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I Am Not My Illness

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the labels we have attached to us when we have a chronic physical or mental illness. They are powerful labels that can be associated with a lot of stigma, sadness or make you feel a little bit hopeless. I am trying to think of labels as something I ‘have’ rather than ‘am’.

When you have any kind of illness (mental or physical), it’s often likely that you will receive a diagnosis or something that labels the struggles you are having. Sometimes there can be a huge relief from having an understanding of what is happening for you, or a diagnosis / label that can lead to additional support or treatment; but sometimes a label can feel like a negative thing, it can lead to feelings of hopeless and shame.

As someone who has had difficulties with their mental health for a number of years, I have experienced the challenging and often complicated feelings that come with being given a label for a condition. It feels like some illnesses and difficulties can rate higher on a scale of what’s socially acceptable; whereas others aren’t spoken about and feel almost taboo. Some conditions are frowned upon and seen as ‘fake’ or unworthy of support or care.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the other labels that represent me. I have mental and physical health conditions but I’m not ‘broken’ or ‘mad’; I’m poorly and that’s ok. It’s not my fault and it doesn’t have to be my identity. I ‘have’ mental and physical illness, which is a part of my life that I have to manage daily. But I am also learning to love that I am a creative who can write, paint, journal, crochet and think in ways that are a little out of the box. I’m a writer, fundraiser, project manager, sister, daughter, cat mumma… and so much more. I am proud of who I am and I won’t let my illness take that away from me.

No need to be afraid quote

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Becoming Disabled

Becoming Chronically Ill

I remember having a dream as a small child. I was with a circle of adults around a fire and there was something that they were not telling me. I awoke feeling cross and very frustrated and the memory of the dream lingered…

As a young, able-bodied adult, I left home and did a degree in Design Representation (modelmaking). I commuted into London to work in various workshops. I took up Live Roleplaying, Yoga, Tai Chi. Work stress made me change course, learning Reiki on the way. I gained a Diploma in Montessori Directress (preschool education), commuting up to four hours a day.

Marriage, motherhood and moving house followed. Pregnancy was wonderful but my daughter and I are lucky to be here and nobody could tell me exactly why my body went so wrong.

Summer, 2012: I’d brought littl’un to a friend’s birthday party. The garden was full of fun – crafts, facepainting, treats. Whilst my daughter was having a great time as a dinosaur, I grabbed some nibbles and went to chat with the other mums. However, I felt wrong. Dizzy, clumsy, finding it hard to get my words out or find them at all, I sat in the shade quietly promising myself I’d see my GP. This just added to a growing list of niggling little things they couldn’t find a cause for.

I’ll save the whole diagnosis story for another time, though, as what I’d really like to get across is just how disability crept up on me. It was the fatigue that got to me first. I’d had it for years without realising that it wasn’t normal to feel like this. At school, at Uni, it was just put down to growing and learning. My first jobs – commuting, working long hours, surely being this tired upon waking was simply a result of that?

As a new mum, again, exhaustion had an explanation. I’d joke about having ‘mumnesia’ along with the other new mums, but my forgetfulness didn’t go away as my child grew.

I’d walk my daughter to playgroup, to pre-school, down the same village road I still travel. She started school a bit further down the road and one day I noticed that I wasn’t walking straight. I started getting odd sensations or lack of feeling. By July 2014 I was using a walking stick to help me cope with involuntary movements, neuropathic pain and balance issues. by the end of the month I’d discovered how much clearer my head was when I borrowed a supermarket wheelchair. It also reduced the myoclonic jerks. By that September I was using a mobility scooter for most of the school run trips and by the following September I’d bought my Smartcrutches, having finally been diagnosed with EDS in August 2015 (confirmed by a geneticist Dec ’15).

I had to be patient, probing, persistent and proactive to help the medical professionals around me arrive at the complex answer to that first question ‘Why am I always a bit dizzy?’ and the cascade of other questions that followed. I’ve only just (in May 2016) been diagnosed with PoTS on top of the EDS etc.

Thankfully, the dizziness is manageable, the involuntary movements have all but gone (it made beadwork nigh impossible!), I’m receiving appropriate treatment, learning to pace well, brace appropriately and eat more healthily. I have to thank the online patient communities for a huge amount of support, information, understanding and genuine caring. You yourself might have spared a moment to write to me, hidden behind one of my aliases. Thankyou, whoever you may be, for your en-courage-ment. (I needed you to notice that word within a word there).

For the first 40 years of my life I had no idea that I’d been born with a predisposition to disabilty. I only had that vague, intuitive feeling since I was young that something was different about me. I’ve learned to love who I am (“…a very interesting person” I’ve been told more than once) and I embrace my life just as it is.

Yes, I have become disabled but through my journey of self discovery, I have also become empowered.

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The Real Me

The real me EDS zebra Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Blog

Sally-Ann EDS Ehler-Danlos SyndromeI’ve always loved finding about about myself. I was a shy child with hardly any dress sense (though very sensitive to irritating clothes). I matured late, have always been something of a tomboy and absolutely love stories, be it in books, in films or making them up with friends.

I had a career as a professional modelmaker and another in preschool education as a Montessori Directress. Unfortunately, despite however much I loved what I did, I could never seem to physically do it for long. There was an invisible barrier that I kept hitting time and again.

I look back and wonder how I managed to do what I did? With the companionship of a loving partner that I’ve known since our college days, a wonderful family and finding my creative outlet in Live Roleplaying for twenty years. I learned Reiki to cope with stress and became a Reiki Teacher.

A few years ago though, a cascade of symptoms began. Dizziness, fatigue, clumsiness, odd sensations…the list went on. It took three years to reach the root of all my problems – even ones from my childhood and young adult life finally got explained.

At first, I thought it was MS. It looked ever so much like it but the MRI said ‘within normal limits’ and the Neurologist said ‘Functional Neurological Disorder’. What’s that? In a nutshell, symptoms without a clearly discernable cause. Go to FNDHope to learn more.

After that, it was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, for which I did a very good OT led therapy course and made a group of friends. We still meet up when we can. Generalised Anxiety Disorder along with historical (i.e. in childhood) Social Anxiety Disorder was diagnosed next.

Eventually, a trip to orthotics to get some new insoles that I’d been prescribed after the weight of pregnancy left my feet a funny shape, led to me being told – for the first time in my life – that I was hypermobile. Sure, Yoga and Tai Chi teachers had remarked on my flexibility and I just took it as a compliment, a positive trait. I had no idea…

The slew of symptoms kept increasing, my mobility kept decreasing, my cognitive abilities kept glitching and I had to know why. So, I chatted on forums. I researched. I looked for the right words to craft the best questions to present to my GP. I printed out information and asked his opinion. My ferreting of information and determination to know what my body was up to finally led me, at the age of 41, to get a confirmed diagnosis of EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome). That in turn led to a realisation that I just might be autistic (my doc said “Oh gosh, yes!” when I asked if I might have Asperger’s). I’m still waiting on that one.

Sally-Ann Zebras Bizarre EDSSo, in the past eight years I have survived a perilous labour (though sadly, my womb did not), become a proud mum, started two online shops, closed a Reiki Practice, gained clarity about my orientation (still happily with my college heartthrob though) and transitioned from able-bodied to disabled. I now do the school-run on two Smartcrutches with braces or my mobility scooter.

This is the real me. I love making jewellery but rarely wear it. I only dress up to do LRP or Steampunk and usually have a less mature hairdo than my now 7 year old. I love making friends but need plenty of solitude. I’m happy to offer my experience to others in the hope that they might find it helpful. Above all and quite aptly, I’m a Conscious Craftie. ♡

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