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Big Talk

A common phrase used in the UK is ‘there’s a time and a place for that’. It’s usually employed when someone starts talking about something someone may consider ‘risqué’; sex, bodily functions, graphic descriptions of murder in Swedish crime drama. Picture the scene; we are sitting in our knitting circle, plaid skirts neatly tucked beneath us, enjoying a delicious. piping hot cup of tea, when someone around the circle suddenly says they undid an extra shirt button for their husband the night prior. Naturally, we all spit our tea out in the style of an ‘80’s spoof film and our tray of cucumber sandwiches instantly turn to mould. It’s NEITHER THE TIME NOR THE PLACE FOR FILTH.

So, with this precarious attitude towards openness in full swing, where does talking about chronic illness fit in? What’s the right time and place? I don’t think I’ve quite found it yet. Is it OK if I discuss my illness over dinner for example? Nope: I don’t want to hear that when I’m eating. OK, well can I talk about it when we’re out for a drink? Nope: I don’t want you bringing the mood down, we’re trying to let our hair down! Right, I guess maybe it’s OK if I briefly mention it at your Grandmother’s funeral then? Nope: this isn’t about YOU! You’ll spoil the cucumber sandwiches! AGAIN.

So it would seem we can’t talk about our conditions while we are eating, or drinking, or grieving over re-heated sausage rolls? When can I? You can see how much of a minefield this whole thing is. Or is it?

Well personally I’ve never bought into the idea that there is a certain ‘moment’ when it’s ‘appropriate’ for me to talk about a major and debilitating part of my life. Of course, I’m not immune to social cues and what the general population deems ‘acceptable’. I know, of course, that discussing my bowel movements at the bus-stop with your small child or talking about abdominal surgery with a visiting Nun is not ideal. But that doesn’t mean I agree with all these MADE-UP RULES. Nuns and small children have bowels too after all! Last time I checked anyway!

[clarification: I haven’t ‘checked’ any nuns or small children for bowels]

I tend to joke about my condition a lot, generally because it makes people around me feel more comfortable and helps to lighten some of the heavier feelings for me. Living/feeling/thinking about being ill 24/7 doesn’t leave much room for the fun-stuff in life, so I try to lighten the more stressful conversations where I can. The truth is, most of the people who have come across as offended, or uncomfortable when I discuss my illness don’t actually really how lucky they are. They get off lightly! Imagine being one of my friends, my partner or my family! The get both barrels of my illness-patter shot directly into them with NO MERCY. But they also understand that the state of my health is important. Me feeling ‘well’ and happy is important to them too. The two go hand in sweaty-palmed hand – if I’m well, I’m happier (naturally), but also, being able to talk about my health without fear of judgement, reprisals or shame is vital.

Those without chronic illness, or without a loved one who suffers an incurable condition will perhaps struggle to adapt to those of us wishing to be more open and transparent about our sickly lives. I know the natural urge here is to bellow something like “Well it’s THEIR problem not mine!” and stick up two GirlPower fingers at no one in particular. But that doesn’t actually solve anything. I know I am well within my rights to talk about my condition when I choose, but I also know that some people find it difficult to hear. So, I’ll tailor my conversations to suit my surroundings, like some sort of chronically ill chameleon. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I shy away from speaking out - if I feel misunderstood, or am shamed in any way, or my words are misinterpreted, or assumptions are made about my life, I will jump into those murky conversational depths with both feet.  

I have no shame over my illness or my somewhat damaged and decayed body. I love my body and I love myself. I love that I am loved for me – diseased bits and all. This point has taken me a long time to get to, and it’s still like walking on a self-love tightrope on a daily basis, but I’m happy with my attitude towards my illness. No one has the right to shut me, or any of you up, or decide when or what we should say about our illness. So talk openly when you need to, talk to those you trust and don’t ask Nuns to check if they have workable bowels.

Kathleen NichollsComment
Con-Cure Your Fears

Aside from random men on the internet kindly telling me that my face is not to their liking, or that I should consider showing more flesh to 'get ahead' (whatever that means); one of the most common types of spam I receive is from strangers providing advice on how I can easily 'cure' my (incurable) illness.

Generally I try to humorously mock these type of inane emails or posts, for the sake of my own sanity; but in actuality, this type of thing is incredibly damaging, and in some cases, even dangerous for those of use with chronic illness.

Being drawn in by promises of achieving remission, or even better; a complete annihilation of a disease, is of course a delightful idea. All of us want to be 'well', and all of us would ideally like that to happen with as little effort on our part as possible. But, when we are met with alleged doctors or health professionals who claim to have the secret key to unlocking our longed-for and as yet inaccessible cure, it is undoubtedly alluring. When we are at our lowest ebb, we crave any form of reassurance that things will get better. Think back to how you felt at series 3 of Breaking Bad.

On an almost daily basis I receive messages from strangers claiming to have the answers to all my medical problems. They will happily tell me (for a small fee of course; I wouldn't waste these academics valued time!) how I can easily and quickly cure my ills. This will be through adopting a special diet, by way of eating tree-bark or something equally bizarre, through simply 'thinking positively, or by paying them thousands of pounds to indoctrinate me in a Wellness Centre' or something that sounds just as sinister.

It shouldn't get to the point where your tongue is bleeding profusely from excessive tree-licking that you decide maybe all of this is a BAD IDEA. When we are lured by promises of quick fixes a good general rule is to run in the opposite direction as fast as you can. There are no 'quick fixes' in life; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Now you might be reading all of this thinking that anyone who has fallen for any of this would have to be the Chairman of the Dumb-Dums Association. But again I hark back to the desperation and vulnerability so many of us feel when we are seriously ill. Grasping for a possibility things will be easier isn't stupidity it's human nature, and it's symptomatic of a life spent in pain and fear.

Of course I don't blame any patient who falls for any of this unsubstantiated hokum; the fault lies with the crooks who sell it. Those who attempt to make money from the vulnerable by making promises they can't begin to keep are lower than a worms bra strap.

Selling a lie to those in need is despicable and abhorrent.

So please, don't be fooled by internet 'doctors' who promise you the Earth and/or a yearly subscription to Tree Bark Monthly; the only thing they are healinh is their own bank balance. 

Bleach Body Ready

Writing about invisible illness is, for the most part, incredibly cathartic for me. I write for myself, to act (I hope) as an advocate for those in the same rickety boat as myself, and to share information, spread awareness to those who love us, and to those without knowledge of unseen conditions. But there are times when I’ll feel incredibly low and incredibly ill and writing about my condition is the absolute last thing I want to do. I am too busy living, breathing and loathing it.

I feel a sense of responsibility to the people who read my books and blogs and listen to me waffle in videos to keep the momentum up. I know this is unfounded, and for the most part an imaginary series of deadlines entirely created by my own anxious mind. But I still feel like a bigger let-down than a bouncy castle with a pin in it if I am unable or unwilling to write for a day or so. Part of this is part and parcel of living with chronic illness; we often never we feel we are doing, saying, writing, sharing, being enough. That comes from within, and our own experience of having to miss work, social events or series 3 of whatever Netflix show is trending, because we are too sick to leave the safety of our duvet.

I’ve been thinking about this feeling of obligation a lot lately, because I’ve felt unable to fulfil mine. I’ve been focused on writing my next book, alongside working full time and all the daily stresses we all experience. I’m not leaving myself a whole lot of time to just do sweet F.A. [I think that means falling asleep...?]

I noticed recently that when people ask me how I am these days, I’ll automatically assume they want an update on my health; after all what else is there? When I considered the gravity of that statement I felt incredibly embarrassed. Is that all my life has been reduced to? Medical notes? Do I only have mildly humorous hospital tales and bowel-related puns to share with my friends? Is being ill all I am?

Ok so I know the answer to all of those questions is a solid no. Especially the ‘humorous’ bit; my hospital tales are “Hilarious! Five Stars!” – My Mum. But it’s easy as someone who lives day to day with poor health to fall into the habit of assuming everyone else thinks about it just as much as I do. Or, at the very least, that there is little else to me now than being the ‘sick girl’. SO, with that in mind, if anyone out there is reading this and can relate to my ramblings then I suggest you try to take a few minutes each day to remind yourself what you have to offer the world, and what makes you happy. Being continuously ill is exhausting; it can completely consume, so in the moments when we are feeling blue, try to recall what makes you ‘you’. I don’t know you, dear reader, so the work has to be done yourself here; you could be a serial killer for all I know. But if you are a serial killer, then remember that’s not all you are. You’re probably very methodical, with great personal hygiene and a loyalty card for bleach.

There’s always something to be found that makes us uniquely ‘us’ – part of that of course, is the fact that we are chronically ill, but that’s only a tiny piece of the beautiful jigsaw that makes you, you. So the next time someone asks how I am I’m going to assume they want to know about ‘me’ first and my illness second. And that’s exactly what I told those police officers who were at my door earlier asking why I have a loyalty card for bleach.  

  

Kathleen NichollsComment
Chad Valley

Depression. It makes us isolate ourselves last we soak those around us when that black cloud over us inevitably opens. It stops us feeling. It makes us numb.

Understandably, when we alone struggle to feel much of anything at all, others around us often don't get much of a look-in - if they are even considered at all. When we lose that spark of interest in life, those around us can seem irrelevant. It's not that we don't know we should and do care for those around us, it's that we can't feel it. Much as we wish desperately this weren't the case, it can often feel that despite standing directly in front of someone we love, there is a complete emotional blockage; everything we need and want to say can't seem to find it's way out no matter how hard we try. This frustration eats away at us, this conversational impotence when we so badly want to verbally embrace them. When we become unable to say a simple "I love you" to our partner, unable to socially interact with our friends, we further isolate ourselves and feel more and more ashamed by our own behaviour.

With depression we often can't think of the future, because it can feel like we don't have one. We can fake a smile; we become pros at that, but we can't make ourselves 'be happy'. These periods of low-mood can last for weeks, even months; as we drift through days like we are walking through treacle with no apparent concept of, or care for, time.

It stands to reason then, that it's not easy being in any kind of relationship when one side can't feel. It's certainly not easy for the 'feeling' side either. They are the ones having to grin and bear our irritability, mood swings, insomnia, lethargy and catastrophising. Our partners, family and friends are the ones reassuring us when we assume they will leave us at the drop of a hat. People, however kind and good hearted can only put up with so much. Unlike Loreal, we generally don't believe we're 'worth it' after all.

Of course, these bleak spells and dark clouds don't, and won't, last forever. Like all clouds, even the blackest ones, they lift and the sun he finds a way to come out. (If you are vomiting pure twee-ness right now it's fine, i understand). The bleakness of our situation is overwhelming when we are in the midst of it and seeing a future beyond this can seem all but impossible. But like grief, when we are in the earliest stages of it and it hurts beyond belief, we can't possibly begin to see how the pain will ever cease. But over time it lessens, and even fades. It's still there, but it becomes easier to bear, less of an overwhelming presence in our lives.

Depression tells us we will feel this way forever. It tells us we won't ever feel again. But it lies to us. Depression tells us everyday that we are worthless. That our misery defines us. But like I said its a liar. A black cloak wearing LIAR. It's that shitty boyfriend you had aged 18 probably called 'Chad' who promised you carnations but just gave you chlamydia. It's those QVC channels who sell you a Hoover for just £99.99 But add on £99 delivery. It's a liar.

Living with depression doesn't mean the end. It doesn't have to end your relationships, your career, your life. It can utterly overwhelm but it doesn't have to last forever. You can take back ownership of your own body and mind. You can fight it by seeking help, talking to those you love and accepting you are struggling and that it's OK to do so. Reaching out for help when you're struggling with depression is never easy and I'm not for a second implying that it is. But isolating ourselves only serves to intensify our pain, and despite us not feeling it when under that 'cloud'; we are all deserving of love.

Except Chad, obviously. 

Kathleen NichollsComment
The Imposter

Most days I feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m going to be ‘found out’ at any moment. I’m not good enough in my job and eventually my boss will find out and sack me. I’m not a ‘real’ author, and my publisher will find out and pull me out of print. I’m not a worthy partner and the love of my life will eventually see sense and leave out the back door with his wee gingham sack over his shoulder.

I know logically that none of this is true. But something is always nagging at me whispering in my ear that I’m not ‘enough’. I will attribute any successes in my life to other’s input, or simply luck, rather than my own talent or hard work.

I suspect I’m not alone in my insecure plight here. Almost all of us at some point in our lives have suffered from ‘imposter syndrome’.

This feeling of waiting to be ‘outed’ is perhaps most common in our careers; where we may feel inadequate, waiting not-so-patiently to have our role bettered by a new kid on the block, or when we are placed in an unfamiliar situation or new role. It can be overwhelming and disheartening. Here comes the science bit. On a chemical level, this fear of being ‘found out’ can be associated with higher than normal levels of the stress hormone Cortisol being produced. Stress increases and our dopamine levels (happy hormones) deplete. When our self-confidence ebbs we also risk reducing drive and appetite; all this combined, manifests in our emotions with fear, shame and uncertainty at the top of an already pretty grim list.

So how can we minimise these feelings? Here are 2 (therapist approved) suggestions that can be helpful when imposter syndrome strikes.

1.       Practising Positive Affirmations. Sounds a little silly in theory and maybe even in practice at first, but here we can employ statements to say out loud (or in our heads) to prevent a shortcut straight to negative thought patterns. Select a phrase applicable and true to yourself (e.g.: “I make good decisions” “I have a great rack”) and whenever negative self-talk, or consistent doubts pop into your head you can begin to create a mantra of sorts to over-write that instinctual negative pathway to the brain.

2.       Focus on Positives. Taking time out to focus on your own past successes can be an effective way to remind yourself what you are truly capable of. Our brain views unfamiliar situations as a threat and reacts accordingly with a ‘fight or flight’ response. When this response is activated our brain is not as able to think clearly, regulate our emotions and rationalise problems as we might in a calm comfortable situation. Visualising your own past successes helps to combat this reaction, because simply knowing that something is possible, makes it all seem less frightening to our delicate brain.

Imposter syndrome is a habit we are capable of breaking. Honestly you can, I’m not just saying that. 😉  Self-awareness, focused attention and practiced methods of thinking can aid us when these intimidating thoughts creep in. But really when this is an issue we should always begin by looking into the reasons as to why we doubt our abilities quite so strongly. When we feel we are not good enough for our job, lover, the world; we need to take stock of all we have achieved and are achieving.

For the record, I wrote all of this by myself like a big, clever girl, and my rack looked great while doing it. (*Repeats 15 times into the mirror*)

Kathleen NichollsComment
Mind Full Less

My dog gets anxious from time to time. Usually about stupid things, like when we stop petting him for 5 seconds and he panics about where his next head pat is coming from. Or when he loses sight of his tennis ball and digs into the ground in terror. He worries when the door gets knocked and he doesn’t expect it. I look at him and shake my head and think ‘what a loveable idiot’.

I get anxious from time to time. Usually about stupid things, like when I post a selfie to Instagram and no one responds, and I panic about where my next ‘like’ is coming from. Or when I lose sight of my phone and rummage in my handbag in a cold sweat. I worry when the phone rings and I’m not expecting it. I look at myself and shake my head and think ‘what an idiot’.

So why am I so laid-back about my dog’s anxiety and so hard on myself about my own?

Well for one, my dog is adorable. I consider myself less so, if only by a small margin. Although we share many similarities; the anxious nature, the wet nose, the fur, the as yet un-removed balls; we are also very different creatures (quite literally). His anxiety is instantly resolvable, he just needs a quick head bop or munch on a dog chew and he’s already forgotten he was ever distressed in any way, (or that he’s lost his 15th ball in a river this week alone).  It takes quite a bit more for me, and many of my fellow humans to shake off our anxiety.

My anxiety usually stems from doubts in my own capabilities; in work, in social situations, in comparing myself to others. The latter I’ve struggled with more recently, as I forge ahead with attempting a writing career. I find myself, against my better judgement, constantly comparing my words, achievements, success to that of my peers, or those who have been in this world much longer than myself. I constantly put myself down, doubt my having any talent, worry about whether I’ll ever be able to make a living from this, worry I’m not advocating well enough for my fellow patients. Sometimes I worry about all of this to such a degree that I am overcome with anxious thoughts. These manifest themselves in overthinking, panicking about the most seemingly insignificant things, feeling incredibly low for long or short periods.

Having an illness is also an incredibly anxiety inducing situation to be in. So, any outside stresses alongside coping with a chronic condition can be exhausting both mentally and physically. What then, can we do to help ease the anxious burden? Here are some suggestions which can be helpful in day to day situations or the longer term. You’re welcome I love you xo

1.       Talk to someone you trust – seems to good to be true yes? But confiding in a trusted good listener can be a massive relief for those of us who regularly find ourselves trapped inside our own heads. If you don’t have that person on hand, or would rather talk to an outsider then the Samaritans and Anxiety UK are great places to start.

2.       Look after your physical health – there are a few small steps you can take to make strides in improving your physical health. I know, ‘steps’ and ‘strides’ all sound exhausting and nausea inducing but don’t worry I’m not asking for much from you, get back under the covers. Start by trying to get enough sleep, this helps increase your energy making it that little bit easier to face the day. Consider your diet; eating regular meals and keeping your blood sugar stable make a big different to your mood and energy levels. Some small and regular exercise can also be helpful for your mental wellbeing. Don’t panic I’m not asking you to take up hand-gliding I don’t even really understand what hand-gliding is if I’m honest, just go for a walk or something, GOD.

3.       Try breathing exercises – this is a great one that a therapist once suggested to me, that naturally I instantly scoffed at like she was some sort of daft hippy while I urgently scanned the room for her qualifications. But it turns out she was qualified and these exercises actually help. (Kudos to you Carol!) The idea of breathing and remembering to breathe (and in most practices of mindfulness) is simply to ensure we are giving full attention to the present moment. This isn’t for everyone and doesn’t help in necessarily every anxious situation, but its certainly something to consider.

4.       Keep a diary –  I’m a huge diary fan. Dairy is great too, mmm butter, but we’re here to talk about diaries, stop trying to distract me with butter. A phrase I’ve said more than you may expect in my short life. Anyway, keeping a diary of sorts can be helpful when you get anxious or have a panic attack. It can help spot patterns in what triggers these experiences, or allow you to notice early warning signs they may be about to happen. Also keep a note of what’s going well. Anxiety doesn’t allow much room for anything but worry, so noticing the good things is also a great way to be a little kinder to yourself.

5.       Try to manage your worries – this can be a seemingly insurmountable task when you have anxiety. Try to start slowly by setting aside a specific time to focus on what’s worrying you; that way you reassure yourself you aren’t ignoring them but are not allowing them to cloud your entire day. Try to accept that although these moments can feel awful while you are in them that they will pass, accepting that simple fact can make it much easier to get through whatever treacle-like slog you have to wade through.

(If what you are worrying about is treacle, then your own cos that stuff is vile.)

Go Compare Dot Com

It’s no secret that life becomes infinitely easier when we focus on making ourselves happy and stop comparing ourselves to others. Even more so in this modern age of constant and often overwhelming social media outlets. Every time we pick up our phones, or open up a laptop we are met with friends, friends of friends and strangers, all looking beautiful (and filtered to within an inch of their lives). We can’t help but compare our looks, and lives to those we see in the little box on our phone.

We see people we went to school with on glamorous holidays we can’t afford, eating meals containing ingredients we can’t pronounce, getting married, having babies, getting promotions. Regardless of where we are in life there will always be some element we pick up on that makes us feel like a bowl of Gazpacho on a Winters Day. (That’s a cold soup by the way, losers who can’t pronounce stuff).

It is often impossible to ignore; the seeming success and perfection in the lives of our peers. Of course it’s also easy to forget that most likely that perfection is surface only; for what we show on social media is merely a snapshot; what we want people to see. That usually doesn’t contain those moments where we are crying over a gas bill or eating microwave macaroni cheese from the packet.

There are many issues with comparing yourself to others; self-esteem drooping further than your Great Aunts’ bosom, mental health taking a battering, overspending/overacting to compete, losing self-confidence, becoming obsessed with appearance. None of these sound great let’s be honest, but I don’t doubt many of us have experienced at least one of those issues at some point of another.

When chronic illness is thrown into the mix it can create an extra level of internal turmoil. Here we are likely to compare our illness to others; this can in many cases be absolutely terrifying.

I personally tend to steer clear of forums on my illness because I don’t find them helpful; I find them a little intimidating. Mainly because there are always people willing to tear one another down; that sadly doesn’t stop just because someone is diagnosed with an incurable illness. Some people are just Gazpacho, mate.

I’ve found myself shamed for not being ‘ill’ enough, for not having knowledge on certain procedures or medications, for not talking about my disease too much, for talking about it too much. None of it is necessary. When we are ill we need support, inclusivity and care. We need to feel confident to discuss our concerns with those who know what we are going through and can educate us without stirring in any additional spoonfuls of humiliation. They do not help the medicine go down.

So when comparing our lives, be they healthy or otherwise, to others, try to remember that it doesn’t serve to make us feel better, often just bitter. Choose kindness when interacting with vulnerable people/ANYONE and if your mood is dipping after spending time online then rethink your internet activates. There is porn on there instead you know! And Gazpacho recipes… xo

 

Kathleen NichollsComment
Fail Force Wind

Sometimes I feel inadequate. Quite a lot of the time if I’m honest. That’s ok. It’s not ideal I grant you, but it’s manageable.

I feel inadequate in my abilities; at work, in my role as an author, as a partner, as a patient. I spend a lot of time worrying I’m not performing as well as I’d like, I’m not achieving my goals as quickly as I’d like, I’m not getting better. Of course, logically I know most of this is not true, and most of this is ABSOLUTELY FINE. I’m not letting anyone down; I’m not failing at the game of life. These insecurities and frustrations are all of my own doing and therefore it’s only me torturing myself with thoughts of failure.

I know I’m not alone in these feelings of inadequacy. We all struggle with these feelings from time to time, in all areas of our lives. Well that’s a sweeping generalisation I suppose, I mean we all do UNLESS YOU ARE A SOCIOPATH, ARE YOU A SOCIOPATH?? Sociopaths aside, many of us worry we are not ‘enough’. We don’t have the confidence we think we should have before undertaking a new job, a new task, a new relationship. The truth is that the confidence usually isn’t there beforehand – it comes later. It comes with experience and knowledge and the overcoming of nerves. It shouldn’t be waited on because much like me, for everything, it’s generally always late.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions because I think they are a bit counterproductive and I don’t like setting myself up to feel bad. Failure doesn’t feel great let’s be honest, so knowing I cancelled my gym membership after one panicked glance at the rowing machine doesn’t make me feel superb as we enter a new year. (JOKING: I’ve never set foot in a gym). Of course as a new year begins there is absolutely no harm in making plans as to what you hope to achieve in the coming months, and what you’d like to change. That’s just part of growing and learning. Something we are hopefully constantly undertaking.

When we are young we are told we’ll understand when we ‘grow up’. Little do we know that we still won’t have a single clue about life welllllll into adulthood. That’s fine. It’s ok not to know it all. It’s ok not to have your faeces together. (I’d say ‘shit’ but my Mum reads this and I don’t want to offend her oh wait it doesn’t matter cos I’ve said it now sorry Mum) See what I mean about feeling inadequate?

So happy Christmas and happy new year to you all dear readers and bowel aficionados, I love you dearly.  You mean the world to me, you are more supportive than my favourite bra, and please take it as gospel when I tell you, you are more than adequate.

Kathleen NichollsComment
Whine Dining

Today I met with the dietitian to start the ball rolling on another liquid diet for yours truly. It's an appointment I've dreaded, as for all the jokes and light hearted comments I've made in the recent build up to this, I HATE IT.

I hate that I won't be able to eat because I love to eat. I hate that I'll be unbearably grumpy and a nightmare to be around because this is no one else's 'fault'. I hate that I'll feel utter fury and green-eyed jealousy more intense that the mintiest toothpaste when I see other people talk about food, post photographs of food, eat food within 30 yards of me. I hate that supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops, canteens and burger vans will become redundant to me overnight. I hate that it's almost Christmas and I'll be drinking protein heavy milkshakes instead of eggnog. (For the record I don't even know what eggnog really is but it works for with my analogy so SUCK IT UP LIKE SPAGHETTI OH MY GOD I CAN'T EAT SPAGHETTI). I hate that my disease is making me do this. AGAIN.

Most of all I hate that this makes me feel weak and filled with self-pity. I hate having to laugh off something that really isn't funny. I hate it.

Do you get the general idea? Ok so now that the wallowing is out of my system I thought I'd try and do something productive with my misery. After chatting with my beloved, I've decided I'll record a little video diary for those interested and for those also on my liquid-only train to show a bit of solidarity and to show what life is actually like with chronic illness. This is frightening because although I share a lot on here and in my books, there are still moments when I am afraid and vulnerable and feel utterly alone, and I hope that sharing these with the wider world will help myself and others feel we are in it together. Although not literally because some of you TRAITORS WILL BE SCOFFING TURKEY AND CHIPOLATAS AND BRUSSELL SPROUTS AND YOU DON’T EVEN LIKE THEM BUT LOOK SHUT UP ABOUT FOOD OK?

So I will keep you updated with my miserable mis-adventures whether you like it or not. Please wish me luck in settling my gut while unsettling my relationships with an irritable attitude more foul than those brussell sprouts you keep eating look will you STOP GOING ON ABOUT BRUSSELL SPROUTS?! GODDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD SAKEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Kathleen NichollsComment
Parking Fine

Something you’ll hear me say more than is entirely necessary, especially for a well-read woman and author who knows upwards of 12568922 words, is; “I’m fine!”

This is most commonly spouted when someone asks how I am. It’s not an unusual turn of phrase of course; it’s what most women say when they are furious about something but prefer to undertake passive aggressive cleaning instead of genuine communication. It’s what overly-polite patients say when they are actually experiencing extreme discomfort and the nurse asks if she is hurting them. It’s what most people with chronic illness utilise instead of verbally vomiting a seemingly endless stream of symptoms.

Many of my loved ones are utterly infuriated by this phrase because it’s now so well worn it wouldn’t even pass as vintage. They can also see right through ‘I’m fine’ clearer than a freshly washed window or a Harvey Weinstein alibi.

Lately I’ve been trying to morph ‘I’m fine’ into ‘Not too bad!’ when people enquire as to how I am.  This at least implies I’m not ‘fine’, but that I’m not bad enough for you to have to worry about. It allows me some sort of validation I haven’t blatantly lied yet again, but also absolves the recipient of any potential guilt.

The problem is; what I’ve done the majority of my life, and continue to do, is deny my own feelings for the sake of someone else’s.

Again this isn’t by any stretch of the imagination unique to me. It’s incredibly common and can be incredibly stunting. You see there is absolutely nothing wrong with being selfless and putting someone else’s feelings at the front of your emotional queue every now and then; but when you choose this option over allowing yourself to share your own, it becomes more problematic. For me this choice quickly became habitual, and as we all know, bad habits are hard to break. Especially the most destructive ones; you’ve come back to this blog again so you know exactly what I’m talking about. It might seem trite to place something as simple as ‘I’m fine’ in these grandiose terms, but it is just a symptom of a wider sense of self that can be lost when we choose to lie about our illness.

For me it just became easier to say I was fine over talking again and again about the state of my health. Eating, sleeping, breathing poor health is exhausting and the last thing we often want to do is discuss it. Also I found the majority of reactions to an honest response were jarring to say the least. When I spoke honestly about how I felt I was met with a myriad of reactions from physical recoil to awkwardness levels akin to bumping into your ex when you’re with your new beau. The truth is many people are uncomfortable hearing anything remotely medical. Even if we don’t talk in gruesome detail you can see the panic flash across their face that we just might. They take the handbrake off and flee from our conversational alley before we’ve even started down it. And that’s where the circle meets; we experience negative reactions to discussing our illness so we stop.

I suppose what I would like you to take away from this blog if anything, is that it’s OK not to be OK.  If someone asks how you are, tell them. If they are uncomfortable with your response then they probably won’t ask again and you’ll know it’s a no go area with that particular individual. That’s ok too; there are plenty of others grown-ups who actively care and will listen and will have shoulders wide and absorbent enough for you to openly sob into if that’s what you need.

Please don’t hide your pain away for fear of judgment; it only serves to exacerbate an already anxious and isolating experience.

If you’re not fine then that’s fine.

 

Kathleen NichollsComment