Chewing Skittles

I hope I’m still too young to be using a phrase like back in the day so instead I’ll say that about twenty years ago, there was very little that could top going to visit my cousins or even meeting up with them in a pub on an occasion. The reason? Well on days like that there was always the possibility of a shiny pound coin being pressed into your hand by a generous relative or maybe it was just to get rid of us and have some peace?

Even at that young age we were being taught about the value of money, a pound would get you one packet of crisps in the pub but walk across to the newsagents and all sorts of possibilities opened up. Suddenly it wasn’t about just getting some sweets or chocolate, it was about getting the MOST sweets and chocolate you could for your pound. It was always safer to avoid the big brands and head into ten-penny bag and 10p crisp territory. All the time being aware that extra flavour and nicer taste, like a Smiley bar (orange flavour chocolate coated caramel) instead of a Chomp (milk chocolate coated caramel), meant a price hike from 10p to 12p.

As I got a little older I’d watch as my siblings and younger cousins, who struggled with one plus one at times, making the same mathematical calculations I had done and come back from the shop with bags of sweets. All this proved that children are all the same; when given the option between sweets or more sweets, they will choose more sweets. As I grew up the quantity of sweets became less important as I focused more on the quality. Good white chocolate is my favourite at the moment but that’s for special occasions (like the first Thursday of the week).

The reason sweets are so on my mind is that sometimes conversations with others who have fibromyalgia, arthritis or any other chronic pain condition return to the topic of sweets. We talk about chewing on painkillers like skittles or m+m’s and swallowing nurofen or difene like smarties.

Chronic pain and chronic fatigue can lead us to see lots of different doctors and specialists and sometimes they will be the equivalent of going to the newsagent as a child and throw prescription after prescription at you. If they give you a new script for each individual symptom you’re going through, you can end up chewing on tablets morning, noon and night. Sometimes they feel that they must give us a new prescription so we will leave happy but more sweets isn’t always a good thing, less is more can be a useful phrase at times. 

It is vital that we take an active part in our treatment and discuss with the professionals if each new script is necessary or if it can replace something we’re already taking. It is important that we are the ones who take the overall, whole body option of examining our treatment. In this way we can avoid over-medicating or taking two tablets that do the same job or even cancel each other out.

You see, like the child with a pound coin, our money is scarce and it is important that we get the best value for the money we spend on doctors and medications. At the same time we must realise that value for money isn’t always a new prescription but can mean someone taking the time to understand us and make the right choice for us, whatever that choice may be.

When it comes to fibro we are all individuals. Some medications work for one person but not for another and it’s the same with alternative therapies. Just like some people prefer m+m’s and some people prefer skittles. The important thing is to find the mix that works. Sometimes that means quantity and sometimes that means quality.

So from now on I will be going for the white Lindt chocolate over the skittles and questioning if each drug and medication I’m taking is necessary because, if at all possible, I’d like to avoid chewing tablets like skittles for the next forty years.


Fight or Flight

What frightens you the most? Is it heights or small spaces or spiders or public speaking or driving tests or exams? If you grew up in Dublin it could be walking over the dodgy looking hatches in the paths that allowed pubs take deliveries directly into their basements (just me?). Truth is there are a million and one things that could frighten us and everyone has their own collection of fears.

At the moment in Ireland the school Leaving and Junior Certificate exams are taking place. I know a lot of people get very nervous before these exams; luckily I got through them without too much fretting. In fact the most fear I experienced during either exam period actually took place on the way to an exam.

At 15 years of age I was taking the Junior Certificate exams and was walking back into school after lunch. At the time I helped out as a milkman and about a month before the exams I was bitten by a dog while delivering early one morning. Low and behold as I entered the lane that took me back to school there was a dog at the other end giving me the stare down. It’s funny now but at the time I was properly scared and obviously the dog sensed this fear because he let me get up close and then had a good chew on my ankle as I tried to get past.

I hadn’t realised the first bite had made me afraid of dogs but here was the proof. Being afraid I was forced into the classic fight or flight situation. Did I make the right decision facing up to the dog? I don’t know but I know I went through a thought process in my head. It was very quick but it happened. I was faced with a situation, I had to think about it and then thirdly, I had to try to come up with a solution.

Everyone has their own fears but when faced with a fight or flight moment, be it over dogs, heights or anything, our body will almost always react in the same way. Our focus will narrow and all we think about is the frightening situation before us. Everything else is forgotten about because it’s not as important. Have you ever thought about eating or sleeping while truly afraid? The answer is probably not because our bodies have something more important to occupy them; our survival.

With your blood pressure up, your brain racing at 100mph, your focus narrowed to this one issue; you are now ready to fight or run like hell away from the fear in front of you. Every nerve ending in your body will be on red alert causing your body to tingle and the adrenaline will be rushing around your body, ready to jump into action when you decide what you will do.

This used to happen to me every time I saw a dog on the street. Dogs aren’t my biggest fear anymore though; my biggest fear is for the future.

I have no idea what tomorrow will bring for me and my fibromyalgia, it could be a good day, it could be a duvet day or it could be anything in between. My fight or flight moments are no longer just when I come face to face with a dog, they are almost constant. I am so afraid of the future that my focus narrows until all I can think about is my fibro. This forces my blood pressure to rise and my brain to race.

It’s not easy to fall asleep with high blood pressure and your mind racing. My body thinks I need to fight or run so it won’t allow me to fall asleep. As for eating, well I won’t have any appetite because that is way down on the list of priorities as I search for a solution to my fear.

There is a never a real solution to fibro.

So where does that leave me? Well, whenever I have time on my hands, which is very often when you’re sick, my mind automatically focuses on my fear of the future. My brain races to try to find a solution and I can’t sleep, I’ve no appetite and can’t focus on anything else. What ends up happening is I’m then trapped in a vicious cycle. I’m tired so I think of my fibro fear, that leads to high blood pressure, stress, no food and no sleep, which leads me right back to being tired and unable to think of anything else but my future.

Constantly being so close to that sensation of fight or flight, means that it only takes something small to bring it on. It might just be a fleeting moment of thought about the future and I will immediately be in full fight or flight mode. Putting my body under that sort of stress so often can’t be good for me in the long-term.

So how do I confront my fear of the future? I talk about it with my friends and family, I vent to anyone who reads this blog and I’m going to break it down until it is manageable. I think that is what everyone does with their biggest fear if they want to overcome it; they find a way to make it manageable.

Fear of the future and the effect it has on my body is just one more thing for me to learn about and manage. It is no more or less important than pain, fatigue, etc. etc. Just like I did with the dog all those years ago, I’m not running anywhere, I’m going to fight this and hopefully overcome it. If I don’t succeed it will not be for lack of fight on my part.

Nothing Like A Good Cry

Thursdays mean different things to different people. It could be just another work day to tick off before the weekend begins, it could mean dinner at your parents or a trip to the cinema. Just as easily there is the possibility (or should that be probability?) that you have never even thought about what Thursdays mean to you and you are wondering where I’m heading with this.

Thursdays were my favourite night to work in the pub. It was always nicely busy without ever being too much and was much more relaxed than a Friday or Saturday which were more unpredictable. The real reason I loved working Thursdays was the customers. Particularly in the summertime, I had the same faces in every Thursday and I got to know them really well and could get involved in having the craic with them. They enjoyed their night and I in turn felt like the evening passed really quickly.

I’m off work nearly a year now and it’s weeks not evenings that are passing really quickly. With my fibro fog meaning that some days are written off, a week can go be gone in what feels like the blink of an eye. Luckily though, I still always have my Thursday evenings to look forward to. It’s still peoples’ stories and lives that I look forward to hearing about but instead of it being customers its people all over the world.

Comedian Russell Howard has a brilliant programme broadcast on Thursday evenings. Satirical shows and shows about the weird but wonderful people we share the world with have been done before but there is something about his show that I really like. It could be that he kind of looks like my brother, a fact my brother hates to be reminded of, or it could just be that he has a format that works and is enjoyable.

Living in Ireland I’m used to experiencing the four seasons in one day, weather-wise and Russell Howard’s show is a bit like that. If you like to laugh out loud, if you like to hear funny news stories, if you like to watch strange videos and virals, if you like to hear inspirational or evocative stories, you should find something in his show to enjoy.

And it’s the last point above which I think is the reason I enjoy his show so much. Anyone can put together stories and virals and produce a funny show but I don’t know of many comedians that would have the strength to end their show with a story that shows that there are still some great people in the world.  I enjoy laughing along with the rest of the show but the end of the show offers a great release of pent-up emotions.

I’ve always been a crier and I’m not ashamed to say it. It’s often the most appropriate reaction to a situation but I’ve noticed since the onset of my fibro that ‘my bladder is very close to my eyes’. I’m not sure whether I should have used that quote but anyway, it basically means that these days it takes very little to get my tears flowing. These are no crocodile tears either; these are proper, heavy, heartfelt tears.

I think it was last week that we saw the story of a young boy in America whose brother was born with severe disabilities. Rather than let this be a disappointment of any kind the elder brother instead set out to compete in triathlons anywhere he could. To see pictures of the elder brother towing his brother in a blow up boat while swimming, doing the same thing while on his bike and finally pushing his brother around the course as he ran the final leg of his triathlon was as inspiring as it was emotional.

To see the pure joy on the older brother’s face as he told of how he didn’t care about times, merely about finishing the race while including his brother and forging an unbreakable bond, brought tears to my eyes. Even recalling it now, I can feel myself welling up.

In just a half hour show Russell Howard brings viewers through the whole range of human emotions. And instead of this being a problem it is the unique selling point of the show. Now on Thursdays, rather than customers, I meet people from all over the world and laugh along with them and others and forget about some of my problems. Then at the end of the show I get to cry.

The story at the end could be sad, inspirational or beautiful but nine times out of ten it will make me cry. And what’s more, I look forward to that because in a good cry I can release any frustrations or sadness that may have been building up inside me during the week.

So as far as I’m concerned, thank God it’s Thursday and I’m going to have another good vent of emotions later this evening. Because sometimes, to help myself feel better, there’s nothing like a good cry.

PS: If I did this correctly you should be able to see the inspirational story of Cayden and Connor Long here