and all round general legend. I would shed tears over having to meet someone for a coffee, with my poor boyfriend incredulous as to what was happening to me. How could I explain it to him. How could I when I didn’t even understand it myself.

Now

Today I am a new person. While I am nowhere near the girl I was before I got sick, I like to think I’m a better version now. It was a  painstakingly slow process, but I have made lots of progress since last year. Following a strict daily routine helps, such as morning gym and healthy eating . I take my medication every day, and try to practice relaxation techniques.

Most importantly, I have learned to leave the house. The  supermarket is no longer a scary place, and  meeting a friend for coffee doesn’t throw me into panic.

Anxiety in any form is crippling. Verbalising your feelings is a good place to start. I remember having those horrible panicked thoughts that only a dark room and a locked door could fix. Once I started to say the things I was feeling out loud, I really started to grasp how big the issue was. This was a first step for me in getting some help. Being able to say to a friend “hey sometimes I go shopping for groceries at night to avoid people” provided comic relief. Often I have laughed at myself ;”Jesus Louise you are mad”.

Tangibility

Jokes aside, it is the tangibility of speaking your fears, that turn the anxiety from an internal battle into something real. And working through a real situation is much more easier to face than battling inner demons.It showed to me the mental damage that chronic illness can inflict on someone costs far more than the physical. I also learned to never pretend to know what someone else is going through based on my own experience,. We are all guilty of trying to lend an empathetic ear, for example saying things like – “I know the feeling, I’m always tired too”.

I guess the crux of all this, is that my research into chronic illness led me to a new upcoming blogger. Wendie Gregg is the lady behind Lurganista, a blog all about beauty. What sets her apart from the rest of the set, is that she has chronic pancreatitis. Her condition is so serious, that she is unable to work. She still manages to create bright happy content, whilst talking candidly about her disease. She is proof that the human spirit can always win in the face of adversity, and in a world, that is diluted with carbon copy bloggers, she is paving her own way.

Wendie speaks about her chronic illness in a really informative way, without one smudge of self pity. Her page is a platform for light and hope.I wish for big things to come this girls way.

Image VIA www.librestock.com

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