Self-Care & Happy Distractions

Living with a long-term health condition is hard.  Every day seems the same with juggling the ordinary daily tasks of life with the many symptoms and other effects that chronic illness imposes on our body.  There are so many demands on our bodies, which is why self-care is so critical to our overall well-being.

Self -care can take many forms.  Relaxing, participating in a favourite activity or hobby or just taking time out to enjoy a luxurious bubble bath are some ways which we can take time for ourselves to rest and unwind from the stresses of life with chronic illness.  And self-care is also important to help elevate your mood and provide a little light and happiness from the darkness that chronic illness can sometimes create.

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I’m writing about a special brand collaboration, which I thought would be beneficial for those like me, living with a chronic illness and finding that it has an adverse impact on their mental health, suffering from stress, anxiety or depression alongside their physical health problems.

The brand in question is called The Distraction Box, started by the lovely Rachael and Samantha.  I did a little Q and A with Rachael, one of the founders behind The Distraction Box about the inspiration behind the company and about self-care.

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  1. Hi Rachael, Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourselves and your business The Distraction Box
    Distraction Box was founded by two female business women, Rachael and Sam.  Rachael was forced to leave her high-flying career in Marketing due to health challenges.  After major spinal surgery, serious complications and a subsequent diagnosis of a further two nasty chronic illnesses, Rachael’s life changed dramatically overnight.  Rachael has to work really hard on her health to participate in life – including her emotional health.  That’s where the business idea came from – passion and personal learnings.
    Sam is a Dr of Physiology who has a particular interest in the effects of stress on our physical health.  Sam has also had to live with depression since the age of 17 so also had to work hard on her emotional health. Both founders share a passion for emotional well-being so we thought we’d make a great team!We launched the business in October 2016 and position ourselves as a well-being subscription box for the mind.  We also have one-off boxes which are great for gifts for loved ones going through hard times.   Our subscription packages are available for those who want to invest in their emotional well-being on a regular basis.  We encourage people to invest in their emotional health and not just their physical health.  We have a monthly, 3 monthly and 6 monthly subscription packages and each can be cancelled at any time and very easily.
  2. Where did the inspiration for The Distraction Box come from?  It’s a great name!  How did you decide upon it?
    I used to be an athlete and had the belief that you could do anything in life, as long as you were prepared to work hard enough, and if your heart desired it.  Then, 6 years ago I had a major health challenge that changed my life.  In a nutshell, I suddenly had physical limitations that meant I had to change my life completely and found myself not being able to do ‘what I wanted when I wanted.’This affected my emotional well-being, and I was struggling to cope with grieving my old self, and the frustrations with my new life.  Thankfully I was offered counselling to help me with my emotions – and I found the courage to embrace it.  This was the start of my journey with coming to terms and accepting what life has thrown at me, and even changing my mindset to help.  During that journey, I joined a health group which focused around teaching people how to live with chronic illness.One of the tools I was taught was how to create distractions from physical pain and/or the emotions that come with living with an illness that affects your everyday.  I created my own Distraction Box filled with items that comforted me, helped ease physical symptoms, or simply cheered me up when I was struggling to remain positive.  I love creating my own Happy Distractions and felt that more of us should create them in our everyday lives.  We all face stress and pressure, but not enough of us take the time to ‘switch off’ or manage overwhelming emotions in a positive way.
  3. How do you decide on the products you select for the boxes?  What are your favourite products that have been inside your lovely boxes?
    Both of the founders spend a lot of time researching the right products that we feel would create happy distractions.  We can’t pick many favourites as we love them all (or they wouldn’t be in the box).  However, we love JustBe Botanicals, Re-Mind notepads and the slate heart of self-love which was featured in our February box.
  4. Self-care is a big deal within the chronic illness community.  What are your favourite ways to relax and unwind?
    I have too many ways! I can’t say a specific favourite, but I do love water.  I’d say visiting the pool – even if it’s for a float to take the edge off my pain, or to go for a swim and build strength, I love it.  I have regular hot baths too and have different bath bombs and oils depending on what mood I’m in.  I also meditate once a day if I can – I love finding out where my mind will take me that day!
  5. What do you hope to achieve with The Distraction Box? We hope to spread a little happiness across the UK and beyond, but with an important message; emotional well-being is just as important as physical health.  Working on the mind is a strength and not a weakness – we are so passionate about that.On a practical note, we are hoping the boxes will raise enough money to set up ‘talkitout’ which will change the way the UK view talking therapy.  Watch this space…

I was sent a box for myself to unveil and review for the blog.

The Distraction Box for March was based on the theme ‘Hibernation to Happiness’ which was essentially all about stepping out of the hibernation period of winter and into the lighter, brighter days of spring. 

The box arrived after a long night of insomnia as a result of chronic pain, so just receiving the box was enough to cheer me up.  Upon opening the box, I was greeted with a little green parcel which contained all of the month’s goodies.  It was beautifully packaged and wrapped with care which made me appreciate receiving it even more.  It felt special like having received a special gift for Christmas or a birthday.  With the goodies was also a little booklet which outlined the theme for the month and a description of all the goodies contained in the month’s subscription box.

One of the first things that I noticed after opening the box was a gorgeous citrus scent from the Beefayre ‘Bee Happy’ Tea Lights that are scented with orange and jasmine essential oils.  It immediately lifted my mood and helped me to relax despite feeling uptight after a night dealing with pain.  One of my favourite ways to relax and unwind in the nights is to read or watch something on my iPad while I light a scented candle and so I really loved receiving these.  And they are natural which is a bonus!

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I have previously mentioned that the recent popular craze of adult colouring is also becoming a favourite form of self-care for me when I am feeling anxious or just need to distract my mind from the all-consuming symptoms.  So, I was ecstatic to receive a mini Mindful Colouring Pad with colouring pencils! They are sweet, and the best thing is that both the colouring pad and pencils are pocket sized – perfect for slipping into a coat pocket or handbag to take out on trips, such as hospital appointments so you can take a little time out from your thoughts or anxiety.

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Also, in the box was Birchall’s Green Tea and Peach Infusion Tea Bags and the BakedIn Gluten-Free Mug Brownie Mix, both ideal for those who are health conscious and want to look after their physical well-being as well as their emotional health.  I’m not gluten intolerant myself, but again the thought of Rachael and Sam for those who may have such intolerances really shows their understanding of such concerns within the chronic illness community.

I love writing handwritten letters to friends or other special people in my life.  And I also love to receive handwritten letters, in my opinion there is nothing better than to receive a thoughtful handwritten letter in the mail and which feel a lot more personal than an email or text message.  Which is one of the reasons why I participate in a project called Spoonie Post whereby every month you send a letter or card to a fellow chronic illness warrior to say hello or to cheer them up during difficult times.  In this month’s box was two cards with envelopes which I will be able to use for this project and brighten someone’s day!

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And finally, and probably my favourite item from this gorgeous and positive box was the Happy Mug (perfect to enjoy the green tea and peach in).  With simple colours, and finished with a rose gold detail it has a beautifully inspiring and positive quote that we should all aspire to every day.  I’m not a big hot drink fan, but I am sure that I will enjoy using this mug during times of self-care in the future.

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I loved this subscription box, and all the little goodies were perfect for taking the time to invest in my emotional well-being and for anyone else also living with the effects of a long-term health condition.  I know in the US and Canada various companies have subscription boxes specifically for those with chronic illnesses, but nothing similar here in the UK  (although The Distraction Box does ship worldwide).  However, I think The Distraction Box has this niche market in the bag and would definitely invest in a box in the future during a bad flare or maybe even buying it as a gift for someone going through a difficult time.

If you would like to try out a one-off Distraction Box or are willing to invest in your emotional well-being and sign up for a monthly subscription for a Distraction Box, then go and visit their website and use my code ‘brainlesionandme’ for a 10% off your first box/subscription and enjoy the benefits of their take on self-care for yourself.

And let us take a look at your enjoyment of your own Distraction Box by using the tag #HappyDistractions!

The Soundtrack of a Chronic Life

There’s not much in this life, especially in this modern age, which connects us all, but the music is one of them.  After all, it has been used as a means of expression and entertainment in all times and cultures.  Music, it is said is a powerful tool as a means of expressing emotions such as love, hope, joy and regret as well as being a device for sharing our individual stories.

Everyone may not share the same taste in genres of music – some may prefer classical, whereas others enjoy hip-hop or rap for example.  However, whatever the preference of music, there are certain songs and melodies within the world of music that we can identify with and that conveys the emotional state that we are in, in that exact moment in time.

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Melodies and the rhythms of pieces of music, for example, can inspire us to move our bodies in which words cannot.  However, as a writer and a person that loves words, I often find myself listening to the words of songs, and the story that it’s sharing with the world.  Sometimes, I even relate to the lyrics; feeling that my story and emotions are being shared through the words of the song.  By sharing with others, our favourite songs or pieces of music that affect us in some capacity is giving a glimpse into who we are as individuals.

So, I was thinking of those songs, that has resonated with me over the years, and especially those that I can relate to as someone living with a neurological condition.  And so I thought I would share them in a blog post, so here is the soundtrack of a life with chronic illness…

‘Chains’ by Tina Arena 

I pretend I can always leave
Free to go whenever I please
But then the sound of my desperate calls
Echo off these dungeon walls

This hit song from the early 90s tell the story of someone trapped inside a loveless relationship, but in my opinion, it also eerily describes the isolation and vulnerability that comes from living with a chronic condition.

 

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Living with a long-term condition can feel like we are encased in chains from which we cannot break free from 

 

Not only are we physically trapped within our fragile and uncooperative bodies but we are also a prisoner to the same surroundings for the majority of our time; the longest of our time away from home is very often the number of appointments that we have to attend. It often feels that I am at the mercy of my symptoms, especially since given the severity of the dizziness and the weakness in my legs, I am unable to leave the house by myself, resulting in being isolated within the same four walls for days on end.  It may not be an actual dungeon or prison, but if very often feels that I am kept a prisoner by a neurological condition and perhaps why I relate to this song and specifically these lyrics as much as I do.

‘Hurt’ by Johnny Cash

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end

Anyone living with chronic pain is no stranger to the word hurt.  Chronic pain has unfortunately become a constant in my daily life, and all my legs seem to do is indeed hurt.  Chronic pain often becomes all-encompassing; the only reality at that particular moment we can focus on and which is the only thing that feels real (“I focus on the pain/The only thing that’s real”).

But the song does not only delve into the realities of living with chronic pain, but we can relate to its lyrics that discusses one such consequence of living with a chronic illness which is the breakdown of relationships, such as friendships.  Another repercussion of life dealing with severe symptoms is we very often need to cancel plans, often at short notice.  Although those friends at the time are understanding and concerned, when we cancel plans more and more, those friends stop their invitations and seemingly walk out of our lives leaving us more isolated and lonely than ever.

The consequence of living with chronic pain is not only physical hurt but can also lead to emotional hurt also.

‘The Climb’ by Miley Cyrus 

Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking but I
Gotta keep trying
Gotta keep my head held high
There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there,
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb
Chronic illness seems to take everything away from us – our independence, dreams, friendships, mobility to name but a few.  It’s a never-ending battle; with some victories that we can claim, and others we lose. Chronic illness often comes back stronger and more tenacious than ever and once again we are knocked to the ground once more.
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Our dreams and ambitions sometimes have to be forgotten, or alternatively, we have to think of creative ways to achieve them.  But above all else, we never give up; never give in our surrender to our symptoms.  We pick ourselves up and attempt the climb once again.  This is what the songs ascribe to – the struggles that we face, whether it be from illness or other problems in life, and the resilience and strength we possess to carry on regardless.
‘Demons’ by Imagine Dragons 
I want to hide the truth
I want to shelter you
But with the beast inside
There’s nowhere we can hide
No matter what we breed
We still are made of greed
This is my kingdom come
This is my kingdom come
When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
The lyrics of ‘Demons’ really resonates with me during the dark times of living with chronic illness.  The depression and hopelessness that infiltrates my thoughts when the pain and other symptoms become too much to live with.
We hide these darkest and thoughts away from those closest to us; sheltering them from the beast that is depression and anxiety.  They come from nowhere and from which we cannot escape.  They are our demons and which seem to come with life with chronic illness.
Well, those are some of the songs whose lyrics I have found I can relate to from living with a neurological condition for all these years.  But what about?  What are the songs which you would add to a soundtrack to describe a life with chronic illness?  Add your suggestions and stories below:

The things that make me different are the things that make me…

This post is deeply personal and difficult to write, but as I think it will resonate with many others who are forced to live with illness everyday, it is therefore an important one to write.

There are many times that I dislike myself and am ashamed of who I have become.  If I could be anyone else, I would gladly choose anyone else’s life to live rather than my own.  A lot of that is down to the neurological condition that I live with; everything that life with chronic illness has given me, I believe however that it has taken much more away.  The symptoms that I endure, and the impact that it has on my life has stripped away friendships, my independence and ability to provide for myself through meaningful employment that was my aspiration after graduating university and before the deterioration of my condition.  The dreams that I had and the direction that I wanted my life to take was snatched from me and was instead forced to reevaluate everything and take a different path.

I am sure that I am not the only person living with a chronic illness to feel or have felt this way.  To look at others, measuring ourselves against them and ending up feeling rather superfluous in comparison.  When I think of my family and seeing myself through their eyes, I often believe that I must be somewhat of a disappointment to them.  After all I have not achieved anything substantial during my life thus far, rather my life consisting of being stuck inside the same four walls or attending one hospital appointment after another.  These thoughts are not consistent and perhaps are worse during the darkest of days.

However, I came across the most beautifully compassionate and profound quote written by A.A Milne and famously said by his most famous creation, Winnie-the-Pooh.

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Perhaps chronic illness are the largest part of ourselves that make us different but then without it then we wouldn’t be who we have become.  Living with a neurological condition and its symptoms, for many years before being diagnosed, it has shaped who I have become as a person as a result.  If not for living with a neurological condition, I may have become an entirely different person, but then it would not necessarily mean they would be a better person.  I like to think of myself as a compassionate and caring person; someone who is there for others and perhaps this part of what defines me as a person is as a result of the experiences of living with this neurological condition.

We often think of chronic illness as being the defining feature of the negative aspects of our personality and lives in general – the loss of independence, loss of self-confidence and so on but perhaps life with a chronic illness may also be the influence for the positive aspects which what defines us.  If it weren’t for chronic illness, I personally would never have been such an avid user of social media, or the author of a blog for example and as a result would never have found my close friends that I have made since sharing my experiences of living with a neurological condition.  Furthermore, I may not have such a close relationship with my parents if it had not been for the condition that has affected them just as much as myself.

The difficulties faced when living with a chronic illness or neurological disorder are extremely difficult and as a result of living with these for many years we develop a strength and resilience that was not there prior to the onset of symptoms and may not have developed if not for chronic illness.

The people closest to me, can see beyond the neurological condition that I see as being such a big part of my life, and see my value despite the effects of chronic illness, and which I may not recognise in myself.  They recognise the things that make me different from everyone else and yet still love me because it’s those differences that make me and despite me being ashamed of that which makes me different from others.

A.A Milne should be celebrated for not only his profound words and insights of life but also for making those who may feel different from everyone else be proud of those differences and allow themselves to celebrate their individuality.

 

A Bad Day Does Not Mean The End of the Day…

Regular readers of my blog, and especially those who follow me on social media will know that life recently has been very tough due to the symptoms that are caused by the neurological condition that I am now forced to live with.  The symptoms associated with my neurological condition such as dizziness, fatigue, pain as well as the severe weakness and trembling in the legs have all deteriorated.  And as a  result of this deterioration, it has resulted in the loss in the ability to do a lot of the things that once came so easily, or those activities that I enjoy participating in.  One example, is the great difficulties that I have experienced in visiting our local high street.  Before this sudden deterioration, I found it so easy to be able to park in the town’s car park and walk the moderate distance towards the top end of the town to visit the shops that I like to browse and buy everything that I need.  However, recently due to the deterioration in the symptoms in my legs (the pain, trembling and weakness) even the short walk from the car park to the shops have felt more like the prospect of walking Mount Everest.

Dealing with symptoms can often feel like an uphill battle...
Dealing with symptoms can often feel like an uphill battle…

As a result, my carer has instead had to use the disabled parking bays in the town centre itself, so that I am able to use the amenities that I need to use, and still be able to go to the shops that I like to visit.  This arrangement has been far easier as they are extremely close to all the shops that I regularly shop at, but in all honesty, some days it is still a struggle to go shopping because of the severe weakness and trembling in the legs.  The dizziness, has also caused a very big obstacle in going out because it has become so intense, and has resulted in me having to wear a hat when visiting places (wearing a hat helps to limit the exposure to triggers that can cause vertigo, double vision or make the dizziness worse).

Last week was a particularly bad week, and a trip to town was cancelled after my legs almost gave way in the middle of town.  Instead, because the pain and weakness was so bad, my carer and I returned to the house and watched a film.  It is bad mornings with chronic illness like these which can be difficult for our morale and self-confidence; and very often it can feel that our day is already over thanks to chronic illness, unable to accomplish anything because of debilitating symptoms and so instead we find ourselves spending the rest of a ‘bad day’ spent in bed or lying on the sofa watching a marathon of our favourite TV series (my guilty pleasure of the moment is One Tree Hill).

However, I recently learnt that it does not have to be this way.  I found a blog post that read:

Today is not over yet.

And it is true.  At the time, I wrote off the day that my legs decided not to work properly and had to spend the morning watching a DVD instead of the shopping trip I had planned.  But that was not the end of the day.  After the film, and after I regained enough strength in my legs, my carer and I took a short drive to a nearby coffee shop and had lunch.  It actually turned out to be a lovely trip out and exactly what I needed to take care of myself and my body against the effects that my condition has had on my life.  And perhaps ‘Today is not over yet’ is a mantra that we spoonies need to remember.  Just because a day has started off bad because of the effects of chronic illness does not mean the day will be bad.  It does not even mean that the day is over.

Finding joy can often be like seeing a rainbow appearing behind clouds...
Finding joy can often be like seeing a rainbow appearing behind clouds…

We can find joy in the little things on the bad days – a letter or card from a dear friend landing on the doorstep, a cuddle from a furry friend, a favourite song on the radio, someone making our favourite meal. Our silver linings can come from the smallest of things.

So, our chronic illness may have meant that we have frittered away our time doing as little as possible, however as the quote suggests it does not mean that our day is over.  We are still here and we are still very much alive and as long as we are it is not to late to do something, to do anything.  It can provide the perfect opportunity to pursue some self-care practices in order to take care of not just our physical health but also our psychological health.  A few self-care activities may include:

  • having a soothing bath
  • meditating
  • reading
  • pampering yourself, e.g. getting hair done or even a manicure
  • crafting
  • can even be as simple as setting limits for yourself

Even if you do end up doing something, it may be something that we hadn’t planned on doing or even wanted to do.  However, it might just end up being something we needed or better than originally planned.  Just like my impromptu visit to a local coffee shop.

So next time, you have had a bad start (or at any point of the day, really) to the day and your thought is navigating towards writing the entire day off as a bad one, just remember:

Today is not over yet.

Struggling with Storms but hoping for a Rainbow…

Well, today marks the start of a brand new start month.  The start of something new – whether it be a new day, month or year.  It is like a fresh, white piece of paper, in which the past and everything that has come before is forgotten and instead we are allowed to start afresh.  To start our story anew.  It opens up new possibilities and opportunities and allows us the hope for a better today and tomorrow (and beyond).

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And this is most important when living with a long-term health condition.  To live with illness everyday is most difficult; and perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of living with a chronic illness, is the unpredictability of it and the unknown of what each new day will bring.  Even with every little sign of illness such as a headache, for example brings the fear of the start of new symptoms or even the possibility of a deterioration in our illness narrative.  Therefore, hope is a vital thread for us to hold onto as it allows the possibility of a life without chronic illness and our lives dictated to by our symptoms.

During the recent weeks since by last blog post, I have been trying to remember these points.

As much as I have been trying to remain positive and to hold onto the invisible thread of ‘hope’, I however have been living with the storm clouds above my head.  Just before the beginning of 2015, I had the hope that this will be a really good year.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not have the irrational belief that I would miraculously be cured during the coming year, but as I had a few good weeks before Christmas, I did have the hope however that it would be the year that my symptoms would not deteriorate and I would experience a decline in the severity of my symptoms.

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It would seem that this particular thread of hope has unravelled.

In fact these past few weeks has been the hardest weeks that I have experienced in relation to my chronic illness for a long time.  It often feels that my body is taken a severe battering from all of my symptoms.  The dizziness has been so severe, that even doing the simplest things extremely difficult.  The trembling and weakness in the legs has also been very severe, that as my legs are feeling extremely jelly-like, that recently I have lost all confidence in being able to visit our local town centre and walking around the shops.  Using my wheelchair is obviously one option, however due to the severe dizziness and the constant perceived motion that I am experiencing, it would make me feel even worse.

Everyday of late has felt like an uphill battle from the moment I get up out of bed until I go to bed later that day.  Because of the severity of the dizziness, nausea, weakness as well as the increased levels in fatigue, has meant that I often just want to go to bed and burrow myself under my covers and stay there for the forseeable future.  However, I have not given into my longings and have been pushing myself to still going out, although am finding my trips out have been considerably shorter than previous months.

During my last post, I discussed the feelings of loneliness and isolation that can often accompany chronic illness, and during this recent battle these feelings have unfortunately only increased.  Perhaps one of the main reasons is not letting anyone in my close circle of friends and family know just how bad things have gotten.  Of those who are in my close circle of confidants, I have tried reaching out, not getting an immediate response when I actually in need of someone.  This has often only increased the feelings of depression.  Often thoughts of whether I am liked within my circle friends often follow, stupid I know but perhaps illustrates how difficult things have gotten recently.

I am trying to think of some ways to widen my social life, and perhaps make way for new friends, perhaps even considering the social network Meet Up and setting up a group for those like me who are living with a chronic illness or disability and who are also socially isolated because of it, just a thought in progress at this stage but would love to hear your thoughts and whether anyone has had any success with the site.

At the moment I am dealing with dark storm clouds still have hope of the appearance of a bright and beautiful rainbow in the hopefully not so distant future…

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Reflection on Robin Williams and Depression

I was very saddened to hear of the loss of one of the greatest film comedians of our time – Robin Williams.  Like many others, I grew up watching him in films such as Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji,  and Jack as well as delighting in his performances as Mork in the hit comedy series ‘Mork and Mindy’.  Not only was Robin Williams an incredibly talented comedian but he also showed great vulnerability in his performances in more serious roles in films such as ‘Good Will Hunting’, and even in his earlier roles such as ‘Jack’ where he plays a ten year-old child trapped inside a man’s body due to a rare ageing disorder.

His death is incredibly sad.  Not only has the world lost a huge talent who loved to make others’ smile and laugh despite hiding an incredible sadness within himself but his family lost someone they so deeply loved.  A wife has lost her husband and three children have lost a father.  But what is also sad and tragic is the ugliness that a minority have people shown in the wake of his death.  Reportedly, Zelda the daughter of the late star has left social media due to messages from cruel trolls.  Also, there have been many who have posted such cruel and horrible online messages because of the way he died.  It was established early on, that Robin Williams sadly took his own life after many years of battling demons such as alcohol addiction and depression.  In the wake of the news, many blamed Williams for his death stating that they had no sympathy as he was to their minds selfish and not thinking of his family.  Others asked themselves what did he have to be depressed about as he ‘seemed to have it all.’

Robin Williams in 'Patch Adams' a film that taught us that laughter is the best medicine
Robin Williams in ‘Patch Adams’ a film that taught us that laughter is the best medicine

But that is the thing about depression – it does not discriminate (Click to Tweet)

But that is the thing about depression – it does not discriminate.  Depression does not care if you are rich or poor.  Depression does not even care if you are famous.  Depression is a cruel illness which can affect anyone at anytime.  It is an illness that I am all to familiar with; it is an illness that has affected my life since my teenage years.  And add a diagnosis of a chronic illness such as Parkinson’s Disease, with which Robin Williams was reportedly diagnosed with before his death than depression, it could be argued that depression is a natural reaction.  Chronic illness, and particularly one of a degenerative condition can rob you  and changes everything that you knew – your health, mobility, relationships, career and the future to name but a few.  Chronic illness makes life uncertain and scary.

Chronic illness makes life uncertain and scary (Click to Tweet)

To those who accused Robin Williams  and those who commit suicide of not thinking of his family, this could not be further from the truth.  As someone who has been so down, even experiencing thoughts of suicide, then I know that in these situations the person are thinking of their family and loved ones – when depressed, and certainly when also experiencing a chronic illness which makes  you reliant on your loved ones you therefore feel that your family would be better off without you around.  Of course, it is not true, but depression is a beast that changes the way you think and therefore convinces you to think the worse.

Fortunately, I found support, especially the support available online within the spoonie community.  I came to the realisation that life is worth living despite living with a neurological condition.  Unfortunately, it was too late for Robin Williams.  If you are reading this and you feel depressed and suicidal then please reach out for help – tell somebody.  Life is worth living even if it may feel that it doesn’t right now.

In regards to Robin Williams, let’s remember him for the person he was – a person who had a raw talent and loved to make others laugh and be happy.  Let that be his lasting legacy and not the way he died.

To talk to someone in the UK  you can call ‘The Samaritans’:

  • 08457 90 90 90 * (UK)

Or contact Mind: The Mental Health Charity: www.mind.org.uk

Clichés often heard when dealing with chronic illness…

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Welcome to the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge brought together by WEGO Health – a social network for all health activists.  Again, I am participating in the annual Writer’s Month Challenge in which I will be writing about my health activism and health condition based upon prompts given.

Today’s prompt reads as follows:

Well, that’s just crazy!…What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard about your health condition?  Was there any context?  What did you think at the time you heard it – and what do you think of it now?

This prompt has actually been used a couple of times previously and so therefore I have decided to come at the prompt at a different angle.

When someone is living with a chronic illness, everyone seems to have an opinion.  People will give advice on how to live and deal with said illness, advice on treatments and so forth.  As well-meaning as that they may be, they are often extremely unhelpful.  Therefore, this blog post will look at the more popular clichés that we chronically ill often hear:

  1. “Well, it could be worse..” or “There are people much worse off…” – I think that everyone living with a chronic illness realises this; and as much as the statement is true, it however still does not help us feel any better regarding our own situation.  The statement only really adds to the feelings of loneliness and isolation that already exists in our lives as a result of chronic illness.  In addition, feelings of  suffering and pain are entirely subjective, and therefore you cannot measure one person’s pain against another.  We are still going to be in pain, and the thought of someone else being worse off is not a comfort to us.
  2. “You need to get out more; that will make you feel better…” – This is another cliché that can be especially infuriating to hear when you are chronically ill.  Especially as there is nothing that we would like more, than to be able to get out of the house and do everything that we enjoy such as shopping or socialising with friends as examples. However, we often feel too unwell to go out; and unfortunately there isn’t anything we can do about it.  Stating that we need to get out more just makes us feel worse and more depressed than usual.  So, please refrain from using such expressions.
  3. “Get well soon!” – As much as I realise that this popular expression is often used with the best intentions, it is especially hurtful for people like me living with a chronic health condition.  As the term ‘chronic’ suggests our condition is not going to improve; and that these conditions are ones which we will have to live with for the rest of our lives. It makes us feel misunderstood.  As much as this is a lovely phrase to use for someone with the flu or a broken leg for example, it just leaves us with the thought of “If only!”.
  4. “But you look so GOOD!…” – This has to be the most popular cliché that us spoonies hear from others.  It’s as if people cannot fathom that we are so unwell when we look so normal.  However, it is said that approximately 96 per cent of all chronic health conditions are invisible.  This suggests that the healthy population believe that a sick person should look a certain way and when we fail in living up to that expectation that they therefore do not believe we are sick.  This phrase therefore can be particularly hurtful.
  5. “Have you tried exercise?  That can be very beneficial for illnesses…” – Yes, I understand that exercise can be beneficial for a number of different conditions; for example, mild depression can be alleviated by taking part in some form of exercise as ‘endorphins’, the happy chemical is released during exercise.  However, with many chronic health conditions, it can be very difficult to undertake any form of exercise because of severe symptoms, such as fatigue.  In my case, for example, not only fatigue that can stop me from doing some form of exercise but also the dizziness and the trembling in the legs can make it very difficult to exercise also.
  6. “My friend’s aunt’s cousin has that.  She tried _____ and it really worked for her. Maybe you should try it?” – As well-intentioned telling us other people’s experiences and although you are trying to help us in trying to find something to help, it is important to note that with a number of different chronic conditions and particularly neurological conditions, every person are unique and each case can be very different.  What works for one person will not work for somebody else.
  7. “I know exactly how you feel.  I often feel like that…” – This is fine to hear from other friends who are also battling with chronic illnesses. however, it can be very hurtful and frustrating when other friends begin to compare their recent bout of flu or bad cold to your chronic health condition.  Being in pain and tired for a week is not the same as battling these symptoms for years.  So, please do not tell us that you know how we feel when you have not lived with or experienced chronic illness for yourself.
  8. “I wish I could stay at home all day…” – I find this particular statement very hurtful indeed.  We did not choose to be ill, and trust me when I say we would much rather be out living life, and working like you instead of being stuck at home all day feeling very unwell and tired.
  9. “Are you sure, it’s not just in your head?” – Again, this is a really difficult and hurtful statement to hear when experiencing chronic illness.  When doctors are unable to find an explanation for symptoms, it is automatically assumed that the person must be imagining, exaggerating or even faking symptoms to gain attention.  We get asked this by doctors a lot of the time, so please as friends or family members refrain from suggesting that the problem is simply all in the mind.
  10. “It can’t be that bad?” – The thing with chronic illness, is that it is an experience that you cannot possibly imagine, unless you have had personal experience with it, so again a statement like this can be very upsetting as it trivialises our whole medical condition.  Like the statement above it also suggests that we are making the condition up, and can often make us feel that our own friend or close family member does not believe us, which can add to the feeling of loneliness, isolation and depression that can often be associated with chronic illness, even if it was said with the best intentions.

The best thing you can do for someone with a chronic illness is just to listen to them.  Ask if there are anyways in which you can help them.  Be a supportive friend or family member.  We would really appreciate that more than hearing statements such as those above.

So, these are the few clichés that I have heard during my experience with chronic illness.  What are the some of the statements that you have heard from friends and family?  How did they make you feel?

As ever would love to hear your thoughts and comments.  Please feel free to add your comments below…