ME Awareness week:
My ME lockdown with the invisible “terrible triplets”
I have been living in ME lockdown on my own, yet it doesn’t feel as though I am alone.
My lockdown experience started long before Covid-19 appeared on the scene as I have been ill for many years, often unable to leave the house for weeks or months at a time. This new lockdown has just added another layer of complexity to my life.
The will to get better is there and I desperately want to live a productive, peaceful life, but my brain and body don’t listen to me, or each other, and won’t cooperate. They’re like troublesome children who argue and fight no matter what I want, or what is happening in the outside world.
My body misbehaves in so many ways, some of them most unexpected – painful muscles and joints, shooting pains, minimal energy reserves, post activity delayed reaction, haywire temperature regulation, sensitivity to prescription meds. I could go on!
You’ve heard of ‘brain freeze’ after eating ice cream? I get ‘body and brain freeze’ when overstretched. All of a sudden my temperature plummets, I go cold all over and I am in agony. The sun has been shining outside during lockdown. People are gardening, sunbathing and having barbecues in their back gardens, (or risking illegal trips to the beaches and parks!). I remain indoors fully dressed, plus dressing gown, wrapped in a thermal blanket, shivering in bed with the electric blanket on, sometimes for hours or days, attacks coming back to back sometimes!
Then just as suddenly heat surges take me over and trigger a polar opposite experience. I have days where I am super sensitive to light and sound and need to cocoon myself in a quiet darkened room until my tolerance levels increase. Some days I get eye distortion, even double vision, and cannot see clearly. The harder I try, the more difficult it becomes and again some downtime is needed.
My brain really lets me down frequently. Some years ago I earned the equivalent of 2 degrees but now my brain rarely works well and frustration reigns. I find it hard to follow, absorb, process and retain information. The concentration required really hurts. Sometimes the more active my body is the more impaired my brain functions become, as though it is being cooked in a pressure cooker. My brain processing power ceases but the pressure & pain continue and all the things I once learned to do, I rarely can do.
Pronouncing or spelling familiar words can be difficult. Although I once excelled at maths without using a calculator, I now find basic calculations near impossible, even with one. My brain reacts as though I’ve become dyslexic with both words & numbers alike, as I struggle to make sense of what I see written down or even what I say.
Learning to shop in a different way during lockdown has really hurt my brain. I was unable to get a supermarket delivery slot but eventually discovered a local teacher who was volunteering to shop for those of us who are shielding. She turned up as planned to get my shopping list. Momentarily forgetting my recalcitrant brain I gratefully gave her a list of 6 items (2 pate, bread, cereal, milk, chicken). She looked puzzled, but I assured her that was all I needed. Once she had brought the shopping and I had put it away, I looked around the kitchen in horror, wondering what I was going to eat for the next week! I have been too embarrassed to contact her again, yet.
An acquaintance who lives some distance away offered to collect shopping for me. He helped me find a supermarket with a click & collect slot & spent at least 4 hours over a few days making and amending an order for me, as I tried to work out the most important 80 items I needed. Then he drove nearly 100 miles round trip to collect and deliver it to me. I was very touched and grateful and gave him a cheque. I was mortified when he got home and noticed it was unsigned. Another bad brain moment! Fortunately he had a sense of humour.
Cognitive difficulties are not a sign of low intelligence, a behavioural problem or a learning disability, but they really can make you feel daft.
And then there’s my tummy. It is such a problem it also has a life of its own – pain, food intolerances, bloating, diarrhoea etc. Most of my stories about this family delinquent are too unpleasant to relate! I got so tired of watching doctors nodding sagely and unmoved when I mentioned the bloating that I took a selfie so they could compare it to the person in front of them. That got their attention! As you can imagine I have been offered seats to sit my weary pregnant body down on (though I was not of an age where pregnancy was possible) – a bittersweet moment to be considered so young.
I was pleased to receive 2 food boxes recently. Although I communicated my dietary restrictions beforehand they were misinterpreted, maybe unable to accommodate. I found half the items were unsuitable, which made me then feel ungrateful, and guilty at depriving someone else, because I couldn’t return them.
The terrible triplets
The terrible triplets. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year these triplets have minds of their own. My ME lockdown is not imposed from outside, by governments or health services, but by my own discontented and argumentative ‘family’. I call them the ‘3 Bs’ and not just because of the alliteration!
The hardest lesson in my life is to learn to accept my new self and life difficulties with humility and kindness, forgiving myself for my lack of previous abilities. I have to postpone activities that use physical or cognitive functions knowing there will be moments later when I get to catch up on critical life tasks. And there will be the odd momentary flash of the old me, which is still within me and can bring me joy, and then sadness as my abilities retreat again.
It is a real relief when the triplets calm down a bit and I can focus on something useful, productive, even enjoyable, when I can inhale a breath of sanity before chaos resumes. What impact does this have on my mental health? I sometimes think I am going doolally, but mostly I just try to remember to acknowledge that anxiety and depression are normal side effects to such a chronic health condition, and wait for them to pass.
People only see me occasionally, on better days, not when I am behind closed doors. It is difficult to communicate to people the difficulties I deal with on a minute to minute basis. I don’t talk about the invisible triplets obviously. That might lead me up the path to the asylum on the hill, though I’d happily go if I could leave the terrible triplets behind!
8 weeks into Covid-19 lockdown.
12 years 5 months into my ME lockdown.
PS Thanks to my ‘editor’ who made sense of my incoherent ramblings and scribbles!