Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ground Elder - grinding you down.

I am trying to become a gardener for the time in my life. I have good ideas; I have enthusiasm. I have an Alan Titchmarsh calender that cost me a pound in the January sales. I also have a weed called ground elder that is causing me awe and despondency.

The ground elder just keeps growing and colonising - flower beds, the lawn, the compost heap. Its strangulating tendrils would be good in a Dr Who episode. Apparently weed killer and repeated digging will control but not eradicate it. Punters on garden message boards ask, 'how do I get rid of ground elder?' And those in the know reply, 'move house or get a nuclear bomb'. Here's a similar account of declaring war on ground elder.

Most evenings, I go out to the garden after the marathon childcare/tidy-athon that is your average parenting day...and then I try to find the stamina to dig out a bit more of the Ground Elder. I think I am veering towards obsession as I like to swear at it, and then spend too much time looking up Internet articles on how to kill it. Apparently you can eat it but it tastes worse than spinach.

Ah well, the apple blossom is out and the kids are loving the paddling pool. In this recent generous sunshine, it's not far from idyllic.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

On recovering - where to start?

Until now, I have stalled and side-stepped attempts at writing in depth about my recovery after 20 years of ME or ME/CFS. (I used to loathe the term CFS but I include it to help those googling, 'recovery ME/CFS'). As the previous post said, it still feels like 'a kind of miracle' and my mind somersaults when it tries to understand the contrast, the shocking contrast, between then and now.

And yet, I am joyously here and I often feel I owe it to others to document my journey, while simultaneously being apprehensive about potential criticism from the many who may tell me I wasn't 'that ill', or I didn't have 'real ME'. All I can say is, it is my story and this is the truth as it unfolded for me.

My 'ME' was diagnosed in 1987 - it was an illness I had never heard of. I tested positive for coxsackie virus and I was bed-bound for the first 4 years. I was ill for 20 years and during that time I took part in research studies that found various biological 'markers': an MRI showed choline 'peaks' indicative of 'brain inflammation'. One hormone assay (an insulin tolerance test?) lead me to pass out within a few minutes with nurses flapping and panicking, saying they had never seen a response like this.

Anyway.... I am not prepared to jump on the defensive and run round all the specifics. I know, and anyone who knows me, knew I was very ill for two decades and even at my best, I felt I only had 60% of 'normal' function. The other 40% of the time was spent collapsing into bed and struggling to recharge or ameliorate awful neurological-type symptoms: migraines, tinnitus, dizziness etc. Oh, and the ever-present feeling of being 'poisoned'. It was awful. The non-restorative sleep. The feeling that I might never get better. The frustration that people couldn't see just how desperately ill you always felt, and how you struggled just to 'be'.

I too, heard the odd, very rare, 'miracle' story of others who had recovered (even partially) and I would rake over the details in my head, thinking, how how how, and why not me? None of it seemed to compute.

So how did the miracle begin? In a strange round-about way, I suppose. My mum kept telling me I was 20 years ill and why didn't I do an article for a Scottish newspaper to 'raise awareness.'? Again?! I really didn't want to. I hated the whole 'sad, tired photo' thing you had to go through. Reluctantly, I agreed.

Shortly afterwards, I got an email from a Mickle Therapist offering to treat me. Was I skeptical and cynical? Only by the bucket load. But there was one thing that hooked me in. This therapist girl was my age and swore that she too had endured 20 years of severe ME and was now recovered. Her story rang so true to me in such a profound way, I had to give it a go. I had to risk my hopes being disappointed for the millionth time. I had to lay my heart open.

Now, fast forward to the present. I will go on record to say that *for me* I think this area of treatment would have helped under certain circumstances. I am not a purist or devotee of the so-called Mickel Therapy. I think it is bigger than that, this mystery of how bodies heal (or don't heal). Of how the mind and body can interact in such powerful ways that we don't fully understand.

It was the 'how how how?' that kept me going. It took me the best part of 2 years to say I was 'recovered' and before I reached this point, I felt I was 'stuck' at 70 or 80% 'improved'. But I was irked that this type of therapy had worked for others (including my therapist) and not me. I was like a Jack Russell with a rag. I just couldn't unclench my jaws thinking about it. I was angry that I wasn't 'getting' the last piece of the jigsaw.

I even left the therapy feeling 'unfinished' and stalled. I had taken up a part-time office job which was still effort-ful. I knew I would love children but I knew that didn't mean I'd automatically be able to have any (especially as I was 39 at the time). When I finally got pregnant, I was thrilled and I let myself off the hook about 'feeling exhausted' or various other symptoms. After our beautiful son was born, I expected to feel tired - new mums are all obsessed by sleep deprivation.

And so it's all been a whirr since then. Our daughter was born 15 months after our son (fast turnaround, huh?). I've had many breastfeeding sleepless nights and pockets of exhaustion, but it's so different now. I used to always bang on about ME tiredness being different and so hard to put into words. By God, I know it.

Life as a mother is tiring but it's normal and natural. It has it's own rhythm and it's not frightening or alien. That's where I am now and that's why I feel I can finally use the word 'recovered'.

There is so much more to say - I realise I haven't even attempted to explain the mechanics of how I got better. I can try that another time. And feel free to ask more.

I think it's never too late for hope or possible improvement. That has been my experience. If you get tingles of excitement just thinking about it, then your cells are up for trying to help you out. I don't know how it works, but somehow it did for me. A biology that felt almost damaged beyond repair began to renew itself. It was like a slow, 'stop-starty' spring where I could barely believe the leaves unfurling.


A kind of miracle

Okay, the following blog comment is spurring me back to action. It reads as follows -

I haven't commented here for a long time, but I too have been so happy for you and so astonished that you have made such a recovery and have two children now, and the part you wrote about feeding your soul 'with a life I thought I'd never have' brought me to tears. It does give me hope - I am bed bound, age 35, after 20 years of illness, have developed various complications, and often hope feels in short supply. Sometimes I find myself thinking, 'was Ciara still severely ill at my age? Is there still time for a miraculous recovery?"!

All I can say is that your story IS a kind of miracle to me and I am very, very happy for you. Enjoy it. I know you know how incredibly precious this level of normality is.

And, in reply, I will open a new post.