It started when I was around 20-years-old. Working my way through university in a chemical factory, I started to notice some changes in my body. Aches and pains, stiffness, excessive fatigue. Attributing this to my physically demanding job, I did what a typical 20-year-old does, and ignored it, hoping it would go away. This worked, until I stopped being able to make it through the days at all; I felt like a failure when I had to quit that job due to pain.
I applied for Work-Cover at that time, because physiotherapy wasn’t something that I, as a newly married, full-time university student could afford. I was declined because tests showed that I had congenital osteoarthritis, something I hadn’t been aware of, so this was thought to be the cause of any pain I was having; not the job itself.
So, I ignored it again, hoping it would go away now that I wasn’t working under those conditions. I kept going to university and worked in office jobs instead. But the pain has never left me since. In fact, it’s gotten worse, and worse and worse, and spread throughout my entire body.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve seen so many people about it. I’ve seen physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, podiatrists, even a naturopath and a kinesiologist. I’ve spoken to GPs and specialists galore. I’ve been treated for osteoarthritis, a prolapsed disc, bulging discs, a compressed sciatic nerve, scoliosis, plantar fasciitis, chronic fatigue, and IBS. I’ve been told that a range of things have caused my pain; years of dancing and netball, bad posture, genes, injury, chronic stress, dietary factors, mechanical body issues.
It wasn’t until this year… yes, 15 years later… that I’ve finally discovered the truth. That I am sick, not injured.
I’ve now been diagnosed with a lifelong, auto-immune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), as well as a range of other auto-immune issues. AS means that my faulty immune system attacks my healthy joint tissue, causing ongoing inflammation and chronic pain and fatigue. It’s a form of inflammatory arthritis.
As you can imagine, part of me feels relieved to finally have answers. I’ve spent many years questioning my own mind and body, wondering if I was just crazy, or weak, and simply didn’t have the fortitude to get through the day like everyone else.
I will now be able to manage my pain with the right treatment plan, of medication, diet and exercise, rather than fruitlessly trying to treat an injury that never existed.
But it’s also a mindset shift. Receiving my first lot of steroids and biological injections recently meant coming to terms with the fact that I’ll likely be on medications for the rest of my life. There will always be things I have to watch out for, and things that I can’t do, that ‘everyone else’ can. This has been confronting. I don’t want to be a ‘sick person’.
I also feel hope though. Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I will go into the new year prepared. I will be looking at a lifestyle overhaul including diet, exercise, and overall self-care. This in conjunction with my new medication regime will hopefully, if not get rid of, manage the worst of my symptoms. I am hopeful for a 2019 with more energy, less pain, and enjoying my life rather than just (barely) getting through the ‘have to’s’ of every day and then resting so I can face tomorrow.
I wish there was more awareness in the general and medical communities, so that I, and everyone else with these issues could more easily access answers and earlier intervention. Fifteen years was far too long to wait.
Our mental health is impacted along with our physical health when we suffer from chronic pain and living in near-constant pain and fatigue is no way to live at all.
I’m hoping to be able to help other people with these issues in the future, however I can. I’m going to be looking at ideas for this in 2019 too.
Cheers to a healthier and happier 2019!
If the thought of Christmas dashing toward us faster than Santa’s reindeer is giving you visions not of sugar-plums but of huge to-do lists, maxed out credit cards, crowded shops, long-drives and fighting relatives… don’t worry, you are not the only one.
Many of us end our year and head into our Christmas break overtired, over-committed, overwhelmed and bluntly, over it.
In fact, research has shown that Christmas is considered one of the six most stressful life events, on a list that includes divorce, changing jobs and moving house. It is the time of year that people are most likely to feel anxious or experience a low mood.
Why is this? Isn’t Christmas supposed to be “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” with kids Jingle Belling and stuff?
For many people, Christmas-time is wonderful; but that’s not everyone’s experience. For others, Christmas celebrations can be marred by financial pressures, unrealistic expectations, a sense of obligation, family tensions, loneliness, time pressure, relationship issues, grief, or simply reflecting on another year gone by.
If this is you, let’s think about some ways to manage your seasonal stress.
Prioritize Self-Care: Too many of us forgo self-care in the pursuit of the perfect Christmas. We run ourselves ragged: planning, cleaning, cooking, shopping, hosting and then cleaning again. This is often multiplied by several different events throughout the holiday season. We have our extended families, our in-laws, our work, our partners work, and our kids’ schools to consider; but what about us? When do we sleep, exercise, plan our own meals, or take the time to relax? Lack of self-care can contribute to stress over the holiday season. Take care of you!
Set Limits: You don’t need to say “yes” to every function and event that you are invited to, unless you want to! Its okay to say “no”: even if your only other plan is to order Thai takeaway and watch Netflix. Learn to be aware of your own body and mind; if you pay attention to what they are telling you, you will know when it’s time for a break. Take it!
Realistic Expectations: We can get so caught up in how much fun we, and everyone around us, should be having, that we forget to actually have fun. We don’t need to create the perfect Pinterest Christmas party, or to have a spotless house and a Michelin Star-worthy meal. Your guests are there to see you, not your house. Try to relax and be in the moment.
Feel your Feelings: Its okay not to be okay this Christmas. For some, holidays can increase feelings of loneliness or grief, especially if they have lost a loved one. We don’t need to pretend that everything is okay, or expect that everything will be like it once was at Christmas. And we absolutely don’t need to feel guilty about feeling this way.
If you try to be kind to yourself this Christmas holidays, you are likely to feel more happiness, peace, and joy by the time you dig into that Christmas pudding on December 25th.
When I was 15, a friend’s dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I proudly announced that I was going to be a WRITER.
He replied: “Where will you go to learn that, LaLa university?”
One unthinking sentence from a respected adult and my teenage aspiration became an unrealizable pipe dream. I felt silly and naive.
Words can hurt, even if they are a joke.
I stopped writing for a long time after that.
Today, I have the incredible privilege of helping young people achieve their own career goals. I take it seriously. Dreams are so fragile.
And guess what? I now also get to write. I write because I am a writer, and I’m a writer because I write.
I now have a publishing deal and will publish my first book in 2019.
If you have a dream, no matter how far off course life steers you, there is always a way back. It’s never too late to follow your dream.
I now write every day.
My soul needs it.
No LaLa university required.
I struggled with the newborn stage.
It was a time when I was never alone, but always lonely.
I was bored out of my mind, but couldn’t concentrate on anything.
I was desperately, desperately, tired but too wired to sleep.
I guess some people aren’t “baby people” and I’m one of those people.
I wish I could go back and tell myself “it won’t be like this forever”. This too shall pass. This baby will very soon be a hilarious, cheeky, loving and amazing human that you can’t imagine life without.
I can’t go back in time, but I can tell you, new mama in the trenches. The world will soon expand again. You are still you, and you are seen.
Here is an example of how social media can skew our perceptions of reality and our own lives. See, I’d normally add these photos to my Facebook and Instagram accounts and say something like “library play dates” or “love mummy-son days off”. Today, because I’m feeling really done, and my filter is broken, I’ll say this instead: This photo captured the very rare moment in between today’s tantrums which occurred approximately every 15 minutes and were triggered by everything from getting sand on his finger, to not being allowed an ice-cream, to absolutely nothing that I could tell. I’m exhausted, I’m frustrated, my back is killing me, and I just told my two year old that he needed to nap because “we need some time apart from each other”. We see each other’s highlight reels on social media and our own blooper reels in real life; I know I’m always coming up short. While I’ll probably keep posting cute photos, I think we can all agree that despite appearances, #parentlife can be freaking hard some days! Next time you compare your life to a cute insta moment, remember that snapshot could have been the only moment of beauty in the midst of a day of chaos!
Sunlight = Increases the brain’s release of Serotonin (a happy chemical).
Exercise = Increases the body’s release of Endorphins (another happy chemical).
Connection with loved ones: Triggers release of Oxytocin (yet another happy chemical!)
Walk with loved ones in the sunshine = Triple happy whammy!